Tag Archives: fun

Don’t Play Twister on a Full Stomach

and Other Rules for Choosing the Right Games for the Right Time

From Are You Playing with Me
By Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant

If you’re in charge of a presentation, whether you’re a professional speaker, a volunteer coordinator, a trainer, or someone who was bribed with a cookie, a big part of your job is to create a safe and playful atmosphere in which fun things can happen. Your goal is to find ways to help everyone in the audience feel comfortable enough in the space, with you, and with everyone else to take a few steps outside their comfort zone. They won’t do that unless they feel secure doing things that they might otherwise consider too risky.

If your audience consists of people who not only work with another, but also FOR some of the people sitting next to them, your job can be made a little more difficult. After all, maybe John Deere over there doesn’t want his boss Betty Crocker to see him talk like a pirate three days before his performance evaluation. There are positives and negatives to having employees and managers in the same room at the same time, but when it comes to playing games, if you have any say in the matter, you might want to suggest separate sessions for each.

Playing Improv

Doing Improv at a Conference

No matter what the composition of your audiences (mine are mostly carbon-based), you’ll find it easier to help everyone enjoy themselves and play well with others if you keep the following rules in mind.

Rule # 1: Not everyone wants to play.

As young kids, even if we’re shy, we usually want to be part of the game (unless it’s dodge ball and we’re the target). Unfortunately, many adults are much more hesitant to join in the fun. Shyness is one reason. Another is the potential of embarrassing ourselves in front of co-workers, friends, or even strangers. After all, what if we say or do something that gets back to our boss or people we feel we need to impress? Then there’s the issue that the older we get, the more voices we’re likely to have in our heads telling us things like, “Act your age,” “That’s not appropriate,” and “We don’t pay you to have a good time.”

As an educator, speaker, or trainer, one of the worst things you can do is to force someone into a situation he or she really doesn’t want to be in. By scaring them, you shut down their willingness to hear your messages and you may even create tension among the rest of the group. On the other hand, it is your job is the try to encourage everyone to participate at some level and to push a little beyond their comfort zone. After all, things aren’t much fun in the box (or in the cubicle).

The best way to deal with reluctant participants is never to put them in situations where they have to play alone. Don’t “volunteer” them – or let one of their office mates do so – for games in which they have to be the one (or one of a few) in the spotlight. By making sure to have enough games that involve everyone in the group in your bag of tricks, you can encourage the shy and frightened to play along without feeling overly- anxious or, worse, leaving the room.

Rule # 2: Bribes and rewards are effective tools.

Let’s face it, we’re all more willing to take risks and make fools of ourselves if we get something for our effort. It doesn’t have to be something big or expensive – I’ve found that cheap, fun toys I’ve bought at garage sales or secondhand stores are always the most popular. Once I bought a box of Freud Action Figures (they didn’t do anything and the irony amused people. But they did come in funny packaging.)They were one of my most popular “enticements.” As were yellow smiley balls that stuck their tongues out when you squeezed them (which were discontinued because the tongues could fall off and pose a choking hazard to children and immature adults). I personally like getting most of my rewards at garage sales because I’m recycling instead of producing more waste that the planet has to somehow accommodate. Yesterday’s Happy Meal toy becomes today’s corporate bribe.

Even better, most of the time you don’t even have to give away “stuff.” Simply rewarding volunteers and participants with cheers and applause can encourage other volunteers to step up for the activities following. Most people so rarely get cheered on for anything they do, the feeling they get when hearing clapping and congratulatory hoots and whistles is something they’ll take with them into the rest of their day, if not their week.

Rule # 3: Don’t ask anyone to do things you wouldn’t do. 

Leigh Anne Jasheway

Leigh Anne Jasheway

If you’d be uncomfortable crawling on the floor mooing like a cow, imagine how people whose job doesn’t involve regularly doing crazy things will feel. At no point can the members of the group feel like you’re making fun of them. You should be making fun with them.

It helps if you dress comfortably and playfully, so it appears from the very start that you are there to play with them. It also helps for you to have a choice of activities ranging from those that are only moderately silly and playful to those that are extremely both. You can judge the mood of the group and pick activities that fit in best with their needs and the willingness of their spirit.

Rule #4: The more participants are invested before you start, the more likely they are to take part. 

If you come in, set up, and start right in, there becomes a “You” and “Us” division. You’re in charge and they have to go along for the ride. While this is true in some ways, you can put a little more power in their hands by inviting them to play a more active role before things begin.

Conference setup

Attendees helping with setup

Many of the games in this book involve props and supplies. Ask for help in distributing these and laying them out. If the room isn’t set up the way you want it – and if there have been serious speakers prior to your session, it probably won’t be – engage those members of the group who are willing to help you rearrange things. If you don’t have someone assigned to introduce you, ask two people to read your prepared intro as a duet. All of these activities help set the groundwork for fun and help group members feel more connected to you and to the activities you have planned.

Another way to involve participants is to give them some choice or control over the games. This is one reason certain improv games – the ones that don’t require too much comedic skill and thereby intimidate people – are good to include in your bag of tricks. They encourage the audience to play an active role in deciding how the game goes. You can also let participants help choose which activity to try (I usually offer selection up front and let them pick) or give them options for which rules to follow and which rules to break. Any time you can involve participants in decision-making (a serious and professional task), you will increase their comfort in taking part in the games (a light-hearted and fun task).

Rule # 5: Play along, but don’t save all the good roles for yourself. 

By being part of certain games, you prove that you’re willing to do what you’re asking them to do (see Rule #3).And when you have people who are reluctant to volunteer, joining in yourself may help them get the courage to raise their hands.

But if you take part in every game, you set a bad precedent by not involving the audience as much as you should and not sharing the fun. Be available only as an emergency back-up volunteer.

Rule # 6: Time is important, even when having fun.

If you don’t allow enough time for everyone to feel like they’ve completed an activity, you create dissatisfaction and feelings of a lack of completion in the room. On the other hand, too much time can make even fun games seem to drag on forever and drain the joy out of them.

If you have a large group, you may find that a certain amount of time is too little for some and too much for others. You will have to choose a happy medium. Ask each team how far along they are and when most teams are done or almost done, announce two or three more minutes. Stick to your time limit, even if one last team still has work to do.

Rule # 7: The later in the day, the harder it is for most people to think on their feet, be creative, or muster the energy to volunteer for activities.

After six or seven hours sitting, the blood and oxygen in our bodies heads south, towards our hips. If you spend most of your day in the seated position and notice your hips have gotten larger, don’t think of it as middle-age spread, think of it as oxygen surplus.

In order for us to feel and be creative and productive, we need oxygen feeding our brain. That’s hard when it is constantly being pulled in the opposite direction by gravity. Quick solutions to this problem include standing on your head, jogging around room, or deep belly-laughing. But be aware of the natural lethargy that happens around 3:00 p.m., especially if a conference or training began early in the morning and adapt your choice of activities accordingly.

Rule # 8: Make sure you know what purpose your games serve. 

Just like the coordinator or manager you had to talk into allowing you to use a more playful approach to your topic, there will probably be some people in the audience who need rational, logical explanations of why they should behave in a manner that they consider odd and unprofessional. Even if the reasons is simply to have fun, always be prepared to share why you’re asking them to do something with those who feel more comfortable knowing.

Rule #9: Make time for contemplation and learning.

Therapy session

Discussing the games played.

Games are fun and entertaining, but are only good learning tools if there’s time to reflect on what the lessons were. In addition to allowing time for each activity in this book, I recommend building in time between activities so participants can process what they’ve learned and recharge.

Bonus Rule #10: Anything worth saying is worth singing.

It just is.

Can You Play?

Play – Just for Kids?
By Leigh Anne Jasheway
From Are You Playing with Me?

What three little words have the power to make you smile and fill you with the hope that maybe today won’t be so bad after all? Words you probably said and heard hundreds of times when you were a child but somehow forgot as you got all grown-up and professional? Words that almost always brought a smile to your face then and could do the same thing today if you let them.

Ready? Those three little words are: “Can you play?”

Remember when you were young and a kid would show up at your door and ask “Can you play?” It was exciting and fun. It meant you had a friend, and you could finally get out of the house, away from the stuffy grown-ups! If you’ve forgotten just how magical those three words can be, stand outside an elementary school during recess and listen to the giggles, the songs, and the shouts of glee coming from the playground. When was the last time you felt the urge to make joyful noises so loud they could be heard down the block? And as a presenter or trainer, when was the last time you were able to help any group of people feel that way? A few weeks ago? A year? Never?

Play isn’t kids’ stuff. It’s a vital way of bonding with other people, of communicating messages that get remembered, and of leaving a good lasting impression. Unfortunately, in our rush to grow up and get serious, we forget how a playful attitude can make almost anything easier. People who speak and teach for a living forget this lesson too. That’s why so many of them stand behind a podium and lecture with PowerPoint – or as I call it “I’m not interesting, look at this slide!” But unless the point of your lecture is to bore your audience to tears or drive them to spend their time secretly text messaging the office on their Blackberries or cell phones, there are better ways to get a message across.

Maybe I’m biased. The first time I gave a “speech” was in tenth grade Speech Class at Abilene High School. Rather than stand at the lectern the teacher had set up, I hopped on the table and sat in the lotus position. (This was back in the days when I could actually still get out of the lotus position without having to call the paramedics to use the Jaws of Life to pry my legs loose.) The rest of the class learned more about my topic and probably remembered it longer than had I just read some statistics off note cards like everyone else did that day. And there may still be people talking about my audacity lo these many years later.

During the past fifteen years of my life as a speaker, trainer, and humorist, I’ve had the chance to develop a deep sense of appreciation for the power of fun and play among audiences of all sizes, shapes,and levels of seriousness. I’ve played with doctors, nurses, teachers, bus drivers, librarians, engineers, forest managers, loggers, bankers, scientists (yes, even rocket scientists!), cat rescuers, dentists, nursing home residents, interior decorators, insurance agents, dance moms, newspaper reporters, screenwriters, pastors, HR directors, medical assistants, and postal workers (none of whom went postal on me). I’ve played with people who warned me in advance that they weren’t very playful. People who thought they were too stressed out to relax. Even people who were very, very afraid of letting their inner child out for fear the inner adult would run away and join the circus. A playful approach has always worked. Sometimes it works better than other times, but it always works better than just talking to them ad nauseum until their ears bleed.

Now you may be thinking, “That fine if you’re talking about something that’s fun, but I’ve got to teach my audience about global warming/organizational restructuring in the credit union industry/programmable customization models for the disgruntled end users who insist on speaking English. I can’t make that fun, can I?”

The quick answer is yes. When I first started using games and play to help educate and enlighten, I was teaching stress management, nutrition, fitness, smoking cessation, and AIDS prevention. I’d been teaching these subjects and having experts come in to to speak about them for years before I decided I needed to lighten up the messages. I mean, how many times can you hear “Exercise three times a week for thirty minutes” before you want to throw barbells at someone (if you’re strong enough to, that is)?

Believe me, the people who were still smoking after years and years of being lectured to, really didn’t want to even be in the same room with me. I remember that right after deciding to integrate humor into my health education approach – creating game shows, using the old Saturday Night Live “Whiners” sketches, using improv games, etc. – I took my show on the road to – a prison! I know, I get all the good gigs.

My job was to teach a group of prisoners why and how to stop smoking. It was a small room and I was the only woman in it. If not for a playful attitude and fun approach to the topic, both of which distracted the guys from their nicotine fits, I’d probably still be there or at least have a nice prison tattoo.

My experience has shown me that even serious topics can use a little fun around the edges – to break the tension, to help the audience feel more comfortable asking questions, even to help you get out alive. Even if you don’t think the topic lends itself to being playful, you can wedge the important, serious stuff in the middle of more light-hearted games. Think of it as the Oreo™ cookie approach to presentations. No matter what topic I’m presenting, I always adhere to Bob Basso’s philosophy that “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.” I think audiences know that intuitively, even if they can’t put it into words. No matter what you have to say, if the people listening have fun, enjoy each other and you, and are in a playful spirit while there, your message will be better received. Not to mention that if your audience doesn’t fall into a coma, they will learn more and remember more of what you had to say.

Leigh Anne Jasheway
Leigh Anne Jasheway – Click photo to learn more.
Are you Playing With MeDon't get mad get funny
Leigh Anne Jasheway
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Have fun, play, stay busy

Have Fun, Play, Stay Busy

from Aging Beyond Belief by Don Ardell

Author Don Ardell

Author Don Ardell

Enjoy as much dessert (play) as possible, without delays. This is because you may not last a long time, especially if you are “normal” (i.e., overweight and underfit). Recall this immortal advice from Erma Bombeck: “Seize the moment. Play. Have fun. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”

While the American lifespan is much better now than in 1900 (Life expectancy in the USA rose in 2012 to 78.8 years – a record high) this trend line might not continue. Many experts in life expectancy believe positive trend lines do not take account of the disastrous effects of rampant obesity. So, to paraphrase an immortal line, “Ask not how long I can live; ask how well I can live.” This is where play comes into the picture.

Play will give you energy boosts while reducing boredom and burnout. Broaden your thinking about the nature of play. Think of play as being in nature, communing with the land, fauna and flora, as well as participating in sporting events. All are forms of play. You might derive great pleasure from hiking in wilderness areas or photographing wildlife in the natural world. No need to creat a hierarchy of play with higher, dignified, socially approved and ennobling forms at one end and lowlife forms (e.g., mud wrestling) at another – all forms are useful, provided nobody gets hurt and the horses are not frightened.

Some of my favorite (anonymous) quotes deal with play, particularly when exercise and eating dessert are included as elements of such.

  • Fifty years ago people finished a day’s work and needed rest. Today they finish and need exercise.
  • If you are going to try cross-country skiing, start with a small country.
  • I’m in shape – round is a shape, isn’t it?
  • Aerobics defined: A series of strenuous exercises which help convert fats, sugars, and starch in to aches, pains and cramps.

And one of my favorites from George Bernard Shaw, “No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.”

Well, the lessons seem clear enough: play will do you a world of good. Play all the days of your life, until you die when, for the first time in life, it won’t matter anymore.

Enjoyed this article?  You’ll love Don Ardell’s book, Aging Beyond Belief – 69 tips for Real 69 Ways 6x9Wellness. 

Donald B. Ardell was a pioneer in the Wellness movement. He wrote High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs, and Disease, first published in 1976 by Rodale Press, with editions over the years by Bantam Books and Ten-Speed Press. Since then Don has written a dozen additional wellness books, including Die Healthy (with Grant Donovan), 14 Days to Wellness, and  Aging Beyond Belief.

Personally, Don is an avid competitor in triathlons and duathlons. He has won many national and three world championships in triathlon and duathlon competitions.

Click here to read more about Don. 

Fun Five-Minute Stress Breaks

Stress Breaks – Quick and Fun
By Leigh Anne Jasheway

Have you ever eaten a frozen dinner without thawing it out first?  The last time you had your blood pressure measured, did the cuff explode?  Are there teethmarks in your steering wheel?  Is Tums® your favorite pizza topping?  Then you just might be over-stressed!

Chances are if you’re a woman and you’re still alive, you’ve got more stress in your life than you need.  But you probably don’t have a lot of time to manage it either.  If you’ve ever fast-forwarded through a relaxation CD, you know what I mean.  What you need are quick, easy, and FUN stress breaks you can squeeze in between your family, your job, your social commitments, and that nice long coma you’ve scheduled instead of a vacation.

Try some of these:

1.      Stop on the way home from work and read funny greeting cards.  There are so many different types of humor in greeting cards, you’re bound to get a quick laugh – and laughter is one of the best ways to release your stress and move on.

2.      Give the family pet a rubdown from ears to tail.  Studies show that not only will your blood pressure and heart rate slow down, so will your pet’s!

3.      Keep a gel-pack in the freezer and when the tension of the day shows up in your neck, tell it to chill out!

4.      Prune an unruly plant.  If you can’t control your boss or your kids, at least you can get a plant to behave!

5.      Burn a candle in a scent that soothes, like vanilla or chocolate chip.  If burning a candle isn’t advisable (if you’re in the car, for example, and might start a fire on your dashboard), spritz a room freshener in the same scent.

6.      Get a coloring book and color outside the lines.  And always ask for your own crayons at restaurants that offer them to the kids.

7.      Take a walk around the block and see how many things make you laugh.

8.      Clean out one drawer in your house.  You’ll get a sense of accomplishment and no matter what else went wrong today, you can at least feel slightly more organized!

9.      Write a love letter to one of your kids to stick in his or her lunch.  Turning your mind to the delightful things about your family instead of the crazy-making things can help you feel less overwhelmed.

10.  Grab a jar of Play-Doh or some modeling clay and squish it through your fingers.  Imagine you’re squeezing the stress right out of your day.  It works for young children!

11.  Start a “Best Things” journal.  Every day, write down the best thing that happened to you all day.  It doesn’t matter how big or small; the idea is to focus on the positive and let go of some of your negative energy.

12.  Use a lip balm or stick scented with relaxing essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, and green tea.  Or one that just makes you smile – try chocolate or bubble gum (you can find some at Chocolate-sensations.com or Adorebeauty.com)

13.  Close your eyes and visualize yourself in a moment when you laughed so hard you couldn’t stop, like that time you walked down the hall with the toilet seat cover tucked in your pantyhose.  You’ll probably get a good laugh again just thinking about the moment.

14.  Teach your kids your favorite childhood game.  It’s hard to stay focused on the problems of the day when you’re playing Red Rover or Twister™.

15.  Sing in the shower.  Singing is a great way to release tension and letting the water wash away your cares at the same time doubles the stress-managing impact.  Besides with the water running your kids won’t be able to complain about your version of Girls Just Want to Have Fun!

16.  On your next break at work, swap neck and shoulder massages with a co-worker.  If you work at home, do it with a neighbor or one of the kids.

17.  Talk in a softer voice.  Don’t whisper because that will actually strain your vocal chords.  But if you talk softly (no big stick needed), studies have found that you’ll actually feel calmer and less anxious.  That’s one of the reasons we feel more peaceful when talking to a baby or a puppy – our tone of voice affects our heart rate and sense of well-being.

18.  Keep a book of funny stories or jokes nearby so when the stress hits the fan, you can laugh it off.  You might want to check out a book by Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck, Bill Cosby, or moi, or a book of cartoons such as The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbs, Stone Soup, etc. from the library to get started.Don't Get Mad Get Funny cover

19.  Repot a plant.  There’s something grounding about putting your fingers in dirt.  Ask your dog.

20.  Write your five, ten, or fifty biggest worries on giant marshmallows and invite your friends to have a “snowball” fight.

21.  Make it a family tradition to have each member of the family tell you a funny joke at dinner every night.  Not only will everyone get a chance to lighten up, but by encouraging your kids’ senses of humor, you’ll be helping them develop good stress management skills for the future.

22.  Hula hoop or jump rope.  You’ll get a quick burst of exercise – which will help produce endorphins and make you feel better all over – and you’ll get in touch with your inner child too.  You remember her, right?

23.  Put today’s biggest stressor on a sheet of paper in big red letters.  Then run the page through your shredder.  As it gets ripped apart, imagine the stressor itself disappearing.

24.  Update the photos you keep on your desk or on the fireplace mantel.  Searching for just the right photos will bring back happy memories and the break will help slow down the hectic pace of your day.

25.  Have some milk and cookies.  If you can squeeze in another ten minute, have a nap too.

26.  Get the whole family to play the board game, Don’t Make Me Laugh (available at Areyougame.com).  I dare you not to forget your troubles while you play.

27.  Go barefoot.  Feeling the grass between your toes or even the fuzzy carpet tickling your arches will help take your mind off your troubles for a few minutes.

28.  Have your teenager teach you the latest dance craze.  Try to be a good student and not break up laughing halfway through the lesson.

29.  Start a list of good excuses for saying “No” the next time you really want to.  “I’m sorry, I’m having the ficus tree neutered.” “The voices in the head have been grounded.”  “I’m trying to be LESS popular.”

30.  Soak your feet in Mr. Bubble.

Trying to fit stress management into your day doesn’t have to stress you out.  If you try some of these tips, you’ll be calmer and better able to cope with your life.

© 2007 Leigh Anne Jasheway. Used by permission. Go to her site here. 

For more from author Leigh Anne Jasheway, click here.

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