Tag Archives: speaking

Leigh Anne Jasheway telling jokes

But I Don’t Want to Embarrass Myself! Or I Won’t Play That Game

Pushing People Past
Their Comfort Zone to Play Games
Without Pushing Their Buttons

Excerpted from Are You Playing with Me?
By Leigh Ann Jasheway

Solumn woman sitting

It must be her stays!

In an earlier blog,  we talked about how reluctant some people can be in being playful. It may not be their nature. Or a light heart may be something that is frowned upon in their department or their profession. If someone asked me to sit quietly without cracking a smile for an hour, I’d feel very uncomfortable (actually, I’d probably find it impossible), so every time I ask someone to step outside their usual boundaries, I try to conjure up a picture of myself sitting in a chair silently. And then I try not to laugh at the idea.

When it comes to playful activities, there are four types of people. People who:

1. Are not done being a child and need no encouragement to be silly and childlike;
2. Can be coaxed into playfulness fairly easily if everyone else is doing it;
3. May have forgotten how to play and will need a lot of convincing; and
4. Never feel comfortable showing or even admitting they have a playful side. You may be able to get them to sit at the table, but they’ll probably stare at you or have an “emergency phone call” they have to take.

Adults playing together during an Icebreaker.

You can coax or cajole the first three types into participating, but with the resisters, all you can do is hope they eventually feel compelled to join in due to peer pressure. Here are my favorite ways to get audiences involved in activities that may be outside their usual comfort zone:

  • Make it clear that yours will not be a staid lecture. From the title, to the description, to the handouts, to the nametags, incorporate playfulness and fun so that no one will be shocked when they get there.
  • Create a playful environment by arranging the room for fun – the closer the better, semi-circles instead of straight lines, and tables so they can make eye contact with one another. Also set the mood with props and lighting. I like to use strings of light shaped like flamingos or chili peppers. Seeing fun lights automatically says “Hey, this could be different!”
  • Get a feeling about the group and how supportive or distant they are by arriving early for networking or a meal. Set the tone with your own playful attitude. Joke and laugh with them before the actual presentation. This reduces their inhibitions, puts them in a more jovial mood, and reinforces that your presentation will probably be non-traditional.
  • Write your own introduction and make it funny, highlighting some of the more playful aspects of your own personality. I use things like:

–She has an M.P.H., which either stand for Masters of Public Health or Mistress of Public                humor.
–When she’s not speaking or writing, she wrangles wiener dog at her ranch.
–In a previous lifetime, she’s sure she left the iron on.

Use fun music to start and end your session, or to mark breaks.adult with hula hoop

Near the beginning of your presentation, highlight the productivity, creativity, team building, health, emotional, stress managing, or other benefits of what you’ll be asking them to do. This will address the concern of the more reticent people of the “reason” they should be involved.

Build love and support into the group and activities; discourage meanness disguised as playfulness. I usually tell my groups what things are off-limits, such as making fun of people, using sarcasm instead of humor, saying anything they wouldn’t want their boss or mother to hear, etc. You may also want to use this funny Carmen Miranda Rights statement.Carmen_Mir

Carmen Miranda Rights: You have the right to remain silent. You will probably not have as much fun or learn as much, but it is your right to sit quietly and observe until such time as you are ready to be part of the merriment.

As long as you aren’t a bully and don’t hurt anyone else while playing, nothing you say (or do) can or will be used against you in your workplace.

You have the right to a play coach. That is why I’m here – to encourage and inspire you to get in touch with your less serious side so that you can take a breather from the problems of your day and your life.

You also have the right to wear fruit on your head. (See cartoon above.)

Deal with people’s fears and concerns. One way to do this is to have them name them right up front. Make a list on a flip-chart under the heading, “Why I’m scared to play” or “Reasons my funny bone is broken.” It helps when people hear that they aren’t the only ones concerned about something. And if they can laugh at their fears together, it creates the kind of bonding that helps throughout their experience.

  • Keep a variety of games and fun activities in your toolbox so that you can pick things that are most likely to work for the group you face.
  • Give lots of praise and applause. It is amazing what people will do if you encourage them simply with recognition.

Forming groups

Once you set the stage for playfulness and fun, you will find that many of the games in this book require you to break down a large audience into smaller, manageable groups. This can cause a lot of trainers and speakers problems – how do you get the people from the same departments to spread out and meet new people? It can feel a lot like dealing with junior high school cliques when you’re faced with an audience who is most comfortable staying with the people they know best.

There are many easy and fun ways to form new groups. You can break them into teams by:

  • Color of shoes or socks.Different colored socks
  • Natural hair color.
  • Which of the following cartoons they like the most: Garfield, Charlie Brown, B.C., The Simpsons, South Park, Opus, none of the above.
  • Listing five barnyard animals (cow, sheep, chicken, pig, farm cat). Have them choose one, make that kind of noise, close their eyes and wander about until they find the rest of their herd or flock.
  • Using a quickie questionnaire with questions you can use throughout the day to break into different groups:
    —What’s your favorite color?
    —Paper or plastic?
    —How many children were in your family?
    —What’s your major hobby?
    —If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
    —Name your favorite ice cream.
    —What kind of dog did you grow up with? Or was it a cat?
    —Which type of music do you prefer?
    —Favorite cereal as a child?
  • Having them play Rock/Paper/Scissors and putting all the rocks, all the papers, all the scissors together in groups.rock paper scissors
  • Players reach out and touch someone. Everyone closes their eyes and walks around until you say stop. Then they reach out hands (eyes still closed) until they find the right number of hands for the group.
  • Using toys. Have as many different types of toys as you want groups and have each person choose one. Their toy represents their group.
  • There is no end to the methods you can use to divide people up into smaller groups, although I don’t recommend sawing them in half. Just make it fun and quick and everything will flow from there.
Are you playing with me

Enjoy this blog? Try the book.

Leigh Anne Jasheway

Author Leigh Anne Jasheway


Don't Get Mad Get Funny

Another great book by Leigh Anne Jasheway



Top 10 Ways You Can Improve Your Speaking by Acting Like a Stand-up Comic

10.          The most important thing to do in the first thirty seconds you’re center stage (even if you’re sitting at the conference table) is make the audience like you. Do this by using a conversational tone instead of a droning academic “I know more than you do” tone, making good eye contact, connecting with specific people in the audience, and giving the audience time to respond appropriately to your jokes and stories.

9.            Use stories from your own personal experience. The more your presentation is based on your own life, the more the audience will sense truth and human emotion. These are very important elements in getting an audience to accept what you have to say, especially if it is something includes bad news of some kind.

8.            Plan for things to go wrong. Stand-up comics write “savers,” funny comebacks for the things that might go wrong while they’re on stage. For example, the microphone stops working, cell phones go off, instead of thirty minutes there are now only seventeen for your presentation, half the audience has just rushed out of the room with food poisoning, etc. Being able to respond to problems with a sense of humor shows the audience you work well under pressure and don’t let a few setbacks stop you. And, if you are able to deliver your savers as if you just thought them up off-the-cuff, the audience will be impressed by your quick wit and intellect!

7.            Apply some of the rules of comedy to your presentation. Comics all know the rules for making things funnier. These rules also apply in many cases to presentations of all kinds.

  • Rule #1:  Your material should be universal; everyone in the room should be able to understand the material, the context, and the emotions behind both. If you are speaking to a room full of accountants and all you keep using references to quantum physics, you’re violating the rule of universality.
  • Rule #2:  Be as specific and visual as possible. The better you can create a picture, the more engaged the audience will be in your presentation. It’s not an office, it’s a 7-foot x 7-foot cubicle wedged between the women’s bathroom and the elevator.
  • Rule #3:  When dealing with topics that are still painful to the audience (recent tragic events, lay-offs at work, new management, budget cuts, etc.), use exaggeration in your examples to keep things in perspective. Here’s an example:  “Things have been really stressful at work, what with the new CEO, the changes in our job description, and the dress code that requires everyone to wear prison uniforms on Wednesdays.”
  • Rule #4:  KISS (Keep it simple, stupid.)  Make your presentation only as long as it needs to be. Avoid complex ideas that require more thought than the audience will have time for; those are better discussed in breakout sessions or meetings. There’s almost nothing worse than an hour-long speech with only ten minutes of “stuff” in it.
  • Rule #5:  It happened today (or at the latest, yesterday.)  Use present tense verbs to give your presentation a feeling of being topical and urgent.

6.            Remember, what you say is only half the game; your emotion is the other half. A speaker can have the most interesting material in the world, but if there is no passion behind it, no personal interest in what is being said, someone will probably fall asleep and it might be the speaker. Some ways stand-up comics show passion in their material include:

  • Using lots of facial expressions and gestures.
  • Modulating their voice. Vocal variation is very important to keeping an audience’s interest.
  • Getting rid of the lectern and standing where people can see them.

5.            Structure your presentation like a stand-up set. Open strong and close even stronger. In between, vary your material so that your stronger and weaker points alternate. This is also a good way to structure a presentation that includes many points that may be received negatively by the listeners – intersperse them with whatever good news you can find so that the audience has a chance to catch their breath.

4.            Engage the audience in participatory activities. It’s easier to keep an audience with you if they feel involved, rather than spoken at. Try to keep participatory activities simple, especially if your presentation is in the late afternoon or evening. Hand raising is good (“How many of you have ever experienced any stress?  Okay, how many of you are clinically dead?”)

3.            Be aware of what speakers before you have discussed. This allows you to avoid duplicating material, but more importantly it gives you an opportunity to show you were listening to them too. This simple tactic increases the audience’s affection for you right away. You too have been “the audience.”  And you will get brownie points for being able to show how your topic builds on those of the speakers before you.

2.            When you think audiovisuals include props in your thinking. One way to set yourself apart from other speakers is to broaden your use of visual aids beyond PowerPoint to include any objects large enough to be seen by the audience. Hats can be used to distinguish between different jobs or tasks or sides in a debate. A skeleton is a good way to demonstrate a bare bones budget. Have fun with choosing your props and your audience will have fun listening and watching you.

1.            Honor your fear. Comedians feel fear too. But they know how to use that fear to fuel the energy behind their set. So next time your knees knock and your palms sweat, think how funny it’ll be to the audience. And think how much more they’ll like you because you’re a real human being too!

Copyright Leigh Anne Jasheway, 2008