5 ways to use improv for large groups

improv for large groups at a conference

Improvisation games and activities are ideal for conferences and training courses. The Maydays are often called on to bring improvisation to these kind of events. Most typically we’re asked to deliver ‘improv for large groups’. As the name suggests, this is a specific discipline within improv which calls for a certain kind of exercise which is totally guaranteed to work on a large scale. We know that at a large, annual event of significant employees or stakeholders, you cannot leave anything to chance. So we don’t. Most commonly conference organisers imagine the activities to take some form of ‘warm up’ or ‘icebreaker’. That’s true, but only two-fifths of the story. So here are our 5 reasons to use improv for large groups of up to 500 participants or even more.
by Heather Urquhart

Improv for large groups – what you need to know

When working with large groups in any capacity, there is often a need to find points where there is shared experience, a point in the meeting that connects and fully engages everyone. Happening often in improvisation we refer to it as the creation of ‘temporary communities’. To many conference organisers, improvisation by an external troupe is seen as providing a little light relief and entertainment to proceedings. We actually believe that improv activities can galvanise the entire day’s proceedings, by warming people up, energising and connecting them, and building a feeling of team and shared values and aspirations. Corporate messages sometimes can be quite dry, and the busy senior executives delivering these messages sometimes don’t have the time or the experience to weave in the kind of creative exercises which will make sure people feel all the connection, commitment and aspiration the event is hoping to produce. 

Below are 5 different reasons why you might decide to use improv for large groups in order to achieve these specific outcomes.

To Break the Ice

Improv games for large groups most usually serve as icebreakers, at the beginning of a training session or at the start of a conference. This is when people either don’t know everyone or sometimes anyone. It can take a little audacity from the facilitator to pull these off with a ‘cold audience’, but the opportunity is there to turn this into a memorable, warm, fuzzy moment of togetherness and also, to get everyone in the same place mentally in preparation for the day ahead.

Icebreaker example: Make groups of…

  • Use unclear categories: like names, holiday, hobby.
  • For example “names” people can group themselves on alphabet, length of name, historical names, named after grandparents, names from Friesland, names that sound like something else and names that are most beautiful.
  • Ask each group how they have categorized themselves

 

To energise the group

Post lunch or mid morning coffee, or worse, in the middle of back to back presentations or ‘death by Powerpoint’, improv for large groups translates as quickly taking the entire audience to an energised and excited place. Anything that takes people from their seat to being present in the room and even moving around is perfect for this. This is the perfect exercise for just before the CEO’s final address!

Energiser Example: Point and Say

  • Each person stands up and with alternating hands, points at different things in the room and names what they are, if there’s room, ask people to move around
  • After about minute, pause people and ask them to continue physically pointing at things but to name them as anything they are not. e.g point at a chair and call it a chicken
  • After a further minute, ask them to physically continue pointing at things but name the thing they point at as the last thing they pointed at. So; point with left hand at the chair, say nothing, point at the ceiling with the right hand and say chair, point at the floor with the left hand and say ceiling etc.

 

To connect the group members

Many company conference days draw people together from diverse corners of the business, in the hopes that they’ll all get to know each other. Improv for large groups can ensure people don’t just stick to the ones they know, but that they take part in a short activity which leads straight into a scheduled break. You will definitely notice the difference between a regular break and one which has been prefaced by an improvisation-based activity. Mainly it will be in the amount of laughter and noise levels it creates. This is often the moment where organisers and senior leaders exchange a glance to say “Now that’s what we wanted to see today!”

Connector Example: Me Too

  • Make pairs
  • Find experiences that you share (you can connect it to the goal of your meeting)
  • In the plenary debrief ask for some of these experiences
  • Every couple that had the same experience as described shouts out: ME TOO!!! And throws their hands in the air

 

To focus minds

Sometimes a day of conference proceedings can be quite full on. It can be difficult for the best of us to keep up levels of focus and attention. This is often the case after a series of presentations where each has an important message to convey, but where in spite of every attempt to shake it up, messages can begin to blur. Improv games applied to a large group context are ideal for bringing the entire audience back into a ‘present’ and focused state.

Focussing Example: 1 to 20

  • In groups of up to 20, standing in a circle or semi circle, ask people to count from 1 to 20
  • They must offer numbers individually in the right order but if two people speak at the same time, they must start again
  • Try it with eyes closed and open

 

To build team spirit

In any training course or event, teambuilding is key. Whether consolidating existing teams or bonding new ones, these games can encourage both collaboration and competition where needed.

Teambuilding Example: Build me Something

  • Get into teams of 6 to 12 people
  • Ask them to physically make shapes as a group e.g 6 people make 1 aeroplane, 2 people are the wings, one is the propeller etc.
  • Teams can issue challenges to each other
  • Teams can make objects specific to their experiences – we one did this with a group of dentists and had them making all kinds of drills.

 

To have fun

Improvisation games and training are all about experiential learning. So if you want to change people’s mind set or shake them up a little, you can also do it while having fun! 

Fun Example: Mass Rock Paper Scissors Championship

We have to say this is the one of the funniest and energising activities in existence. You’ll need space for people to move around quickly and it will end up in one of the uplifting outcomes.

  • People play rock paper scissors in pairs
  • The loser becomes the supporter of the winner and they find another winner to play
  • The winner of that round gains the 3 losers as supporters
  • Play continues until the final when there are two winners left with two huge groups of supporters cheering them on
  • Make sure you have a referee – this one gets rowdy!

 

We hope you have found some of these ideas helpful. We’ve amassed hundreds of games which fit into the ‘improv for large groups’ category over the years but we’re always happy to hear about more or share our experiences. Get in touch at [email protected] to see if we can help you design an interactive improv session for your large group meeting or advise you on how to further use improvisation on your training courses.

 

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