One Word At A Time Story

16 Dec 2010

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I had the pleasure of running a short workshop for a well known charity today. Just 4 participants, with a brief to improve active listening.

I used an improv game called "One Word At A Time Story". The game sounds pretty simple but in practice, is a bit harder than it sounds. You can get any number of people playing it, from 2 upwards. In this case, it was 4 - although I got them into pairs to have a go at it, so they felt less exposed.

Then they got up and stood in a line to tell a story each using just one word at a time.

I gave them a first name and an object - Kevin and Spaceship. They ended up telling me a lovely story about Kevin and his spaceship.

Afterwards, we were discussing the challenges of this game. Firstly, participants noticed it was tricky at times to stick to just one word. When they were reaching the end of a sentence, they were tempted to finish the sentence themselves with 2 or 3 words. They were encouraged to trust their colleagues to realise that the end of the sentence was coming and that it needed a grammatically correct finish.

We also discussed a concept called "group mind", which I describe as collaborative thinking without planning or conversation. Another way of looking at it, would be intuition - a group of people using their collective intuition to sense one anothers' thoughts, feelings or ideas.

One of the common issues that this game throws up is "too many cooks, spoil the broth". In other words, during the game (the story), people introduce more and more characters, themes, props and locations. This can be very confusing for the listener/audience.

This can likewise be a problem in the workplace. When people are trying to out-do each other with their ideas - or they are so busy thinking of their own ideas - they forget to listen to other people. They become too competitive.

Improv training teaches us collaboration over competition.


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