How to use play to (really) improve your speaking game.

As a speaker coach, facilitator and former engineer, I am informed by an unlikely source: clown school. I trained circus full time in Sheffield, England, and nothing taught me more about connecting with people than the physicality of clown training.

Here is some of what I learned about how we can use games to improve the way we work, connect and share ideas.

The simplest of games offer layers of learning.

The games we played in clown school were similar to those you would have played in primary school: physical, playful – and the rules can change. (Think ‘cat and mouse’ or Marco Polo with a pink boa thrown in for good measure.)  Games are often relegated to team-building or ice-breakers but there is so much more to be learnt if we seek it. “Chasey” for example, can teach you whether you like to win or lose, who in your team needs to follow the rules, whether you go for the easy win or play the long game, and about group dynamics.

Repetition helps you notice the small things.

In “clown school” we played the same games, over and over.  As adults, particularly in our fast-paced world, we often seek the new and exciting. But if we always move on to the next thing, we don’t have time to really develop the connection between players. If you are a facilitator or speaker, repetitious play can help you notice the subtleties of how other people respond to you, and your own habits.

To benefit from play, you need to reflect.

I run a number of workshops to share the art of skilful play for workplaces. For example, in Clowning for Facilitators we test out Conscious Play. The objective is not only to become more skilled at playing the game, but at our ability to reflect on our own participation, even while we are playing.  Repetition allows us to move past playing the game “right” and into a space of meta-reflection.  Meta-reflection enhances our ability to be a continuous learner who is both participator in, and observer of, the play.

Regular reflection helps us become more sensitive and engaged facilitators.

We recognise our own biases, the impact we have on others simply by being in their presence, and deepen our awareness of group dynamics.  We enable our facilitator proprioception.

Facilitators sometimes choose to repeat the workshop.  They play the same games but they play them on a new day with new people. Group dynamics are different, the way they are within that group is different, and the reflective learning is only enhanced by their prior experience.  In conscious play the same game is never the same.

Sensitive facilitators arrived prepared – yet open for anything to happen.

If you are a facilitator, speaker or team leader, you’ll know that you can do the same thing with a new group – or even the same group on a different day – and it can all feel very different.  Rather than assuming that everything is the same each time we do our work, we arrive prepared, yet open and ready to test what is going on for the group, on that day, at that moment and work to that.   

Rachael West is a strategic speaker coach, MC and facilitator. Email for more.

Published by rachaelwest

Strategic Speaker Coach | Founder | Engineer

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