You can get 150 public servants to play (seriously) at a conference

There are a number of clowning games I had only ever taught to groups of about ten – until I opened day 2 of the Local Government Professionals Women’s summit and had 130 women walking around the room, playing.

Play evokes learning

If you think clown is slapstick, my style of clown is more modern and less literal. If you think play is for children or cringeworthy ice-breakers, think about the concept of Lila, or divine play that makes (say) puppies learn the skills for life. For the style of clown I practice, play is fun and can even be silly, but it always evokes learning.

While games can be played to evoke learning in a specific category (say teamwork or communications) the specific takeaways are often unknown until you do it. This means the play-er is participatory, observational and reflective all at once.

You learn more when you play the same game over and over – and over

One ‘game’ we played relentlessly with my clowning teachers was the “walk around the room game”. (I tend to name games rather literally.) Everyone, literally, walks around the room.

This might not sound like much of a game, but it is amazing how much play you can find in something so simple. Even for adults, and especially if done repeatedly, past the point of boredom so you can notice the subtle and unobvious.

The same game can teach you about lots of things

I use the “walk around the room game” in training to warm people up, tune into themselves, notice others, notice their environment, notice how comfortable they are with eye contact, develop complicité in a group, observe patterns, learn how comfortable they are with rules, notice how other people follow rules (or don’t), notice what they notice. The more you play the more you notice.

All from one simple game, with a few carefully chosen variations.

One creative constraint changes everything

At the Local Government Women’s summit the “walk around the room game” was impeded by your typical conference tables and chairs and by a lot of people. Yet it worked, perhaps because of the “creative constraint” that meant people had to work harder to stay aware.

My favourite moment: when I introduced the rule “there must be one person walking around the room at any one time and only one person”. When people think they are following the rules (but aren’t) and when others have responses to that, that’s when things get really interesting.

This is an excerpt from Finding Your Voice, a workshop for women finding their voice in the workplace. Incorporates storytelling, play and reflection. Designed for 120 people. Get in touch to find out more.

Being heard is not about being loudest

When I was a young engineer, I was told to be more assertive. I was given tips like, “Be the first to speak up in meeting”, or “Apply for jobs even if you don’t meet all the criteria”. Apparently the lack of representation of women in the workplace could be solved by being louder.

But speaking up doesn’t mean you are heard. And being heard doesn’t mean anything changes. (Refer the last three decades on climate change.)

I was invited to open day 2 of the Local Government Professionals Women’s summit with a 90-minute storytelling, clown-inspired, historically referenced workshop, Finding Your Voice.

If engineering taught me that being more assertive was not enough, clown taught me that sometimes (in fact, mostly) not saying something is even better.

The silence of clown, or the yogi, or the person with a contribution to make, is not a passive silence. It is a silence of listening. Of observing. Rather than speaking to assert oneself, they speak at the right time for their audience, their students and those they intend to influence.

Finding Your Voice is a workshop for women finding their voice in the workplace. Incorporates storytelling, play and reflection. Designed for 120 people. Get in touch to find out more.

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 rachael@rachaelwest.com.au for more.