When working with a large group, it is often desirable to have the participants form duos, triads, quartets, or quintets in order to enable everyone to participate in a particular game. As the different teams are absorbed into their tasks, a substantial racket is normally generated, frequently punctuated by gusts of laughter. During the subsequent debrief, I ask for a show of hands by those who had been distracted by the cacophony. Usually, it’s only a few hands that go up. “How can this be in a room that is so noisy?” I ask. The answer comes quickly, clearly and from many parts of the room. “We were focused on what we were doing,” is the explanation. That “focus” is so strong it actually serves as a “mute” button or “white noise” box.

Having established the power of focus, my interest shifts to what, if anything, does throw the players off track. Here, the answers are more varied. “Surprise at my partner’s answer,” “I kept expecting the story to go in a particular direction and it wouldn’t,” and “I had a better story in mind and my partner wouldn’t go along” are three of the most common replies.

An individual’s inner dialogue turns out to be much more distracting than the external commotion. Our self-talk is disruptive because it takes us away from the present, where our task is, and whisks us to either the past or the future. Refocusing brings us back to the present while the ongoing self-talk keeps us somewhere other than the here-and-now.

IMPROV TECHNIQUE TO PRACTICE: Since so much is going on for the players during an Improv structure, they must know how to focus on the essence of each game. It is essential that they concentrate on what is important while staying away from the unimportant. Improvisors understand that every activity has a focal point. Improv pioneer Viola Spolin named this fundamental detail the Point of Concentration (PoC). For example, if a volleyball game were an improv structure, the PoC would be the ball.

HERE’S WHY IT WORKS: With so many stimuli flooding our senses, it’s difficult to pay attention to any one thing at any one time. Many of us feel like we “are all over the place,” perhaps because in our minds, we ARE all over the place. Multi-tasking may seem like a solution to overlapping priorities yet even that approach requires us to be present moment to moment.

Finding the PoC for any desired outcome forces us to be more focused, and less distractible. Call it focused awareness, mindfulness, or presence. Once revealed, the PoC becomes home base for any wandering thoughts, feelings or behaviors. You can’t be lost if you know how to find your way back home.

IMPROV GAME TO PLAY:  “One Word at a Time”

Instructions can be found on page 62 of my book, “Playing Along: 37 Group Learning Activities Borrowed From Improvisational Theatre.” (Variation #2 works well with large groups).

Thanks for playing along!  – Izzy

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Izzy Gesell is an organizational alchemist who helps individuals and organizations transform their thinking from commonplace to extraordinary. He is skilled at delivering meaningful material in a way that makes participants enjoy their time with him.To book Izzy as a speaker for your next event, click HERE.

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