The Danish Clap is a fun activity that you can use to liven up a meeting or close one on a positive note, promote situational awareness, and learn about subtle leadership styles. In May’s Improv of the Month, we’ll use it to inspire laughter and promote positive relationships among your hardworking staff. Even spending 5 minutes on this activity will be enough to have a positive effect!
It is easier to show than describe and here are several videos for you.
First, in this brief video you’ll see me teaching it to students at the Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab – PILL. First in pairs and then in triads. Sometimes people groan a little in the beginning. Try to let that be and trust that lots of laughter and connections will emerge.
The value of holding space and creating the opportunity for a shared experience that is joyful will be felt on a visceral level! And who knows, there may be some eager staff who will become the Danish Clapping experts at your organization!
Feedback from colleagues using the activity is affirming!
As a facilitator, I can sense moments where the energy of the group begins to flag after so much talking and listening. That’s when I like to bring out the Danish Clap exercise I learned from Beth and added to my tool box of offerings, for any group that is game.
I have found it is easy to teach. It immediately gets people on their feet, interacting, moving, and laughing spontaneously. The experience feeds a renewed energy to the rest of the meeting and builds a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.–Beth Tener Principal New Directions Collaborative
Doing the Danish Clap Almost Anywhere!
I first learned of the Danish Clap from the Honorable Oluwadamilola Apotieri, an applied improv expert from Nigeria who has worked with nurses, refugees, and military personnel.
We had an opportunity to meet at South Station in Boston last Fall. As you will see in this 17 second example, he won!
And finally in this demo from the Copenhagen Game Collective, you’ll enjoy a more competitive version and demo with four participants! Watch them increase speed towards the end.
In the course of day to day work challenges, a little fun with the Danish Clap may be just what your staff needs to exhale, destress, connect, and be their best at work.
P.S. Want another fun way to Work Smarter – Together?
My friend, colleague, and certified mindfulness teacher, Liz Korabek-Emerson and I are offering an open house to business leaders on 6/25/2019 at the Northeast Credit Union in Portsmouth. We will be demonstrating our Fiercely Human Workshops as a new way to kick-off conferences, retreats strategic planning sessions! Want a fun way to work smarter – together?
It is a disturbing reality that our nation is struggling with gun laws, active shooting preparations, and immeasurable tragedies around violence. We have a new term for kids in this era, “Generation Lockdown” and this 8 y.o. girl knows more about preparing for an “active shooter” than any child should have to.
Watch this brief video of an All-Staff meeting in National City, CA for your own safety. Kayleigh has the necessary expertise. She, along with 95% of public school children in the USA practice lockdown drills at school.
And there is a surprising tool that can help – applied improv. Integrating simple improv activities into your lesson plans monthly or even once in a while can contribute to healthier individuals, more positive relationships, and safer classrooms. It won’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of time and since improv by nature is interactive, the potential for social and emotional learning is huge.
Improv and Children
Viola Spolin and Neva Boyd are considered to be pioneers in the work of bridging social and emotional learning with theater education in the last century. Their work evolved into the well-known improv phenomenon, 2nd City in Chicago through Spolin’s son, Paul Sills and currently via her granddaughter, Aretha Sills.
I developed a model using theater games to teach emotional intelligence to children as my practicum in graduate school. The idea arose from the combination of learning my own relationship patterns in psychotherapy, growing new skills with improv classes, observing my son’s positive theater experiences, and teaching communication-related skills to healthcare professionals.
After graduating, I used this model in summer camps in Maine and New Hampshire and for a service learning grant with 3rd and 5th graders in York, ME. Consistently, the feedback from parents, teachers, and children included improvements in:
Ability to listen
If you are a teacher of any subject grades 3 and up, have facilitation skills, want to act now, this article will give you what you need to get started including this link to instructions for a simple warm-up activity called “Radical Acceptance“. (Originally written for business leaders with an addendum of facilitation tips for teachers.)
If you are intrigued by the idea and want more help facilitating activities, discuss this article with your school’s principal, drama teacher, and guidance counselor, take an improv class, or check out this pilot class for teachers and leaders. The best way to learn to teach is to play.
Why Expert Facilitation Skills are Essential
Many kids and adults are anxious about participating in interactive activities. While some of us are naturally introverted, we can see how social skills are being eroded on a grand scale right in front of our eyes. We are becoming social animals without skills to socialize. Learning these essential skills can feel scary. Teachers need to create a safe environment, minimize emotional risk, and ensure everyone’s success.
There is a delicate line between nudging someone outside their comfort zone for healthy social growth and ensuring emotional safety. You need to be able to sense group power dynamics, individual skill levels and readiness for risk, tweak activities in ways that support learning needs and inclusion, and be fully present, fair, and trustworthy. These skills are intuitive and can be developed with practice and a genuine desire to keep everyone safe.
What are the benefits?
Inclusion & Dignity
Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. Simple improv activities, like “Radical Acceptance”, involve everyone and are non-competitive. You don’t have to be perfect, or funny, or dramatic. You do have to be collaborative, appropriate, and respectful. There are no winners or losers. Some students will be more engaged, expressive, and comfortable than others for sure and that’s ok. With a little guidance you can make sure that everyone is included while learning to appreciate each other’s differences. This, in and of itself is worth dedicating a few minutes every month to playing some improv with your class and developing your skills as a facilitator.
Helps Students at Risk
Are there students in your classroom who seem introverted, shy, alone a lot, or quiet? As you know, these kids may be at risk for bullying, disengagement or isolation and a variety of mental or physical health issues as a result. Facilitated improv activities can be ideal for fostering engagement between these kids and others. This is important because improv, like life, involves relationships and interactions. While scary for some, in your classroom you can nurture, monitor, and model participation. This may still feel emotionally risky, yet what is going on on the playground, in the locker room, on the way to school, or even at home may be much more dangerous.
Build Emotional Intelligence and Communication Skills
Some of the most magical outcomes of applied improv are when people develop self-confidence, trust in themselves and others, and become better communicators. Soft skills that are critical in all areas of life and are constantly being developed and practiced in applied improv!
In the same activity and same moment one person is learning to speak up while another is learning to listen. You facilitate the learning and participants actually teach each other! For instance, one child who is more confident and assertive will help another develop these skills by listening to a quieter child. This means being quiet until s/he gets ready to share an idea and supportive when s/he does. Meanwhile the quieter child, while working at self-expression, helps her ‘friend’ to become more patient and a better listener.
Practice Sharing Power
Communication is a dance that involves a complex exchange of leading and following in the course of developing trust and navigating relationships. One way to think about it is that listening requires us to give up power and speaking up requires taking on power. For listening, we have to be able to let other people in for decision-making and honor other perspectives that may be quite different from our own. This means we have to let go or at least suspend our own ideas and ways of thinking. For speaking up, we need to be willing to share ideas and concerns and demonstrate accountability, in short to put ourselves out there. Both letting go of power and taking it on can feel unfamiliar and emotionally risky. Yet, being able to share power is integral to forming healthy relationships, managing conflict, and embracing diversity. Processes that our world is in dire need of.
If you are curious about the deeper work involved in communication, I explore them in these two 30 min webinars for nurse leaders with F.A. Davis Publishing.
Activities are Fun
Play enhances learning and provides incentive even if you are teaching math or history. And if this kind of activity is outside your comfort zone, please don’t let that stop you. Have a drama teacher help, or a student who is active in drama, or dive in knowing that your discomfort will probably be very powerful modeling for others who feel similarly. And you might find that you grow. I am still having fun and learning as I teach improv and will frequently start out with an activity I learned from Jude Treder-Wolff in a workshop on managing change.
“Radical Acceptance” is such a simple activity you may be shocked at how quickly and easily the benefits can be felt. One young man told me once that he loved it so much he taught his friends at a bachelor party and they loved it! Keep that in mind as you read about it and resist the urge to dismiss it because it seems silly! The above link describes the activity for business leaders with an addendum at the end with tips for teachers! If you have questions or feedback, please reach out email@example.com.
British journalist Johann Hari has written for the New York Times, Le Monde, the Guardian, the New Republic, the Nation, Slate, and the Sydney Morning Herald. He was a columnist for the British newspaper the Independent for nine years and has received many prestigious journalist awards! He spent three years researching the war on drugs and questioning the ways in which we treat addiction. His 2015 TED Talk, “Everything you know about addiction is wrong!” is brilliant.
Listen if/when you can and see what you think. In addition to some enlightening research and hopeful results of Portugal’s unique approach to legalizing drugs that are applicable to the current opioid crisis in the US, he’s shedding light on a profound way of thinking that could help decrease violence and improve the foundation of our very existence.
Health Journalist, Kate Harveston, asks if it takes lawsuits against big pharma and others to wake up to the breadth and depth of the opioid crisis?
I don’t think it has to. As Hari talks about the importance of inclusion and healing our social fabric, consider how properly facilitated improv experiences can be used to teach the ‘soft’ skills people need to form and sustain healthy relationships. Relationships that in turn contribute to healthy individuals, communities, healthcare and other businesses. If you work with groups, the new improv class for leaders and teachers will teach you how to facilitate simple activities you can do with your group to foster connections!
The thing about improv, when facilitated properly, is that you are always practicing communication-related skills. ‘Soft’ skills that require practice for pretty much everyone. It is like going to the gym for developing our listening and speaking up muscles that are crucial for customer service, frontline problem-solving, and staff morale. All things that affect your bottom line!
That’s why applied improv for businesses can be extremely helpful to leaders who are trying to create cultures where innovation and service are thriving. And although, there is definitely an expertise involved in dove-tailing improv education with organizational development, there are some fundamental activities that most anyone who is willing to try, can teach. This “Improv of the Month for Business Visionaries ” blogpost series is designed to provide leaders who are willing to dip their toes into improv teaching a place to start. It is completely free and no strings attached. I do suggest you read the introto the series first and if you’d like more comprehensive support please check out train the trainer resources on my store page.
This activity is a fun way to bring focus onto listening skills!
April – First Letter Last Letter Word Association
How to play
It is pretty simple. One person says a word and another says a word that begins with the last letter of the word the previous person said. It can be played in pairs, which can feel safer to some, or in a circle.
Keep in mind, the learning is not about the words chosen, it is about listening to each other. And you will most likely note that people become engaged and focused while having fun. All things that hold value for individuals and teams especially in the high-stakes, high-stress work of healthcare!
Plant the seed for learning by telling your group that is a fun activity that will help them practice their listening skills.
If you think all individuals in your group will feel comfortable trying this out, go ahead and do it in a circle. If you think even one might feel shy or lacking of confidence either place them next to a friend or have people do this in pairs.
You can also give people a safety net by telling them they can make up words if they can’t think of anything. Part of what you might notice in this activity is your own or others hesitation and in some cases struggle to come up with a word. This speaks to how difficult assertiveness is at the roots and is worth noting!
For variations reverse the direction. This will insure that different patterns or relationships in listening and responding will occur. Also, note there is a subtlety of sharing power going on where people can make it easier or more difficult for the person next to them. Lots of layers going on!
Go around or back and forth a few times.
Debrief with questions like: What did you notice about listening? What other learning involving communication did anyone experience or observe? How can this activity help us at work?
Notice how much fun people have with this simple exercise and make a plan to do it again or with another group.
There is a lot more to applied improv than meets the eye!
Contact Beth to learn more about teaching improv in healthcare or other businesses. I’d love to help you improve communication and patient care and support your staff.
As discussed in the introduction to this series, integrating improv activities into your day to day work can be part of an organizational development effort to boost to morale, improve communication skills, build positive relationships and cultures. This month we’ll explore an incredibly simple activity called “I am”. If you are willing to take 10 minutes out of a staff meeting, clinical inservice, orientation process or other, you will build positive relationships and promote assertiveness and listening skills!
Discovering “I am”
This exercise is simple and promotes trust, self-awareness, empathy, and communication skills. By making time for “I am” in your meeting, you will help staff practice assertiveness and listening while inviting people to get to know each other a little better.
How to Teach “I am”
On a piece of paper, have staff complete the sentence, “I am _____________” three times. Tell them they will be sharing with 2-3 others in the group. Give them examples:
“I am excited about this meeting.”
“I am stressed about our new phone system.”
“I am hungry.”
Give the group 5 minutes or so to complete and then instruct them to share with 2-3 others over the next few minutes.
Encourage participants to spent equal time sharing their “I ams” and listening to those of others.
Be patient with the initial quietness of this activity. People tend to be tentative at first, yet within a minute or two all sorts of conversations emerge.
If your group is large use a bell or other signal to wrap up their conversations.
If time allows or your priorities warrant debrief with questions:
What do you think about this improv exercise?
Can you describe any learning related to emotional intelligence or communication skills?
Is and if so how is this activity helpful to the team?
In my book on Medical Improv I go into more details about skills, facilitation, and variations for this activity and 14 others.
Share your story!
What do you notice about this activity? Was it easy to teach? Did people seem to have fun? Even some who might groan a little?
There is a lot more to applied improv than meets the eye!
If you want, take a picture and write a short story about it. Maybe we’ll publish on the Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab Blog. 🙂
Contact Beth to learn more about teaching improv for staff development businesses or submit your story. And check out the exciting new methodology combining improv with mindfulness offered in Be Crazy workshops co-created by Liz Korabek-Emerson and Beth Boynton! Beth@bethboynton.com
Teaching improv for communication skills was a new experience for me. As someone with a background in theater, I have a deep-rooted passion for acting and dramatic storytelling. However, until recently, it had never occurred to me how effective basic acting exercises can be to the world outside of the dramatic sphere. By participating in improvisational acting, I witnessed people step outside of their comfort-zones and embrace new communication skills.
I was a recent participant in a course with Work Ready NH at Great Bay Community College that was aimed at honing job seeking and career building skills. During the course I was given the opportunity to teach my classmates an improv exercise. Knowing that a public speaking assignment was scheduled for the end of the course and having observed some of my classmates nervousness, I wanted to teach an exercise that would help them overcome mental stalling and verbal hesitancy. I reached out to Beth Boynton for ideas and she suggested that I try the “5 Things” activity. I am glad I followed her advice and was very pleased with the results.
Basic summary of how to play “5 Things”
Person A asks Person B to “Give me 5 things…”
Person A completes this phrase with some sort of category (i.e. “Give me 5 things that are green.”)
Person B responds with 5 things that can be found in that category i.e. 5 Green Things: 1. Traffic lights, 2. Money, 3. String Beans, 4. Sally’s eyes, 5. A green car
When I lead this activity in my class, I started by telling my classmates what I hoped to teach them through the activity: more confidence while communicating. After explaining the exercise I divided everyone into pairs and asked them to take turns giving each other just 3 Things (i.e. “Give me 3 types of shoes.”). I observed them and offered pointers to anyone who seemed to be struggling.
After everyone had gotten a chance to play out both roles I asked them to try and get more creative with the categories they were asking for (i.e. “Give me 3 mythical creatures.”). When everyone had tried that out, I had my classmates and myself form a circle and we went around, taking it in turns to ask for 5 Things (i.e. “Give me 5 aliens.”). I then had everyone in the circle try the activity one more time, but for them to really try and push the envelope (i.e. “Give me 5 joke book titles.”)
The Positive Results of Improv
The entire exercise was a delight to observe. I watched self-identified introverts become class comedians and was overjoyed by the level of understanding and support everyone offered each other throughout the activity. Having a safe-space in which to explore is a vital nurturing element of any acting exercise and my class definitely provided that after only having known each other a couple of weeks.
Observations and Developments
While desks and tables had been pushed back, the amount of space in the classroom was limited, so I was not able to walk in between the paired groups as much as I would have liked. Having a larger area to spread out in would definitely be a benefit. I tried to promote a fast-paced back and forth that could help my classmates overcome verbal pausing and nerves. It was interesting to note how some people instead placed the exercise in the setting of a personal conversation with drawn out explanations for why they chose to give each thing. They still displayed creativity and confidence, but they took the activity to a setting I was not expecting, since I was familiar with “5 Things” and similar improv games in a more traditional theater setting.
A New Lease on Improv
What I found especially fascinating about teaching the exercise, were the changes in my own style of playing the game. Having had previous training and experience with improv exercises, I was familiar with how I usually participate in them. When I had played improv games round-robin in a circle, I would watch everyone else, but at the same time, I would always be thinking ahead to what I would do and what my own “performance” would be like when it got to be my turn. Adversely, when I was teaching the exercise, my main focus was on everyone else’s performance and providing them with support, so that when it got to be my turn, I just thought up something random on the spot without even thinking it over. In essence by encouraging everyone else to get past hesitancy and doubts, I was accidentally giving myself more ability and confidence at the same time.
Teaching improv was an amazing experience as a observant who watched it transform the communication skills of other’s and as a participant experiencing new elements of an old game. It is definitely something I look forward to doing more of in the future.
Seacoast SCORE Mentors and guests who attended my recent workshop, Applied Improv – A Surprising Way to Promote Listening Skills took the plunge into improv with enthusiasm!
They jumped into “Yes and…” and “Same Time Story” activities with an openness to learning that isn’t always easy for folks who’ve never tried improv before.
Listening is one of those human interactive skills that is easier to talk about than it is to practice! AND you have to be willing to try something out-of-the-box in order to develop your skills with improv.
SCORE Volunteer, Brenda Richards provided assistance in the workshop. She has also been a very helpful Mentor to me over the last year in developing my own business; Boynton Improv Education, LLC!
And just so you know, Seacoast SCORE has some great and FREE resources to offer new and emerging business people. AND if you have business skills to share, you might want to explore options to become a SCORE Volunteer!
“Seacoast SCORE is continually recruiting new clients and new mentors. Because more than half of our clients are female, we’re making a concerted effort to recruit additional female mentors in 2019.” –Brenda Richards
As discussed in the introduction to this series, integrating improv activities into your day to day work can be part of an organizational development effort to boost to morale, improve communication skills, build positive relationships and cultures. This month we’ll explore an incredibly simple activity called “Radical Acceptance” which is also called “3 Things” (Not to be confused with “5 Things” which was January’s Improv of the Month). Please take a few minutes to review the introduction to learn more about setting up your process. Also note, I have added an addendum so this activity can by used by teachers of any subject at grades 3 and up! 🙂
“Radical Acceptance” or “3 Things”
You’ll see, the more you get into Medical Improv or Applied Improv that instructors often tweak activities and names while trying our best to cite originators.
I first I learned this activity from Jude Treder-Wolff in a workshop on managing change and often teach “Radical Acceptance” as a first improv activity in my workshops. It is a great way to create emotional safety and demonstrate how affirming and easy improv can be. As you read through the teaching steps, resist the urge to dismiss it because it is so simple. I’ve had seen huge grins on people who don’t normally speak up and one young man shared that he brought it back to his bachelor’s party and his friends all loved it! So if you want to engage staff, build a spirit of collaboration, and promote assertiveness, this activity will help.
How to teach”Radical Acceptance”
Have up to 12 people get in a circle.
Choose a category that all people can relate to. (Comfort foods, fruit, anything to do with weather, or something your business team might be familiar with.)
Explain that each person will have a turn naming 3 things in the category and the group’s job is to shout “Yes” with more and more enthusiasm after each one.
It will look something like this!
Person A: “Chocolate pudding!”
The Group: (shouts with some enthusiasm) “Yes!”
Person A: “Cheesecake”
The Group: (shouts with more enthusiasm) “Yes!”
Person A: “Blueberries”
The Group: (shouts with even more enthusiasm as if it is the most exciting thing anyone has ever said) “YES!”
4. Go around the circle so everyone has a chance to name desserts and be accepted by the group.
5. Invite feedback about the experience!
Explain to the group that their job is to be supportive. If someone says says the same thing twice, something that has already been said, or something that others would not consider a dessert, it is still the job of the group to say “YES!”
Encourage building enthusiasm with verbal and nonverbal language.
Allow for people to hesitate a little as some people will. In that moment of hesitation lies the hidden reality of how hard speaking up can be! Try to be comfortable and get the group to be patient with the waiting. This too, can be hard.
Eventually people will come up with ideas and if they don’t you can encourage them to name things that have already been named, or help with a clue like asking for kinds of ice-cream, or give the option to ‘pass’ and circle back, or even eventually letting others help them. (When people struggle with naming something like 3 desserts, imagine how hard speaking up might be as a new staff member to manager or manager to senior leader. Assertiveness is complicated and “Radical Acceptance” helps build it at the very roots. AND true collaboration and optimal creativity come from a place where all voices are spoken and heard.)
If you suspect that assertiveness will be hard for some people in the group, have them do one category in pairs and then one in the full circle. Pairs are safer and this will help build confidence and trust.
As you invite feedback it is always possible that someone will share that it isn’t good for a group to always agree with everything someone says. This is true so validate their point and add that the activity can help to build confidence and allows for practicing speaking up. As people learn to trust that they’ll be heard and honored in this activity, they will be more likely to share an idea, concern, or constructive feedback in the clinical environment. Strangely enough, the “Yes and…” principle of improv is quite helpful in developing the confidence to say “No”!
Assuming you are starting a rippling effect with your team and other leaders will try it with theirs, use it as a conversation starter to see kinds of categories others have come up with and/or what others think of the experience. If nothing else, it is a shared, positive social experience.
Addendum – Facilitation Tips for Teachers
With younger children, start out with one or two things. You can build up to three as comfort levels increase. When you facilitate for one or two things, simple tell the other children to respond with big enthusiasm each time. It doesn’t have to gradually increase.
Choose categories that will enhance everyone’s success. You can adapt to bring out quieter kids a little by choosing a category that you think they will be comfortable with. ‘Animals’ or ‘pets’ for a kid who loves dogs or ‘characters from books’ for a kid who loves to read will be helpful. And be sure to watch the face’s of these kids as they get support from all their classmates.
Another variation would be to have one person in the circle share their ‘thing’ while the person to their right provides support. This will allow you to change direction and placement of kids in the circle over time and with discretion. A simple maneuver that will nurture power sharing in new and healthy directions!
Explain that children should be appropriate. Otherwise they don’t have to be perfect and mistakes are fine.
When children seem to be struggling with an idea, encourage the class to be patient and quiet. Invite the child to choose someone to help them with an idea and those with ideas can raise their hands. These moments can feel awkward or even painful and being mindful of allowing a couple of seconds of struggle is important. This is where impulses for the quieter child to hold back from sharing and the more comfortable child to speak up lie and can be guided towards growth. Yet, it is also important to move quickly so the child can experience success. And it is perfectly fine for a child to experience the group’s support when s/he shares an idea provided by someone else.
You could also consider coming up with a word that anyone can use if they can’t think of anything, such as “pog”. You might even call the game “Pog”. Play “Pog” a few times over the year and watch for your students to become better listeners and more confident while playing and elsewhere!
Make a mistake on purpose to demonstrate that participants should be supported no matter what they say. For instance, if the category is ‘fruit’, you could say “spaghetti”. This will prompt laughter and possibly judgments about you being wrong. You can show resilience and remind students that their job in this activity is to support each other. Follow with, “I’m going to say ‘spaghetti’ again and want to hear you support me.”
No doubt you will have ideas to make it safer and enhance learning. Perhaps you could have smaller groups up front while others watch, index cards with words or pictures in a certain categories available as prompts for the first few times you do it. Or maybe assign one student to be available as a resource or helper and that person can be called upon by anyone having trouble thinking of something, whisper an idea to the one asking for help. Still the child who asks for help will share the idea. Or maybe they can say it together. Facilitating the activity so that everyone experiences sharing and being supported is the best measure of your success.
Share your experience
Keep your eyes and ears open to how the experience is impacting the energy and morale in your workplace (or classroom).
If you want, take a picture and write a short story about it. Maybe we’ll publish on the Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab (PILL) Blog. 🙂 Contact me for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org!
There is a lot more to applied improv than meets the eye!
Contact Beth to learn more about teaching improv in healthcare or other businesses. And check out the exciting new methodology combining improv with mindfulness offered in Be Crazy workshops co-created by Liz Korabek-Emerson and Beth Boynton!