At Carolina Improv Company, in partnership with Pivot10 Results, we apply improv techniques to train people and organizations to be in the moment and to respond to the unexpected. Our training is considered a fun way to apply learning. Nothing gets more real than the unexpected during a training session. Recently we used one of our favorite exercises for large groups – something called the Diamond Dance, which we renamed the Leadership Dance for this particular client. The session was for a group of people from a variety of companies in a leadership program. We use this exercise as an ice breaker to get participants to let down their guards in an interactive training situation.
For this exercise we play high energy music for participants to dance to, but there are some rules involved: the facilitator chooses someone to start dancing, the first dancer taps on someone near them to start dancing and so on until everyone is dancing. The exercise itself has a variety of versions. For this version the focus was on the following leadership skills: 1) Giving/Delegating a task and 2) Taking Initiative/Leading in a task. In addition, the participants had to commit to the exercise as if their inclusion in the leadership program depended on it – basically “dance like you have never danced before.” It’s fascinating to watch the approach that the group takes in choosing the next person to dance while others wait to be chosen or hope to NOT be chosen, even though it’s inevitable all must participate – very applicable to our daily jobs and lives. So often we may not like delegating, being chosen for a task or being left out of a project. This exercise reminds us of these things.
The exercise, as expected, started out with great enthusiasm and laughter. The first person to dance set the bar with intense dance moves and the dancing fever spread on with an unusual pattern. And then all of sudden someone had fallen to the floor during her dance. At first it seemed like an “oops, I fell and am getting back up” until we heard her cries of pain and someone yelled “turn off the music.” The woman had dislocated her knee!!! People swarmed around her. Someone yelled to call 911. The guy next to me said, “I’m an EMT. I can help.” and he jumped in. Then all of a sudden, the guy next to her, who works for an ad agency, jumped into action and popped her knee into place while the EMT went through a series of asking her questions for coherency. Meanwhile, as the facilitator, I was in utter shock, crying on the inside because I had never experienced this. There was nothing I could do in the moment as what needed to be done was happening. I was not needed in that moment but didn’t know what my immediate future held.
As everything calmed down within 10 minutes and the woman sat back in her seat everyone seemed to turn to look at me at the same time with looks of “Now what?” I honestly didn’t know what to do next in the moment. I’ve never trained or prepared for this. The panic was over. The group, who were strangers and just met for the first time by the way, had instantly bonded and now looked to me for the next direction. With all eyes on me, I said the first thing that came to mind, “Well, looks like the dance party is over!” and everyone laughed. The mood had quickly lifted from fear of the unknown to back to business. And honestly it made for a great example of why we use improv techniques in training … “Here’s an example of ‘shit happens’,” I said. How we respond to unexpected situations is what is important. Some participants were thanking the injured and embarrassed woman to make her feel better – “Hey thanks, now the rest of us don’t have to dance!”
I didn’t spend time lamenting over what happened other than to say “This has never happened before. Wow! Okay, let’s move on to something called ‘yes and’, an exercise that focuses on being flexible to change and new ideas.” We all moved on and I completed the session. Afterwards I told the client how internally freaked out I was and she said she couldn’t tell and that she was impressed with my professionalism. I then reflected on the moment and realized that my reaction was one of calmness. From all of my training I know that mirroring can impact a group – if I visibly freak out so will others and if I stay calm so will others. Obliviously I was “practicing what I preach” and using all of the skills that I try to instill in others.
After training/orientation I attended the group’s reception, mainly to check on the “dancer gone wild” and to find out how the session impacted them. Several of them said, “We wanted to dance! We need to do this exercise again.” “We will,” I assured them “but with a disclaimer to dance SAFELY like you’ve never danced before.”
If you were in this situation what do you think you would have done? Tell us – we want to hear from you.
Carolina Improv offers customized training programs in the areas of customer service, sales, leadership and team building for groups of all sizes and at all employee levels. We also travel to anywhere in the world to provide our services. For more information visit our Business Solutions or contact Gina Trimarco at firstname.lastname@example.org