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Virtual Improv Jam, May 7, Facilitation Lessons

I started these Jams as a way to learn about managing and facilitating improv exercises for a remote audience. This was a selfish act, as next week I am facilitating a Collaborative Improv workshop for the IA Conference. You should attend by the way. You can still register for the workshop here! The workshop is Thursday, May 14th!

So when I started, I was worried. How do I translate in person exercises to the digital realm? I had to start somewhere. I chose the Jams.

What is a Jam you ask? An improv jam is basically a musical jam session, but for improv. Players assemble and just have fun for an hour or two. No shows, no formula, just some activities and exercises. And NO PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE REQUIRED.

Wait, I keep missing these!

So the Jams are held weekly on Thursdays at 8PM EDT. Our next session will is Thursday, May 21 at 8PM EDT. Register Here.

May 7 Jam Recap

So, the quick recap of what we played:

Attendees playing Red Ball, Thank You
Attendees playing Everybody Let’s

Now things got fun. We had ten participants at various stages of the Jam. So with many games quicker and more focussed in groups of 4-5, we used Zoom’s breakout room features. We played:

Finally, we reconvened for what has become the sign-off of the jam, World’s Worst Disco.

Organizing a Jam

So far, I’ve been hosting each Jam with a sheet of paper of games I want to play. Usually around the third activity, the page is chicken scratch of what I want to do next, what’s working, and what’s not working.

The first 6 Jams, organized on a note-pad. Filled with numbers for the order we actually played, stars for what works, X’s for what doesn’t, and gibberish everywhere.

With the IAC Jam last week, I started with all the games in post-it notes and I could grab, move them around as-needed. The numbers indicate the number of participants to indicate if I need breakout rooms. I used this method again today and WOW was it a lot easier than trying to navigate a half-sheet of notes.

My “reusable” list of games and notes

On Offering Prompts

One game I love playing during the Jams is Premise Lawyer. Part of the game is to offer an absurd, or strange prompt. Some of my favorites over the years include:

  • Sharks are just puppies stacked together in a rubber suit (my classic example)
  • Teeth are people seeds
  • Cats are aliens sent here to experiment on us
  • Books are food

The point being, it doesn’t have to make sense, but the individual with focus has to rationalize it for 30-45 seconds.

One lesson I’ve taken away is there is a lot of perceived pressure in coming up with a tricky, witty, clever or fun prompt. I encourage folks to take the first two things that come to their mind and make a statement out of it. Still, I think I will offer pre-defined prompts when I run this in larger groups.

On Managing Strangers

I noted last week after the IAC Jam some of the challenges in facilitating a group of friends. This most recent Jam had more strangers than friends, and folks from all across North and Central America. The energy was great, the connections were strong, and I thank everyone for the friendly, welcoming nature you all brought to improv.

Still, this is an improv jam, not a social hour. There are times to chat, times to joke, and times to communicate frameworks for the next activity. I am proud to say I only had to use this technique once, but I needed to Mute-All the attendees.

I did this, not out of cruelty or wanting to curtail the relationship building, but this was about 10-minutes after our start time and we were all just talking over one another. Zoom with 3-5 people we can treat like a natural converation, but larger than that small microconversations occur and it is difficult to hear.

I needed to regain focus without losing momentum.

Am I proud of unilaterally muting everyone? No.

Did it work? Did everyone understand why I did it and appreciate it? I think so.

Mute-All. It’s powerful stuff.

Want to Jam?

I plan to host a virtual Jam weekly as long as this social distancing is happening. To be the first to know, follow @Collab_Improv or @Dafark8 to see the announcements when registration goes live!

Our next session will be Thursday, May 21 at 8PM EDTYou can register here.

If you are part of a team, contact me and we can discuss a 30-45 minute session for your team. I want to offer Improv Jams for free (as much as that is feasible).

Be safe. Practice self care. We are in this together. Reach out to friends and colleagues if you are struggling.

And please, wash your hands.

Buy the Book!

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