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Games Utilized or Referenced in the 2023 PDC Conference in Charlotte
Developing Outside-the-Box Thinking in an Inside-the-Box Profession

Stop & Go

Good for: online (cameras on) or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: Loosen a group up, create mindfulness in the moment, get a group laughing / relaxed, creates group bonding over "ridiculousness" / gets beginning of program discomfort out, gets participants laughing at themselves, can create discussions about finding comfort making mistakes and how everyone makes mistakes, can create discussions around the need for clear understanding of what instructions are asking of people.

Description: Get the group to stand and participate as they are physically able or comfortable doing so (always give space for people with different abilities or comfort levels participating physically to sit something out).  Let them know that they will be starting with something simple: snapping and clapping.  When you say snap, they snap, and when you say clap, they clap.  I recommend doing the physical aspect with them to demonstrate and build a sense of group.  Mix this up -- don't just go back and forth between snapping and clapping.  Once they have done this a few times, switch to moving in place (walking in place is good for in-person, but just moving the upper body works for virtual programs) and stopping (aka Go and Stop).  So you will ask them to Go Go, Stop, Go, Stop, etc.  Now go back to snapping and clapping and ask them to reverse it -- when you say snap they clap, when you say clap they snap.  Try that for a bit.  People will start to mess up more (they will have messed up a bit before but this will generate more confusion).  Now ask them to also Stop and Go in reverse -- when you say Stop they go, and when you say Go they stop.  Try that for a bit.

Then combine them.  Snap, Clap, Go, and Stop but to the reverse of the instruction.  Mix it all up, let them laugh and make mistakes.  Pick up speed if you feel like they can handle it.  If you are demonstrating, you might even make mistakes. 

Brick Furniture

Good for: online or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals:  This is a great introduction to the base concept of "Yes, And," or a good refresher/practice for it.

Description: You will describe a situation for the group that is something ridiculous, and then you will ask them to find the positive in it, because they can't change it.  The one I have found works really well is describing the scenario that they have hired you as their interior designer / architect, given you all of their money, and they came back and everything is brick -- furniture, house, flooring, pillows, etc.  And since they gave you all their money, they are stuck with it.

But you can do this with a variety of odd scenarios, depending how creative you are!

Redecorating This Room // Range of Options

Good for: online or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: Develop an understanding of the range of options that you can find ways to say yes to an offer. It is the introduction to an advanced "Yes, And."  This is also a strong activity to demonstrate and build understanding around the idea that we don't have to operate only in "yes or no" responses.

Description: This is another scenario set-up with brainstorming response activity.  Here, the scenario is that one party suggests that you redecorate the room and paint everything blue.  The discussion is around the idea that we normally think in terms a "yes or no" response, so either we will respond that we agree to painting everything blue or we don't.  In reality, though, there is a wide range of responses: we can paint the room, yes, but a different color; we can not paint the room but maybe throw some blue in with accents; we can work together to decide on something we both like; we can redecorate a different room; etc.  The more different takes we can get in the space between "yes, let's do your idea exactly as you suggest it" and "no let's change nothing," the better.


Good for: online or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: Build an understanding of / awareness of the frequency with which we respond just "yes or no" to things and start to help ourselves and those we coach break out of that instinct.

Description: Ask for examples of things that are traditionally dichotomies or either/or -- things that fall in one of two categories.  Phrases, even.  Like, "things are either black or white," "we can either go out or stay home," "we can say yes or no," etc.  Depending on the group, you might even get some weird things -- "we are either dinosaurs or not."  And then ask for them to think of a third option for the things listed.  Examples: there is also gray, or it can be both black AND white; we can invite people over; we can say maybe; we can be humans who pretend to be dinosaurs...  The discussion would hopefully go to a place where we ask participants to start to notice when they internally decide that they have to make an either/or decision and start to identify at least a third option for things, to help themselves work on breaking out of routine thinking patterns and open up to new options.

Bad Idea / Good Idea

Good for: online or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: Working to break out of our "automatic no" response to things / our internal editors where we cut off ideas before even giving them voice/breath.

Description:  Ask participants to write down (or post on a group board, like a Miro board or a Jamboard if virtual) some bad ideas.  Let them have a couple of moments to come up with things that are as bad or weird as they like.  Then move on to another discussion point or pivot the discussion.  Come back to this later and ask them to look at the bad ideas with fresh eyes and pick someone else's bad idea and explain why it is, in fact, a good or great idea.  This is an activity that is good to do in a group and then ask participants to practice on their own, as well, to help them start to break down their internal editor.


Yes, And Stories

Good for: online or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: Introduce teams/participants to the idea of "yes, and" (the importance of accepting the offers people bring to the table; working with radical acceptance of the situation; collaborating to build forward), get groups cooperating together, the importance of listening carefully and responding to what has actually come before, get individuals in a place of mindfulness (since they cannot plan their responses or contributions), introduce the group to the idea that through collaboration outcomes they could not have achieved alone are not only possible but the standard, or simply set a tone of interactivity in a simple activity early in a program so that activities later on that require deeper / more intense participation come more easily (particularly if you have a lot of introverts or shy participants)

Description:  This one is incredibly simple for the value you can get out of it.  You are asking the group to tell a story together, as a big group, and they have to build on the story that has come before them.  You will start with a good starter word like, "Once," or "We," or even something like "Surprisingly," and then point to each person in turn.  They have to come up with a word that follows what came before and thus have to be paying attention and can't preplan a concept.  At a certain point, you will want to say "the end!" or "and scene!" and lead the applause for the group -- an ending point will often become obvious.  I recommend doing a couple of rounds.


  • Get some volunteers to come up front and stand in a line and have them do a Yes, And 1-word at a time story going down the line repeatedly.  Depending on your group, a small group up front might work best, allowing those who are too shy to just watch.  You get the same learning outcomes.

  • Go for a 1-phrase story instead of a 1-word story!  So "Once upon a time" instead of just "Once".  I like to start with a 1-word story and then go with a 1-phrase story.  A good discussion point if you do it this way is to ask about whether or not, even with what feels like more input, they had more "drive" over the direction of where the story went (they really don't -- a big story told by a group is a great illustration of the power of true collaboration creating things a single person can't singularly create).

Gratitude Alphabet

Good for: online or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: Focusing the group on gratitude / the positive, mindfulness in the moment, if done against a time limit in small groups it becomes an activity focused partially on collaboration and listening

Description: Going through the alphabet, in order, have participants take turns listing things they are grateful for that starts with that letter (ex. A = grateful for attorneys!, B = grateful for bananas, C = grateful for calculators on our cell phones, etc.).  You can do it by pointing to people in a particular order or randomly, so they can't think it out in advance too much. 


  • You can also have people pair off and do this in pairs or small groups taking turns and give them a time limit to try to complete it by (3 minutes can be a good challenging time limit for this activity).

  • You can do this with themes to make it more focused or difficult, also.  (Things in the office we are grateful for, things about our career that we are grateful for, etc.)

  • This is actually a fun activity to do with kids or family at Thanksgiving, if you celebrate this, as well, to introduce them to the idea of gratitude and thankfulness, and I've found it useful on long car rides, also!

Don't Spill the Water

Good for: in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: This is a good activity to help demonstrate the importance of providing context in communication.

Description: Invite a volunteer to the front of the room/space.  Fill a glass of water up to the very tip-top and ask them to walk across the front of the room, holding the glass, and not spilling a drop. (The fuller the glass the better this all is.)  Ask the participants / audience how invested they were in whether the water spills.  They will tend to give lukewarm responses here.  Then, set-up a scenario with high stakes.  For example, everyone in a tiny village will now die in a terrible natural disaster if the volunteer spills a single drop of water.  Now ask the volunteer to walk across the room without spilling.  Ask the group at large how that felt and if they were more invested.  And ask the volunteer if they themselves felt more invested in the task at hand. 

Tapping The Song

Best for: in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals:  This is to help illustrate the idea that we may think we are communicating clearly something to another party and be over-confident in our own communication, but often, if we aren't fully clear, at least one other party is left in the dark.  

Description: Get a volunteer to come up front and ask them to tap out a song.  No humming, no mouthing the words.  But they should tap out a song that they think everyone will recognize on the lecturn or clap it out. If they are stuck coming up with one, whisper one in their ears.

Reflect, Share, & Listen

Best for: in-person, pairs or small groups

Purpose / learning goals: A great opener activity in particular, this is good for allowing attendees/participants to reflect on their own experiences before group learning begins and hear possibly varying perspectives. Debrief gives a good opportunity to highlight the varying experiences of people or the mutuality of the value of being able to share and be heard.

Description: This one is relatively simple.  You ask people to either pair off or work as a table and share with each other a similar experience or their personal experience with a topic.  



  • A very valuable variation on this one is to ask people to pair off and take turns sharing something with each other that is important to them or has been on their mind.  The other person's goal is to just listen closely and summarize/reflect back at the end what they heard that person say.  This is great for helping individuals practice active listening in programs focused on communication and can lead to good conversations in the debrief with questions like, "What was hard about that?",  "What was valuable for you as the communicator, hearing your thoughts reflected back?", and "What was valuable for you as the listener?"

Debriefing Practice

Good for: online or in-person, any size group

Purpose / learning goals: To practice the skill of and recognise the aspects of debriefing -- a core piece of Applied Improv.

Description:  We designed this one just for you, PDC, and it is a twist on Reflect, Share, & Listen.  We asked you to share  what you had heard throughout the session in terms of debriefing questions and how it had helped you think through your own learning experiences.  We also asked you to take turns debriefing each other on some suggested experiences: the keynote, if you attended it, lunch, your travel to the conference, a recent program that you led, etc., with the goal being to help lead each other to identify a point of learning that we can take going forward.

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