Improv to improve your listening skills

I was asked this week for some improvisation exercises that would help to build listening skills and prepare the participants to build on each other’s ideas in the planned creative ideation. While I have lots of exercises in my back pocket as it were, finding ones that haven’t already been used on the team, is no easy matter. In effect I had to creatively brainstorm for exercises for a creative brainstorming session!

Here are the ones I came up with:

Warm up: Knife Baby Angry Cat


All participants should walk around the room.  Ask one participant to pantomime throwing a knife, ninja-style, to another participant.  They should make a swooshing sound as the knife is thrown.  That participant catches the knife and throws it to another participant.

Once that goes well, add a pantomimed baby to the mix.  The baby must be thrown very carefully.  Give the baby a sound that is clearly distinguished from the knife.

If that goes well, add in an angry cat. Again with a distinct sound and a distinct throwing style.

Feel free to add other objects but make sure throwing style and sound are different.  The participants themselves can come up with things to throw.

The rules:

  1. Everyone must keep walking around.
  2. There must be eye contact between the thrower and the catcher before the knife is thrown: it should be very clear who is supposed to catch the knife.  The same applies to the baby and cat.
  3. There should not be more than 3-4 seconds between throws.  If someone hesitates, you start again.
  4. The game builds the idea of being present in the moment, trust, and having fun.

Listening skills: three things


Ask the participants to stand in a circle.  The first participant (to your left) must point to someone else in the circle and say a phrase that starts with “Name three things…”  for example:

Name three things in your bathroom

Name three things you do in the morning

Name three things you love

The person who was pointed to must then say the three things that they were asked for.  Once they’ve named three things, they then point to someone else and say a new phrase.

The rules:

  1. You cannot say anything that anyone has said before.  For example if someone says hair brush, and that is one of the three things you want to say, you must say tool with bristles for keeping the top of my head tidy.  You cannot say either “hair” or “brush”.  This means you have to listen to what everyone is saying.
  2. When someone repeats a word we laugh and start again.
  3. Each statement must also be different and shouldn’t be similar.  For example, if someone says name three things in your bathroom, and you said name three things in your bedroom, we would stop, laugh and start again.
  4. The idea is to have fun, to listen, be present in the moment and don’t worry about failing.

Listening skills and Trust: Mime me


Before the session, prepare some index cards with situations and actions written on them.  For example,

A beach on the south of France, participant must build a sand castle

A football stadium, participant must referee a football game

A frozen lake in Alaska, participant must catch a fish

Put the participants into groups of two.  Ask one of each pair to come and get an index card.  Without showing it to their partner, they must get the other person (the mime) to do what is on the card.  They cannot tell them what is on the card, instead, they must direct the person’s actions until they are doing the action.  In the last example, they might tell the person to shiver (it’s cold in Alaska).  They might tell them to cast their arm backwards or to sit down… You get the idea.

The rules:

  1. The mime cannot speak, they can only follow the instructions.
  2. The game is done when the mime appears to be doing exactly what is on the card.  At that point, the second person goes to get a new index card and the roles are reversed.
  3. The first person cannot touch the mime, or do the action for them.  They must stand still, giving direction with their words only.
  4. Builds trust within the pairs, creative thinking and listening skills.

Building skills: The gunslingers

04-the-good-the-bad-and-the-uglyPick three participants at random – these are your gunslingers.  The 3 players, form a line. The other participants provide questions or problems for which they need advice. The 3 players provide good, bad, and really bad advice.  The facilitator chooses who from the “audience” needs advice.

The rules:

  1. Each form of advice, good, bad and ugly should build on the previous piece of advice.
  2. Good advice must be good.
  3. Bad advice must be bad.
  4. If the bad advice is really bad, then the ugly advice should be even worse.
  5. If the advice given doesn’t build or is not worse than the last, the gunslinger is replaced by the person who needed advice.
  6. If someone is really good at the game, the facilitator reserves the right to replace them after 5 turns anyway.
  7. Let’s the team have fun by listening and building on each other’s ideas.  The worse the advice the better!

Well what do you think?  Have you used these games before?  Do you have any others that you could share?

+Alesandra Blakeston

12 thoughts on “Improv to improve your listening skills

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