How can one improvise in a virtual world?

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —September 13, 2006
Filed in Collaboration

How can one improvise (together) in a virtual world, using electronic connections? How can we bring the benefits of interactivity into this medium, which is often an isolating medium?

You know about Improv right? Improv is often known for principles like:

  • Accept all offers
  • Be present
  • Do something
  • Be average
  • Make mistakes
  • Let go

Izzy Gesell and I have been offered the opportunity to do a webinar for our upcoming joint workshop “Change your story Change your world”. As you may know, a webinar involves ringing in and joining in on, essentially, a very large conference call. This webinar can have anywhere between 100–250 callers. The challenge has been to design an interactive program with people we can’t see and we don’t even know how many people there are there. Waiting to join in. Or just sitting listening. The challenge is in the design of trying to create something in almost a brand new medium, providing interactivity and engagement, when so much of our work is about working with people in the same room. The same time and space.

The challenge then is how to create an interactive personal experience in a virtual medium like the webinar. How do we get people to feel connected and interactive when they can’t see each other or respond to each other in visual or usual real-time ways? Have you experienced this challenge?


About  Andrew Rixon

7 Responses to “How can one improvise in a virtual world?”

  1. Matt Moore Says:

    Based on experience, it is impossible to do this with anything more than 30 people and just a phone connection. Different story if you’ve got instant messaging running – because that can provide all kinds of cues and opportunities for people.
    You cannot have 250 people speaking on a call. You’ll have a small number of contributors and a larger number of lurkers. So the question is: how do you best engage the smaller number of potential contributors and give the lurkers something of value?
    If you are asking questions or generating responses in some other fashion then:
    – You want to have some primed stooges in the audience to say something if no one else will – and to show that saying something is OK.
    – You also want to do this comparatively early in the call (first 10 mins). The later you leave the opportunity for interaction, the less you will get.
    Good luck and I hope it goes well.

  2. Izzy Gesell Says:

    I think this is an area that has much relevance as more and more meetings, trainings and networking events go “virtual.”

    How or even whether the virtues and application of improv theater skills can translate into a webinar – like setting was a discussion point at last year’s
    Applied Improv Network conference and continues among practioners of many areas of interest who deal with the interface of technology, distance and human interaction. Any thoughts?

  3. Andrew Rixon Says:

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks for your comment.
    Starting early with the interaction certainly makes sense for garnering a culture of participation. “As things begin, so they continue”.
    In an improv situation like this we were wondering about how culture might form. Like for instance, how would people form norms about dealing with ‘speaking over’ each other, or the ‘being first to speak’ dilemma?

  4. Matt Moore Says:

    “Speaking over” – This is where something like Instant Messaging can be invaluable – because people can virtually “put their hand up”.
    If you have no other cues then it is just a free-for-all. Some hosted conference call providers provide a moderator to filter and line-up people’s calls in the background. Not sure if that is an option here.
    The “first to speak” dilemma is where your stooges come in. You have someone pre-primed to speak and you respond positively to what they have to say.

  5. Nancy White Says:

    I started to write then realized my answer was pretty darn long for a comment, so I’ve posted my answer on my blog!

  6. Izzy Gesell Says:

    Matt, your comments are spot on. How to take these techniques which rely so much on presence and spontaneity and try and mine the benefits from them in a whole new world. It’s like trying to do karate with a partner who is not there.

    This concept of bringing Improv ideas and techniques into the “virtual” worldwas explored at the Applied Improv Network conference last October

    Part of the fun is finding kindred spirits on the path.

  7. Andrew Rixon Says:

    Thanks Nancy, will go have a look!

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