Let's start by establishing why it might be a good idea to spend some of our valuable session time playing a game. I often ask delegates to give me some reasons why it is worth playing games, and the reasons given include;
Raise energy levels Get delegates talking Give a clean “break” from other sessions Fun Introduce training topics Re-engage delegates who are “drifting off” Offer a “level” that equalises all participants
And so on. I mention this here because when we're stood in front of a hostile looking audience, attempting to get them to play a game, it's good to have some clear reasons in our minds why we're doing it.
With these reasons clear, let's understand something else. Some people dislike playing games. It doesn't matter there are lots of reasons to play them, nor does it matter that other people in the room are having a good time. Some people will just not enjoy themselves regardless. When I check my feedback forms there will always be some negative comments about the games… But I keep with using them because I know they work, and the reasons above are all sound.
So what makes a good game? A good guideline is to think about mental, physical and verbal warm ups, so look to utilise games that get people thinking, moving and talking. Ideally we need a blend of these three over each session, which will often mean we're going to need more than one game. Well chosen, quick games will only take 5-10 minutes out of our available time and will give us so many benefits.
We are looking for games that are easy to understand and easy to participate in. Too many instructions that take too long are not a good choice. We want games that can be introduced and explained quickly, so we can get playing them as soon as possible.
We also need to avoid games that require individuals to do anything while everyone else looks at them. This is something many find embarrassing, so we would be advised to make use of games that involve everyone all the time. We also don't really want games that have people being “out” because the moment they “step out” we lose their input.
How we introduce a game is also important. I generally avoid giving any sort of explanation of a game, or icebreaker because these words scare people. Instead I just invite delegates to move from one activity to the next. I NEVER tell them it will be fun, nor do I acknowledge they may not want to get involved or anything like this. I simply explain the next activity, and delegates get up and get involved. It's important to speak with the assumption and conviction of one who knows that delegates will involve themselves. I suggest you avoid saying things like “it's a bit of fun” or “we'll all look like fools together”. We are using these exercises because of the reasons we have identified, so this is time well spent.
It's important also that the training team… Whether just you or colleagues too… Are involved with the games. You play as you explain what the rules are, and it's really important that you apparently enjoy the game as much as the delegates. Let me give you an example.
I have been teaching juggling for ten years. Now in ten years I have heard (I imagine) all the jokes related to juggling I am ever likely to hear… Two left hands, no sense of rhythm and so on. People being delighted when they first manage to start juggling. People laughing at their inability to catch the balls and so on. But the fact is if I don't seem to enjoy it as much as they do, it is considerably harder to keep them engaged.
After playing a game too, it's important that we have the courage of our convictions, and ignore the temptation to explain why we just did that. Move onto the next activity and all will seem fine.
With these brief guidelines in place you can see easily why some activities just don't work. The classic “let's go around the room and introduce yourself” for example. It's verbal only, it's one person at a time, it's not clear how much to say, nor how much detail and so on. It's usually introduced as the “dreaded” icebreaker too!
Find some games you are happy playing, ones that are genuinely fun, and easy for everyone to play and most people will happily join in. On that note, I have no issue with people not playing – though it happens very rarely – so games where people can self select out of a game is good, or where it really doesn't matter how much they do. Some trainers really get very intense about every last instruction being followed.
Try some games, have some fun, and I wish you all the best.