Ask The Doctor
Ask for a volunteer to play the role of a doctor. Everyone else will be guests at an event.
The event can switch; maybe one time it is a casual party, another time a medical conference or a Friday night bowling league, etc. If you are working with a large group, try this exercise with smaller teams of 5-8 participants and run a few rounds of it, switching the event setting as you go.
As a group, decide on a subject for the volunteer to be a doctor of. The less the volunteer knows about the subject the better. Certainly you could have someone be a medical doctor, but they might also choose to be a doctor of astrophysics. Or a doctor of polka music. You name it.
Next prepare the group by explaining the event they are attending. Paint it out for them a bit. For example, Dianne is playing our Doctor of Baby Dinosaurs and is attending Sarah's wedding. Let's have the scene start at the wedding with Sarah introducing Dianne to her wedding guests and bragging that she is a very accomplished Doctor of Baby Dinosaurs. This will intrigue everyone else gathered enough that they begin to ask the doctor questions on the subject of Baby Dinosaurs. The doctor must answer every question asked thoroughly at the top of their intelligence. If ever a question is too difficult for the doctor, they can tap out by saying, "It really isn't appropriate for me to be providing professional advice in these surroundings. Here's my card. Please make an appointment if you care to continue this conversation.
Be sure to encourage players to ask hard questions. We can treat this game as a low grade competition between the question askers and the doctor. Their goal is to ask a question so difficult the doctor cannot answer, and the doctor's goal is to answer every question as believably as possible. If the doctor taps out before the instructor ends the scene, the questioners win. If the instructor ends the scene before the doctor taps out, the doctor wins.
For more insight into improv's application to professional development, visit RA's corporate workshop page.
Ask The Doctor is a simple scene exercise designed to address the unique importance of confidence to presentation skills. As an added focus, the type and effectiveness of questions can be noted from a sales perspective. This exercise can be used in workshops looking to address:
Open Questions (for sales)
Number of Participants:
Minimum: 2 participants / Maximum: 8 participants (Ideal number is 4-6)
Minimum: 10-12 minutes a group
You might try this same exercise with these slight adjustments:
Give the Doctor a doctorate in an esoteric subject related to the company or group they are a part of in real life. For example, if you were running this exercise for a team of UPS employees, you might ask the volunteer to be a Doctor of Efficient Truck Packing.
Switch the number dynamics by making the Doctor an investigative journalist writing a novel about a subject everyone else in the group knows about. Now instead of one person answering everyone's questions you have everyone answering one person's questions.
Provide everyone a doctorate of some sort and allow anyone to ask anyone else a question. If you as the instructor ever feel someone's answer isn't believable, they are removed from the scene until a single improviser remains as the final doctor.
Instructor Talking Points
People volunteering as the Doctor will have cause to save face by making excuses before they give an answer. They may laugh nervously, stall for time, or indicate that they don't really know the answer by rolling their eyes or by sending another nonverbal signal. Similarly, they may also undercut their participation by scoffing or laughing at themselves after they have participated.
Note these behaviors and point out that listeners want to know that you feel comfortable when giving a presentation. You may think you're saving face by broadcasting a negative self assessment before or during a presentation, but it is usually a stronger decision to make your presentation bravely, directly and without self-defacing commentary.
Participants may also feel that adopting an air of confidence is arrogant and/or off putting. Point out that broadcasting an air of confidence is an act of generosity during a presentation, not pomposity. Viewers need to know you feel good about your presentation in order to have any ability to enjoy it.
This exercise can be used to work on using Open Questions in a conversation. Note that How, Why and other more complex questions result in a stronger challenge for the doctor than Yes/No or simple answer questions. Pick one or two questions from each exercise that you thought were the most effective and explore why. Compare and contrast these to simpler questions asked in the exercise that had easy answers. Point out that even question that feel overly complicated can be answered very simply if structured incorrectly.
Challenge the class to reach for answers at The Top Of Their Intelligence when taking on the role of the Doctor. It can be fun to be goofy or outlandish, but our creativity is really stretched when we need to make our answers as plausible as possible. Encourage participants to provide the answers they think are most likely to be true. Believable or not, it is okay and maybe even more rewarding for a "doctor" to be wildly wrong.