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Made Up Story Hotspot

Exercise Instructions

Ask the group to stand in a circle.  If doing the exercise online, make sure participants are in gallery view.

Explain that the group will collectively tell a made up story.  Whoever is adding to the story should stand in the center of the circle while speaking.  They are in the hotspot.

No one should be left in the hotspot too long, especially since many will find it uncomfortable or worse.  Participants take turns adding to the story by walking to the center of the circle and tagging the person speaking on the shoulder.  As soon as they are tagged the person speaking should instantly stop, while the person who tagged them should seamlessly begin adding their thoughts to wherever the previous statement ended. 

If running the exercise online, simply ask people to loudly declare "Tag!" as a stand in for a physically tagging each other.

Instruct participants to support each other by tagging into the exercise quickly, frequently and without hesitation.  Two or three sentences should be the most someone contributes during any one turn.

Instruct participants to support each other even when they are on the outside of the circle.  They can do this by nodding their heads in agreement regarding whatever is being said, listening enthusiastically, and by offering appreciative reactions in response to the stories twists and turns.

End the exercise when you feel the made up story has reached anything approaching a natural end point.  You will normally have time to run the exercise 2 or 3 times over 15 minutes.

TIP: I think it helps to ask participant to start the story with the words, "Once upon a time."  This helps reinforce the idea that it is a made up story being told, while introducing a playful energy to the exercise.


Made Up Story Hotspot is a fun warm up game that encourages participants to trust their creative instincts while supporting each other through a playful form of self sacrifice.

Particularly applicable for workshops focused on:

  • Teamwork (team building, trust, support)

  • Creativity

  • Agility in the Face of the Unexpected

  • Listening


Number of Participants: 

Minimum: 4 participants / Maximum: 20+ participants


Time Required:

Minimum: 15 minutes / Maximum:  20 minutes


Materials Needed:



You might try this same exercise with these slight adjustments:

  • Instead of making up a story, ask participants to write a letter to a famous person, the assembly instructions for a new piece of Ikea furniture or to compare and contrast the top three critical interpretations of the Mona Lisa.  The more difficult the task, the hotter the hotspot will feel.

  • Try having the person telling the story control when they end their turn by tossing the story to someone on the outside of the circle.  For instance, "Jamie should tell this next part."  Jamie would then take the center of the circle and continue the story. 

  • Have participants take turns singing songs in the center of the circle.  Instead of continuing the same song, have each participant start a new song that they were inspired to share from the last song.

Instructor Talking Points


Hotspot can often feel a bit frightening for participants.  Public speaking alone can often create such feelings, but in Hotspot you're speaking extemporaneously in public while encircled.  It can be a nerve wracking experience. 


Players support each other by throwing themselves into the Hotspot.  It is support through self sacrifice.  Mention that Hotspot isn't all that scary if you are confident you won't be in the Hotspot for all that long (meaning you know your teammates will tag you out of it quickly).  This leads to a much greater willingness to tag into the Hotspot among players.  Conversely, if you become convinced that you might be left in the Hotspot for an extended period, you become less wiling to tag in. 


Generally speaking, this dynamic appears in most group efforts.  Teammates are more likely to contribute if they see that everyone else is participating and supporting each other.  And much less likely to contribute if they suspect their efforts will be met with indifference or a lack of support.  Either direction you move in, your team's dynamic will reinforce itself.  It is therefore a fair question to ask participants, "What sort of team do you want to be on? "

If a player is particularly cowed by this exercise, see if you can focus their attention on their teammates instead of on their own performance.  Self evaluation will only increase the discomfort of this exercise, while focusing on supporting a team is often the key to unlocking a player's full participation.

See Other Team Building Improv Games


Hotspot can freeze the creative mind if a player is overwhelmed by it.  Remind players that a lack of creativity is not a lack of ideas, but rather a lack of belief in your own ideas.  Encourage players to embrace their instincts when playing this game.

Remind them that it is natural for you to regard ideas that occur to you easily as being obvious.  And that it is common for us to consider ideas we think of frequently as pedestrian.  To others however, our ideas can often be shocking or revelatory.  If we trust that our ideas are valuable and consider sharing them to be part of our responsibility as a teammate, we may suddenly find that we are far more creative than we were previously.

A good tactic is to laugh a lot, especially when a shared idea seems particularly difficult for a player to get out.  Let them know that you appreciate their creativity with your laughter.  Encourage them to regard their own ideas with the same charity you regard them with.  

Applied Mantra: Remember, Don't Invent


Hotspot will challenge participants by surprising them with the direction of the ever changing story.  When a player makes the decision to walk into the center of the circle and tag the speaking player, they may have an idea of what they want to say.  But the story they are looking to add to may mutate in the short span of time it takes them to simply walk to the center of the circle.  

Encourage participants to trust their instincts in such moments.  It's true that the speed of Hotspot will prevent players from reviewing their contributions before submitting them.  But our minds are extremely sophisticated tools, capable of collecting, analyzing and comprehending new ideas with remarkable speed.  By simply trusting our instincts we can become flexible, agile contributors, capable of adjusting to new circumstances as they arise.

Applied Mantra: Remember, Don't Invent

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