Nonsense (Press) Conference
Ask for a volunteer to play the role of Press Secretary. Everyone else will be reporters.
If this is being done in person, the Press Secretary can take the stage while everyone else sits in the audience area. If this is being done on Zoom, have participants switch to gallery view.
The Press Secretary will start the exercise by pretending to be at a podium and then saying "Okay, I have time for a few questions." This is everyone else's cue to raise their hands in semi-desperation and make small vocalizations ("Oh! Oh!") as hungry reporters would. The Press Secretary then chooses who asks the first question by pointing at a reporter and saying their name.
The reporter then asks their question, which in this exercise takes the form of just one word; can be any word (ex "Dog", "Shoe", "Mitochondria"). The Press Secretary may then collect their thoughts and repeat the word (question) once or twice as if they are thinking about it. Then they must confidently answer the question, which in this exercise means pronouncing any word the reporter's word made them think of.
I want to stress how low the bar is here. If the question is "Dog" they can say "Walk" and that's great. They could also say "Spaceship" or "Communism" or "Refrigerator Zombie" and any of those responses are equally great. They can even just repeat the word used as the question ("Dog") and even that's great, so long as they say it as if they think it is a thoughtful or good answer.
As soon as they give the answer all of the reporters should scramble to write down the response as if they just broke news. Once the hubbub quiets down, the Press Secretary points at someone else, says their name, and the exercise continues.
Switch out Press Secretary's after 5 to 7 questions are asked, so that a few people get to try it. Be sure every participant at least asks a question or two.
For more insight into improv's application to professional development, visit RA's corporate workshop page.
Nonsense (Press) Conference is an introductory improv comedy game designed specifically for larger groups (6-16 people) working on public speaking skills over Zoom or other video conferencing platforms. This exercise can be used in workshops focused on:
Staying In The Moment
Number of Participants:
Minimum: 3 participants / Maximum: 16 participants
Minimum: 5 minutes / Maximum: 15 minutes
None, but if you are doing the exercise in person and there happens to be a podium, use it!
You might try the below adjustments when leading this exercise:
Use numbers instead of words
While using numbers, set a scale of 1-10 and ask reporters and the Press Secretary to react to higher numbers as if they are more important while lower numbers are more humdrum.
As the instructor, conduct the energy of the reporters reactions with your hands, jabbing a pointed finger in the air for bigger reactions or gesturing a smooth wave for calmer reactions.
As the instructor, conduct the emotional journey of the scene by calling out emotional reactions to the answers or holding up signs with the emotional responses. (For example, "Excitement", "Terror", "Outrage", "Solemn Patriotism," etc.
Instructor Talking Points
Pay close attention to how people react to the questions and answers they give. Although the exercise is clear that any word is a suitable contribution, participants are nonetheless likely to say their word and then roll their eyes as if it was a terrible contribution.
Point out that such moments are for the contributor's comfort, not for the comfort of those watching them. When engaged in public speaking we have a responsibility to make our listeners comfortable. We should take care of them. For that reason, acting as though our answers are great is for the listener's benefit. It may feel arrogant, but if done for the right reasons, projecting positivity about your contributions is an act of charity.
When noting moments of discomfort in the exercise (moments when participants seem to dislike their contributions) you might also not that these moments are not focused on the listener. If we are preoccupied judging our performance when we speak then we lack the wherewithal to evaluate whether our listener understands our message. Communication is always a two-person job. If you focus your attention on your listener's needs, then you won't have time to feel terrible about yourself and you also will be a much better communicator.
In order to be creative, we must agree that our ideas are worthwhile. We cannot self-edit or self-evaluate while engaged in the act of creation. This exercise asks us to be comfortable with our contributions even though no contribution is going to be great. (How could it be when each person is only contributing a random word now and again?) Be sure to emphasize that we shouldn't make our tasks more difficult than they are by harshly judging ourselves.
Applied Mantra: Don't Be Coy