Video and transcript from Jordan Hirsch’s talk at Austin’s 2nd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

This is part of the 2020 Control The Room speaker video series.

In February we hosted the second annual facilitator summit, Control The Room, at Austin’s Capital Factory. We launched the summit last year in partnership with MURAL to create a space for facilitators to gather, break down the silos, and learn from one another.

The three-day summit is a rare opportunity to bring together an otherwise unlikely group of highly experienced and skilled professionals across various industries and crafts—from strategy consultants and negotiators to Scrum Masters and design thinkers.

Anyone interested in deepening their knowledge on how to successfully facilitate meaningful meetings and connect with other practitioners is welcome. Together, we dive into diverse methodologies, expand upon perspectives, and learn new insights and strategies that enrich our expertise.

This year we had the pleasure of welcoming 24 speakers, all innovation professionals, who shared their insights and strategies of successful facilitation.

One of those speakers was Jordan Hirsch, the Director of Innovation at Phase2, a Digital Experience agency that helps companies create meaningful experiences, develop and integrate systems, drive business results, and operate at speed and scale.

He presented on how to facilitate the fun in meetings by incorporating improv. Jordan led the room through a “yes and” exercise that demonstrated the value of accepting and responding, and how it translates to the mind of a facilitator to help them respond to the expected and unexpected.

He explained that accepting does not mean always mean agreeing, and that responding is greater than reacting. Jordan demonstrated that improv helps individuals be present and accept and build trust; it is a liberating structure in one’s mind.

Watch Jordan Hirsch’s talk Facilitating the Fun:

Read the Transcript

Jordan Hirsch:

All right. Thanks, everybody. The coveted post-break slot. Welcome back to the improv portion of the day. My name is Jordan Hirsch. I’m going to talk about bringing improv into your facilitation work. To get started, this might shock you, but could I get seven volunteers up on stage, please? It’s just the magic number for improv games. That’s how it goes. There’s one, thank you. Anybody else? Two, thank you very much. Three, four, five, six, seven. Oh my God, we did it. Yay. I liked the specificity. I had written in my notes six to eight and then I heard Shannon say seven. I was like, “That’s six to eight.” This is going to work out great. Could you all please do me a favor and just get in a circle? I will remove them. No, maybe the people towards the back. Just take a step backward that way so everybody doesn’t fall off stage.

Jordan Hirsch:

There you go. Now let’s complete the circle. Excellent. Thank you so much. So we’re going to play. There it is. We’re going to play a quick game called the yes circle. Can you guys take as many steps back as bad. There you go. You take one back for me. Oh, beautiful. I love it. You go back. Perfect. Thank you so much. So, the yes circle. Let’s close up the circle once again, the yes circle doesn’t mean to get closer. There you go. The yes circle…

Daniel:

[crosstalk 00:01:34] Was this perfect or are we good?

Jordan Hirsch:

You are. This is it. Thank you for the circle, no. The yes circle has one objective. Your objective is to take someone else’s place in the circle. To do it, there’s only two rules. It is so easy you could not possibly fail. All you have to do is point at someone else in the circle, whose place you want to take.

Jordan Hirsch:

Could you point at someone else in the circle? Beautiful. You are going to make…

Daniel:

If I’m a target, I’m dead.

Jordan Hirsch:

You are going to make eye contact and you’re going to say, yes.

Daniel:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

As soon as you get that yes, you may begin walking towards his place in the circle. Guess what you’re going to do? You’re going to point at someone else in the circle.

Daniel:

Okay.

Jordan Hirsch:

Go for it. And you’re going to say?

Speaker 3:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

Here you go. Now you’re going to point at someone else in the circle. No, no, no.

Speaker 3:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jordan Hirsch:

It’s only two rules.

Daniel:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

There you go.

Speaker 3:

I’ve got it. I’ve got it.

Daniel:

Yes. No, wait, that’s wrong.

Jordan Hirsch:

Yep. That’s alright. Alright, let’s reset real quick. There’s only two rules. You can’t get it wrong. So here, come on over here. Let’s get back into our beautiful circle. So you’re going to point to someone else in the circle.

Speaker 3:

Okay.

Jordan Hirsch:

Go ahead. And you’re going to say?

Speaker 4:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

Now you’re going to point to someone… There you go.

Speaker 5:

Yes.

Speaker 6:

Yes.

Speaker 7:

Yes.

Speaker 8:

Yes.

Daniel:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

Okay. So there’s only two rules. You can’t get it wrong. You guys want to try it one more time. [crosstalk 00:02:55] Okay, great.

Speaker 7:

Oh, watch yourself. You alright?

Jordan Hirsch:

Watch your step. Don’t worry about me. I’m a professional. I fall off stages all the time.

Speaker 7:

[inaudible 00:03:03].

Jordan Hirsch:

Why don’t you go ahead. Point to anyone in the circle.

Speaker 5:

Yes.

Speaker 6:

Yes.

Speaker 7:

Yes.

Speaker 8:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

So there’s only two rules. You can’t get it wrong. Folks, can we please get a big round of applause for our volunteers? And, before you all dissipate, a quick question. First of all, thank you very much. Second of all, why did we do that?

Speaker 7:

Why did we do that?

Jordan Hirsch:

Why did we do that?

Speaker 3:

Because directions are hard to follow.

Jordan Hirsch:

Because directions are hard to follow.

Speaker 3:

And, it creates habit when we don’t give the directions.

Jordan Hirsch:

That’s a good reason. Anybody, what were you starting to say? You said communication.

Speaker 5:

Yeah.

Jordan Hirsch:

What about it?

Speaker 5:

Direct eye contact. Setting a clear purpose.

Daniel:

Assent.

Jordan Hirsch:

Assent, such a Daniel answer. Permission. Yes. Permission is good. We’re leaving… Great answers, all of you, now I’ll give my answer while you get off the stage. Thank you so much. Seriously. All of those answers are correct by the way. We do that, because we can take many lessons from it. My personal favorite thing about that game is that it really nicely illustrates the concept of the importance of building a shared reality.

Jordan Hirsch:

If we are not agreeing on a shared reality, we cannot move forward with things. If you move forward without getting or giving a yes, you are trying to move into a house that’s not for sale. You are violating the shared reality that we have, and shared reality is the basis of that most famous of improv concepts, yes and… Show of hands, I’m sure it’s going to be every hand, who here has heard of Yes and…? Awesome. Could anyone give me a definition? No professional improvisers allowed. Awesome. Thank you so much.

Speaker 9:

Definition is, taking someone’s idea and building on it, rather than dismissing their idea and putting your idea.

Jordan Hirsch:

Very well put. Thank you. Anybody else?

Jordan Hirsch:

Alright. You did… Oh yeah.

Speaker 10:

Accepting a gift and then giving a next one.

Jordan Hirsch:

Accepting a gift and then giving a next one. I love all of these definitions. Thank you. I think they’re both right. I think to me, yes and… is simply about accepting and responding. It is the basis, the fundamental foundation of all successful improvisation. And what does it have to do with facilitation? I believe it is a mindset. It fosters a mindset that is valuable both for you as a facilitator and for the people that you are facilitating. It helps you respond to the unexpected and to the expected, because it gives you a framework within which to work. Now, I think it’s important to back up assertions like that with math. So, please join me as we do some improv math. Yeah. Math. Awesome. Improv math is just like regular math, except I made it up. So, the first equation of improv math is that accepting does not equal agreeing.

Jordan Hirsch:

Oh no. If I say yes and… to a dumb idea, therefore, I too am a dumb person, because I agree with the dumb idea. I don’t think it works exactly like that. It is about accepting information that’s come before and an improv show, if two people were doing a scene on the moon and I entered the scene talking about, “Oh, it’s so nice to be back in Wisconsin.”, I have not agreed on a shared reality with these people. I have broken an agreement that they have set up on stage. In facilitation, yes and… is also about accepting an established reality. It does not mean that you agree with everything everybody says. It means that you accept that the people who are saying these things, actually hold these beliefs. You accept that you are living inside of a shared reality with them. You can accept something even if you don’t agree with it.

Jordan Hirsch:

It’s one of the hardest things about becoming a grownup, but it does happen. It is a fundamental skill. To me, yes and… is the opposite of gaslighting, because it’s really all about honoring a shared reality and that builds psychological safety in groups and I think it’s a sign of respectful leadership. Improv math equation number two, responding is greater than reacting. We heard about this a little bit earlier. The power of response, instead of reaction. To me a response is simply a reaction filtered through a framework. The “and” in yes and… is where you get to be intentional about how you respond to something. Improv helps you practice and hone the skill of responding at the speed of reacting, but it really does take practice. Responding intentionally, I think, is how you want your workshop participants to be working and interacting with each other and it’s probably how you want to be acting yourself when you are facilitating a group.

Jordan Hirsch:

Think about when something goes wrong or when something goes off script in something that you’re facilitating. How do you react to that? By default, when we react instead of responding, I think we give away a moment where we might actually build something new, because it wasn’t in the script. Responding puts you in the driver’s seat. Reacting gives away a lot of your power and improv helps you hone that muscle of responding at the speed of reaction. Improv math equation number three, “Yes minus And” equals

[inaudible 00:08:07]

. Johnny, could you just please say yes every time I point to you.

Johnny:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

Thank you so much. Oh, see he’s got it. Nice day today, isn’t it?

Johnny:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

It’s quiet in here, huh?

Johnny:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

What the fuck, Johnny?

Johnny:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

Alright. Not really scintillating stuff as opposed to, nice day to day, isn’t it? Yes. Our alien overlords have finally flown home.

Jordan Hirsch:

Things are really looking up, not the best improv scene in the world, but there’s a lot more to it. Just agreeing. Just accepting, stopping there is not fulfilling the promise of yes and… accepting and building is the key to doing something really wonderful. And, I know as facilitators we are meant to be neutral parties. So, building does not mean steering. It doesn’t mean telling everybody what to think, what to say, what to do. It means creating and holding space for generative engagement and is, I want to say it’s the more important part. It’s nothing of course without the yes, but I feel like a lot of people who learn about yes and… they stop at the agreement piece and they really miss an opportunity to do something new and interesting. Finally, improv times facilitation equals awesome. You want your participants to be listening to each other to be building on each other’s ideas, to be collaborating creatively and improv works all of those muscles.

Jordan Hirsch:

It is like a workout for your brain and if you’re getting sematic about it also for your body, you are literally practicing new ways of doing these sorts of things. It also helps you as a facilitator. It helps you be present. It helps you be accepting and it helps you to quickly build trust with a group of people. Not to mention brain scans of jazz musicians, while they were improvising, showed an increase in activities in the area of the brain associated with creativity and with language, and a decrease in activity in the areas of the brain associated with self-censorship. Which means, get ready for some facilitator inside baseball here, improv is literally a liberating structure for your brain. Truly, it liberates you from your own self censorship and it activates your creativity. The act of creating and engaging, wakes up the parts of your brain that like to do creating an engaging and it shuts down the critic and that is a great mindset for facilitating or for being facilitated. Could I please get a volunteer one each from each table? Just pick a quick table facilitator and come on up.

Jordan Hirsch:

Yes, good. Cheer each other on. This is going to be great. All right. You guys are awesome. Thank you. Do we have all our tables represented? Okay.

Speaker 12:

Yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

This part’s just for you guys. Huddle around, huddle around, huddle around. Okay, so you are going to go back to your… Talk amongst yourselves. You’re going to go back to your tables and facilitate an improv game. Easy enough. Not that hard. Has anybody ever done a yes and… story before?

Speaker 13:

Oh, yes.

Jordan Hirsch:

Have you? Okay, so a yes and… story is very simple. You’re going to start off a story, I’ll give you the first line. Once upon a time this thing happened, people contribute with one line at a time, to the story. I want to be very clear about this. Instructions are tricky. One line, one sentence, at a time. Every sentence must begin with the words.

Jordan Hirsch:

Yes and… consider how you, as a facilitator, might guide people, if and how, you might guide people if they, perhaps, negate information that came before in the story or if they don’t say yes and… at the beginning, how are you going to handle that? How will you yes and… what they are doing. Any questions? Alright, you’ve got five minutes to go back to your tables, explain and run the activity. Wait. The first line of everybody’s story is, “Once upon a time there was a duck who was afraid of water.” And begin. [crosstalk 00:12:17] What was the last line that this table came up with?

Speaker 7:

“And there was another duck Memorial.”

Jordan Hirsch:

And there was another duck Memorial. What was your last line?

Speaker 14:

“And that’s why we all might drink too much”

Jordan Hirsch:

And that’s why we all might drink too much at the company picnic. What was your last one?

Speaker 15:

“The humans and the duck went on a giant firefighting expedition to Australia.”

Jordan Hirsch:

Yeah, sure. What was your last one?

Speaker 16:

“Yes and he kept paddling.”

Jordan Hirsch:

He kept paddling. Oh, what was your last line?

Speaker 17:

“And the animal activists went to Washington DC, after

Jordan Hirsch:

This is amazing. And your?

Speaker 18:

It was, “Yes and, the business ended up going under and now he’s a homeless duck.”

Jordan Hirsch:

So the clock tells me I don’t have time, unfortunately, to hear from every table, as much as I would like to, but if you could hear it, you all arrived at very, very, very different places and the reason that I pushed you after several tables were like, “Hey, we’re done. We won the exercise, we finished the story.” is that there is often much, much, much more, much more ground to be uncovered, after you think you have scaled the mountain. Yes and… to me, is about once you scale the mountain, Hey, the clouds are partying. Oh, there’s another huge mountain right there, and I really want to see it. I want to see what’s on the other side of it. So what do we learn? This graphic here of these very simplistic things was chosen deliberately, because this is basic foundational stuff.

Jordan Hirsch:

However, it goes against all of our cultural conditioning. We are not conditioned to do this. The yes circle is super hard, so we’re not used to having to wait for permission, and we’re not used to having to give permission. It is learned behavior, which is why we make comedy out of it, because it’s challenging. If time permitted, I would love to know from all of you how you think you might have used this skill in the past or how you might use it in the future of your facilitation work. The clock says, no. Douglas is standing here, so just think about it a little bit on your own. And thank you so much for playing with me.