Video and transcript from Shannon Varcoe’s talk at Control the Room 20222

Control the Room 2022 was an absolute success! We hosted our annual facilitator summit last week, and our makeup sessions this week, alongside our partner MURAL. Our wonderful connection between the live event and the virtual world, hosted by Mark Tippin, Director of Strategic Next Practices, Mark facilitated “Mind Shift” sessions, where he guided our attendees through a dialog about how everyone was impacted by the talks. He engaged both in-person and virtual attendees through our various activities in our conference mural. It was inspiring to have so many people joining in different ways and everyone getting the chance to communicate.

We partnered with SAFE this year to support and honor a lost colleague, Jenni Robertson. The dedication of this summit comes after losing a coworker, mother, and friend to family violence and Voltage Control has pledged to work with SAFE to stop family violence for everyone. We wanted to take a moment and look back on all of the moments of insight, knowledge, and growth we all took part in over the course of the summit. 

This year’s summit theme was SHIFTS, and as we move into 2022 we have seen shifts in the way we work, the way we connect, and the way we honor one another.

We hosted 18 facilitators in a hybrid space. We were live in-person, on Zoom, and even created our own Control the Room VR space, and we must say the event, even with a few technical issues, turned out to be a hub of idea sharing and growing with each other. 

Each speaker delivered a 20-minute lightning session, and each session was filled with a sense of community, play, and story-telling. Our second speaker, Shannon Varcoe.  

Play With Your Work

So what is play? There’s so many different definitions of it, but one I’ve shared here is it’s an activity that we engage in just for its own sake because we enjoy it because it’s fun and it brings us joy. A lot of times play can be really purposeful too. And there are so many benefits of play as well.

Shannon Varcoe

Talk about starting with a bang! Picture an entire audience covered in multi-colored streamers, laughing and smiling ready for whatever is next! To describe Shannon’s session without visuals would be a great injustice. The toy designer, facilitator, and inventor knows how to get an entire adult audience to write down a fact, turn it into a paper airplane and fly around the room, giggles ensuing. What are you designing in your own work to incorporate more play? This crucial question will change the way you facilitate by encouraging the child’s mind and inviting everyone to learn, grow, and create. ‘It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.’

Watch Shannon Varcoe speak on Playing with your work:

You don’t have to come up and be the clown on stage as the facilitator or wear the crazy earrings or have the crazy hair or the red nose, which you can’t see. It’s under there. Just kidding. But it’s not always about being the silly facilitator at the beginning, but it’s about creating a really impressive, wonderful, fun activities that incorporate play as you’re a facilitator.

Shannon Varcoe

Read the full video transcript:

Shannon Varcoe:

Thank you so much. So we’ve got a couple things that are coming out to the tables that you will have a chance to see real soon, but I’m here to talk about how we might play with our work. So how do we play with our work as facilitators? And so, yes, as Douglas mentioned, I am a toy designer. That’s kind of how I started post-college. I came up with a toy that I created in my mechanical engineering and product design courses, but found also a love for facilitation and teaching entrepreneurship to students. And worked at university for a while doing that and have found this intersection of play and facilitation and learning experience design to be the spot where there’s so much opportunity I think for us as facilitators to play a little bit more with artwork. But I have to start off by just saying I’m so excited to be here and be in person.

I keep making the joke a million times like, oh, you can see my legs and my body. And I don’t exactly know what to do with my hands, but it’s so important for us to celebrate the things that we haven’t had a chance to celebrate with each other in the last couple years. So paper is coming around and you’ve got some little things on that you’ve just gotten handed to, but grab some paper. And what I want everyone to do is take out a piece of paper and for people who are joining virtually too, hang out in mural and make a post-it of this, but add your name. And then what’s something that deserves celebration? So what’s something that you want to celebrate, whether it’s personal or professional or something that happened or is exciting, or that needs a round of applause that you didn’t get a chance to celebrate in the last couple years. For me on mine, you can see Shannon Varcoe. I’m speaking at the Control the Room summit today in Austin. So that’s something I’m absolutely celebrating today.

So grab that piece of paper, definitely make sure you write your name at the top and then write down something that you want to celebrate. I’ll give everyone a couple seconds to do that. And like I said, for those on mural, I can see it happening over there, which is so cool. So yeah, write down on there so that we can celebrate each other virtually as well. All right. Everyone had a chance to do that. Great. So what we’re going to do next is a 30 second celebration. So when you got out here are these neat little streamers actually. So when you are done writing your celebration, I’ll give a quick little demo of this. Hopefully everyone has one. If you don’t, I don’t know if there’s a couple extras, but go ahead and grab it.

And what you’re going to do is you’re actually going to rip off the paper, this tissue paper on top, and then we’re all going to stand up. So as you do that, it’s definitely better if you stand up, everyone’s gotten them over there too. Okay, good. So stand up. Be careful. They might fall out a little bit with it. Everybody’s got one. Okay. Got my clicker, and get back here. Okay. And then you just rip off the paper. Everyone did that. So flip it, put it around your finger. So you’re going to want this… Yeah, explain this a little better here. I’ve never done this before. I just got these and we’re going to see how it goes. So put it around your finger. So you want to hold it. You don’t want to actually throw it. It’s going to stay onto your finger. But what you’re going to do is actually throw, should I do it first?

I want to do it all together, but I’ll do one first. Then I have another one. So what you’re going to do is you’re going to keep it looped on your finger and then throw up and it’s going to do that. Okay. But you want to keep, keep it on your hand. So, ready? Okay. On the count of three, we’re all going to do it together. We got some already. It’s all right. Ready? Three, two, one. Go. Yes. Awesome. I love it. That’s fantastic. And so as you’re doing that, think about the thing… Yes, it’s on the ceilings, look great. Like I said, just trying this out for the first time. We’re going to see how it goes and we’ll pull these back together. So what’s great about them is that you can actually just pull it back to you, wrap it up and then you can keep the celebration going on your table. Awesome. Thank you all for doing that and celebrating all the things that we need to celebrate together.

Yeah. Thank you. Cool. And that’s it. I’m good. Thanks, [inaudible 00:04:36]. No, just kidding. So why is it so important to play with your work as everyone’s finishing this up? And you can have a seat whenever you’re ready, but I want everyone to think as we talk through this, how might you play with your definition of play? So what even is play? A lot of times we think about toys or games or little kids playing, but as facilitators, how can we really think about what play is? So what comes to mind for some folks as you ask the question, what is play? What comes to mind? I know obviously the things I just said, kids, what else? Other thoughts? Fun. Yes. What else? Other things, building stuff. Great one. So the toy I create is actually a building toy. So building stuff is definitely a big part of play in my life.

So what is play? There’s so many different definitions of it, but one I’ve shared here is it’s an activity that we engage in just for its own sake because we enjoy it because it’s fun and it brings us joy. A lot of times play can be really purposeful too. And there are so many benefits of play as well. So it releases endorphins, boosts creativity, increases laughter, bring some color to our lives. And there’s so many other benefits of play that, if you’re interested in this, I highly recommend Googling. There’s a million articles about it. But how might we actually design more play into our work as facilitators? And so what can we do to create more opportunities for play in different ways? And so what I also want to do is grab that piece of paper that you started with your celebration on, flip it over, or grab a new piece, whichever. And I want you to think about in your own work, what’s a way that you might incorporate more play into whatever it is that you’re building and creating.

So what are you designing? Is there a workshop? Is there a meeting? What topic or subject matter is it about and who is it for? Who’s the audience? And we’re going to think about designing for your own work and designing play into your own work today a little bit. And for those online too, go ahead and drop that in another post-it maybe on the second half or something of that, because we’re going to be brainstorming a little bit together on how we might incorporate more play. So once you do that, what are you designing? What topic or subject matter is it about and who’s the audience? Go ahead and write that down and again, make sure your name is on this because we’re going to be moving these around a little bit. Because what I want you to do next, once you have that piece of paper ready to go and I’ll come back to this slide, but for those who have moved forward and have your design topic audience figured out, you’re going to go ahead and turn this paper into a paper airplane. So there’s no specific way of doing it. You can figure out your own way of doing it, but once you’re done with that, go ahead and fold it into a paper airplane. I’ll put it back on screen for a second. So you have a chance to do that.

So as we’re working on that, I’m going to talk a little bit about designing for play. So how do we actually create ideas for activities and ways that we can play with each other? And it’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how, which is a great Dr. Seuss quote that I love, for thinking about how we actually design for this stuff. And so we’re going to talk now about playing with play patterns. So what are patterns of play? What are ways that are the building blocks of what makes play happen? And so as you’re finishing those up, yep, great, we’ve got seven that I’m going to walk through today that are all from the National Institute of Play. So these are seven main play patterns that you’ll see in play from kids to animals, to adults, but there’s many different ways that we can play and we’re going to dig into seven of them. But it looks like we’ve got some paper airplanes going. So once you have your paper airplane ready to go, go ahead and just give it a toss. See how far you can get across the room and just give it a throw. Excellent. Toss them.

Wonderful. Yes, this is great. They’re going well. And then once you do it, go ahead and find someone else’s plane. So if it didn’t make it too far and it’s at your table, just grab one that isn’t yours. Ooh, that one went far. Woo. Couldn’t have planned that if we tried. Awesome. All right, I’ll pass this one back. Woo. I had terrible. I’m sorry. And grab a plane that’s not yours and open it up. And what you’re going to do is help this other person that you may or may not know, have some ideas about how they might incorporate play into the work that they shared on this piece of paper. So go ahead and open them up when you find a new one and what I want you to think about as you look at that person’s play opportunity… I’m going to walk through the first three play patterns.

And as we learn about these, it was like a boomerang, came back on you. So again, grab one that isn’t yours. So hopefully everyone’s got a new piece of paper, open it up, take a read. And then I want you to think about as I go through the first three play patterns here, how those play patterns might be an opportunity for play in the description that was given to you to brainstorm about. Be all right, so we’re going to start with attunement play. So attunement play is the very basic building block of play. A lot of times we think of this as a parent and a baby playing peek-a-boo, making eye contact. Having that first, oh, I see you. I’m understanding what’s going on here. I’m mimicking, I’m mirroring. Matthew actually did an amazing job at the very beginning today, doing some attunement play as we were walking around and sharing and connecting with one another.

So attunement is really that attention, observation connection. And it’s really that very basis of where play comes from. So attunement play, let’s think about how maybe connection can happen for standing up, moving around, but also that eye contact, that connection with another person is attunement play. Body and movement play. So this is something that we often see with, even as we did this morning too, standing up, moving around, really changes the energy in the room, throwing streamers, throwing a plane. That using your body and using movement. A lot of times you’ll also see in improv there’s movement or play. You think of recess, kids running around. There’s something to getting your body moving, standing up, moving around, moving your arms. I don’t know if anyone’s done the shakeout thing.

I sometimes will start to do that before I come up here to increase or decrease your heart rate depending on the movement that you’re doing. So what ways maybe for this piece of paper in front of you could body or movement play be used to incorporate play into some of your facilitation? This can also be really great we found for virtual too, because people are sitting at their desk forever. I know I do it all the time and it’s just that opportunity to stand up, stretch. Stretch the edges of your screen and maybe people who are online can do that right now too. But how can physical activity, energy transfer, change the through body and movement and play? Awesome.

Storytelling and narrative play. So of course, storytelling is a huge part of our work as facilitators. Again, Matthew did an amazing job with so many stories that really provided an opportunity for us to act listen. But how can we use storytelling or narrative to think of activities that are playful as we’re putting people together to share stories with one another? So it’s storytelling, but also thinking about, I have on here, active listening. So it’s storytelling, but it’s also story listening. And how can story listening and storytelling become a playful activity that you might incorporate into some of your work. All right, now that you’ve done that, go ahead and give that piece of paper that you’re just working on, maybe sharing some ideas on. If you shared any ideas or written any down on there go ahead and put your name on it so that if you… These are going to get back to rightful owners eventually, but go ahead and put your name on it with the ideas that you might have shared, any contact information, and we will get those back to them. If you didn’t put any ideas down, it’s okay, too. No worries. But if you’d like, give it another fold, give it another toss and we’ll start to brainstorm on a couple more pieces of paper, but I’m going to keep on going.

So if we don’t get to that part and give it another throw, it’s okay. All right, we’re going to jump to the next four. So we’ve got object play, somebody said in the back, building things. So playing with physical things, throwing a paper airplane, using your hands and using your brain together is a great opportunity for play. A lot of times, this also gives us an opportunity to build a thing with other people and see how that might be a way that we’re learning about teamwork or collaboration. And it’s also an opportunity too, as you’re building think of building a set of blocks and it falling down and needing strength on a certain side or how you might balance things. It’s all problem solving, testing, finding solutions as we build things. And these might seem pretty obvious, but I think that’s some of the best parts that I love about play is that it’s usually pretty simple concepts, but it’s about how we might apply these to the work that we’re doing. So how might you build object play into an activity that you’ve done or even into an ice breaker or something like that?

All right. Imaginative and pretend play. So somewhat similar in ways to storytelling, we can come up with creative stories, but imaginative and pretend play, especially as I’ve learned with facilitating with adults is a great opportunity to get people to try on new beliefs, have no judgment, no rules. This really works well in brainstorming. As we’re trying to think of things that might not exist is really imaginative and pretend play. So when you think of somebody as a kid thinking about, tell me a story of this crazy story about whatever thing, it’s also, hey person brainstorming, tell me this crazy story of how this might work or how this might be used on the moon or used on Mars and how we can imagine and use pretend play to get us to think out outside the box, often we’ll hear.

And then social play. So social play is all about playing with others. So how well do we play with others when we’re collaborating or working together? Whether it’s building something or creating a project or whatever it might be with our teams. How can we also use play that’s collaborative or play that social and relationship building? And then I also find that social play turns into competitive play, which I’m a very competitive person and how that can also be used as a facilitator to provide different opportunities for playfulness, turn taking, sharing. These are all things that we learn with social play as kids, but we’re doing the same thing and learning about them with the new people that we’re playing with even as adults.

And then the last one that we’ll cover today is creative play. So much play can connect and stack with each other. So we’ll see attunement play matched with body and movement play, but creative play is all about expression. So this is your painting something, making a song, really thinking about how this is a creative outlet for play, even taking something like this and creating a piece of art with it or whatever it might be, but how can you be creative in different ways with whatever it might be that you’re doing? It also provides an opportunity for expression and connection to self. So what I love about creative play is that sometimes it can be an individual playful activity for people who maybe social play is a bit much, or doing things that they want to express their own self through a piece of artwork or through a song or music. Awesome.

So that was a very quick blast through all seven, but again like I said, what’s great about these is they’re seemingly obvious, but it’s sort of nice to have a pattern I find to be able to think, okay, what’s an activity I want to do? And I kind of am maybe stuck with the same icebreakers or the same ways that I’ve gone about playing. But I started to think about, okay, how could I do that activity? But let’s stack on body and movement play or let’s stack on creative play or let’s stack on imaginative and pretend play and how might I have people play in some of those ways? And it helps me to think outside the box a little bit of how I even designed for play. All right. So give it a final fold if you moved it before, if you didn’t go it a final fold, finish it up. Hopefully you’ve gotten pretty good at making these by now.

Not really. That’s okay, too. I love the paper airplanes, because it’s a great activity actually for prototyping and iterating on your design. So if you have people make a paper airplane three, four times, you can really learn about iteration and prototyping. But in summary, so we talked about today, the definition of play, how do you play with your definition of play? And I think fun and lighthearted and levity is always great in times like this. But it’s also, play doesn’t have to always be silly. You don’t have to come up and be the clown on stage as the facilitator or wear the crazy earrings or have the crazy hair or the red nose, which you can’t see. It’s under there. Just kidding. But it’s not always about being the silly facilitator at the beginning, but it’s about creating a really impressive, wonderful, fun activities that incorporate play as you’re a facilitator.

And then how do you play with your design of play? So thinking differently about what types of play you might be able to do and incorporating those different play patterns. All right. So go ahead and give a toss to the screens up here. So these are your targets now, and I’m going to get these papers back to everybody. So try your best to get your plane to the target and we’ll collect them over there and get them back to the rightful owners. We’ll give them a try.

And so, as you’re thinking through your next facilitations or your next activities that you’re designing, think about how you might build the patterns of play together into building blocks for the next creative activities that you might do. Awesome. Thank you so much.