I led my first virtual creativity retreat on Saturday, and just like with my in-person retreats, I started the creative catalyzing session with my favorite opener.

“Make a sound and movement combination that expresses how you feel right now,” I say, “I’ll start.”​

Then without thinking, I move my body around to express how I’m feeling in that moment, and make some sound to go along with it.

To help everyone else feel less self-conscious about doing something “goofy,” I typically make my own sound and movement combination as wild and silly as I can, while still being true to how I’m feeling.

Then I prompt everyone to copy me as I repeat myself — both the sound and the movement.

The whole group is making my move and sound at once, which, as you might imagine, tends to provoke some laughter.

Then it’s someone else’s turn.

In pre-COVID times, we’d all be standing in a circle, so I would turn to the person to either my right or my left, and ask them to go next.

On Zoom, everyone sees a different “Brady Bunch” grid, so we have to use different strategies for determining a speaking order.

I like to gather some air into an invisible ball and toss it to someone through my webcam, prompting them to catch the ball. “Julie, I’m throwing the ball to you!” Then after she’s taken her turn, she throws the invisible ball to someone else by calling their name and miming tossing the ball to them.

Participants can get creative with how they throw — and catch — the ball.

And the sound + movement combination activity? There’s no wrong way for folks to do it, though I encourage people not to try to be clever or impressive, but to simply be real — “off the top of their heads.”

You’ll quickly identify the “out there” performers in the group, compared to the more reserved individuals.

You’ll also get a reading of the room — who’s tired, who’s excited, who’s anxious, who’s serene. It’s an embodied way to experience empathy, because everyone is literally taking on the physical experience of everyone else for a moment.

I initially did a version of this exercise in a writing + improv class with writer, performer, teacher Ann Randolph. My friend and colleague Dr. Susan Bernstein, an expert in Mind-Body Psychology, used a variation in a session I was graphic recording a few months back, as a way for participants to get in touch with their emotions.

When I was writing this activity down in a session plan, I realized I needed to give it a name. I called it the Present-Time Dance, because we make a movement (and sound) to express how we’re feeling in present time.

Just today, though, I posted about this activity on LinkedIn, and it was interesting to me that some people were turned off by the name…

…and others were energized by it…

…even though the only time I ever use the name, really, is in my own behind-the-scenes notes!

It’s a good lesson to me, actually.

Labels matter.

Consider your audience before you introduce a new activity. And consider what you call it and how you introduce it.

The same activity could very well be called the Empathy Intro

Or Move to Meet

Or even, say, Alice.

(After all, there’s an improv format known as the Harold. Why not a facilitation activity known as the Alice?)

Whatever you call it, do let me know if you give this sound + movement combination activity a try at your next meeting. It’s a great check-in, whether you use it for an opener, a closer, or in the middle of a meeting.


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