💥How to Warm up a Room💥

Stretch the bodies and minds of your workshop participants

I’ve got nothing against koosh balls, but I prefer to warm up a room with something relevant and meaningful…and activity that gets people “into the room” and ready to work.

Last week I posted Episode Seven of the Think Alone/Think Together video series and it’s great to see some feedback already! If you feel like reading, read on! If you like videos, just click above. And if you like this video, there are six others here.

Getting Into the Room

People, in general, have a lot going on. And your workshop or meeting is just one of many, many things on their minds. Work is the least of it. You never know what people have going on in their *real* lives. So it’s important to take a moment to get people to mentally arrive where they physically are, a lovely phrase I’ve borrowed from my friend Uli Beutter Cohen, who guest taught at the Facilitation MasterClass I hosted last year.

Getting into the room doesn’t just mean physically and mentally. For me, it also means getting people to “stand in the challenge” and to connect with other people in the room. The “always/never” map below is perfect for this.

Some simple ways to get people into the room:

  1. A check-in Round: Pretty Simple. Just go around the room and ask how people are. “What has your attention?” is how on of my clients puts it.
  2. A short meditation. While not for every culture, a moment of silence, feeling your body in space, can be a way to clear any energy from before your workshop.
  3. An activity! Or, as I like to call it, a Hot Start.

I’ll go over three activities I use to get people into the Design Thinking mindspace.

Yes, But Party

One of the key mindsets of Design Thinking is the yes, and mindset. But why is that mindset so impactful? Rather than tell people, I show them.

We pair up and have a short “yes, but” conversation, with one person making a suggestion (a birthday party is usually an easy one) and the other person “yes, but”-ing them. After 2 minutes of “yes, but” back and forth, I stop the group and gather feedback on how it felt. It usually sucks, even more so for the people who know I’m breaking the rules of improv! 😀

We then do the same, with a new idea and with the phrase “Yes, And”…and allow the conversation to flow for two more minutes.

The “aha” moment comes when I diagram these two modes of conversation along with the different expereinecs the group had in each one. There’s always at least one or two pairs that found one or the other mode extremly uncomfortable…and I try to get the room to understand a simple idea:

Both Yes, And and Yes, But are critical for innovation! We have to generate and choose ideas. People need to feel how each feels…and be conscious how that feeling makes them prefer one over the other. And be aware that others feel differently. And that they need to get comfortable with the other mode… or at least tolerate it!

As I mention in the video…I’ve run entire 1/2 workshops off of this exercise…the pairing up creates a lot of energy in the room and a lot of focus to bring forward. There’s a lot more detail in this exercise, so hit me up if you’d like me to coach you through it.


This one is pretty simple. But getting a rooom of people to build a North Star and to co-create a shred vision is no small thing!

I ask people to think about the product, service or experience we’re re-imagining and to capture three things it should *always* do and three things it should *never* do. (On sticky notes, naturally) It can be emotional or procedural. I’m not overly prescriptive. The key is to give people solo generation time and then to map theirs alongside other teammates. The magic happens when there are gaps, disagreements or subtlety of meaning. These maps can facilitate a great conversation about the road ahead.

Draw Your…

I spend the most time in the video on this one, and it’s a pretty rich vein of collaborative intelligence. I first used this in a client context because I’d had some exposure to art therapy- specifically, family therapy. Getting kids or adults to draw their family systems can tell you a lot. Who’s there, who’s missing, the distance between people, who has a face, who’s looking where. It’s a diagram of feeling.

Draw Your Job

This one is an intro/warmup that can bridge into a very deep dialogue depending on how sensitized you are to the responses and how deep your group is willing to go. But it’s a hell of a lot more fun than a lot of other intros I’ve seen. Plus, if they put their names on it and we post them up on the wall, it’s much, much, much easier for me to remember names later!

Draw the Story of…your favorite product

I used this a few months back to help a team learn about Experience Diagramming and Experience Inventories. I write in depth about Experience Inventories here and you can download my updated worksheet here (there were spelling errors! 😥 )

I first had them just draw their absolute favorite product and draw the story of how they fell in love with it. People absolutely LOVE talking about their favorite products. The hardest part was getting them to stop. Seriously. Then, I paired them up and gave them the experience inventory with a short explanation. They had to interview each other and try to fill out the Experience Inventory as much as they could, then share it with the team. I can’t think of a faster way to get people into the room and warmed up to this very new idea (for them) and to use a new tool so quickly.

Getting on the Same Page

The essence of these drawing warm-ups is very simple: Literally getting people on the same page. Drawing is immediate, it hearkens back to our childhood, and it creates a visual record of our conversations. It’s my go-to, all-purpose, never-fail way of warming up a room.

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