Anyone who has led a peer group discussion or lecture has likely experienced a disengaged or unenergized crowd. As executive coaches and leaders, how can we encourage group participants to take part in the discussion? Energizers! While current research varies regarding the attention span of adults, what researchers have discovered is that when audiences are invited to engage, they are more likely to pay attention and be energized (Bunce, 2010). To help maintain attention, inspire creativity, and create a memorable experience, here are 13 energizers you can use in your next presentation.
What are energizers and why use them?
Energizers are exercises and activities that activate an audience or group. They can help audience members re-engage with presented materials or group discussions. They can also spur deeper and more meaningful conversations. In a recent research study from the journal Educational Psychology Review, students’ attention span was examined with the use of eye-tracking technology. Researchers found that “well-structured classes” with periods of “student-student and instructor-student interactions can be an effective method of maintaining student attention vigilance for entire class sessions” (Rosengrant et al., 2021).
In the same way that teachers create engaging interactions with their students, executive coaches and leaders can also create engaging interactions by incorporating energizers into their peer group discussions and speaking engagements. Below we examine a series of energizers, how to use them, and the benefits of them.
“Your energy and ability to energize others is more valuable than your time.” - Bill Hybels
#1: Question ball toss
A great way to get others involved and energized is by using a question ball toss. In this exercise, a ball with a variety of questions labeled on it is tossed throughout the audience or to each group member. When the ball is caught by a member, they are instructed to answer the question beneath their right thumb. You can create your own question ball toss by writing questions on a blank soccer ball. By doing this, you can create questions unique to your peer group or presentation. You can also purchase a pre-made question ball from a variety of retailers. Consider some examples below of questions that could be found on a ball.
Meet-and-greet ball toss
What is your name?
What is your strongest skill?
What is your weakest skill?
Dogs or Cats?
Where are you from?
Do you have siblings?
Did you have a childhood nickname?
What do you want to learn today?
Leadership session ball toss
How would you describe your leadership style?
What is a leadership challenge that you face?
What is one thing you plan to take away from this lecture/presentation?
Share a story of great leadership
Share an example of a great leader
Do you have a favorite leadership quote?
“If you can’t energize others, you can’t be a leader.” - Jack Welch
#2: Cards and questions
Cards with questions can also be used to energize audiences. Consider this pack from TrainersWarehouse. In this pack specifically, there are questions organized by themes such as: What makes you you, common ground, session openers, favorites, which are you and why, and get to know. These cards can be used in peer group sessions to energize discussion and bring forth new ideas through powerful questions.
You can also use pictures and quotes on cards. For example, Playmeo has created “We Engage Cards.” These cards consist of pictures and quotes as discussion starters. They recommend using the cards by laying them all out, asking a question or sharing a statement, and having group members take turns picking photos or quotes of how that represents their response/story. Another example from Playmeo is their “are you more like…” cards. These cards have two items on each card and participants state who they are or who another person is most like.
Cards like the aforementioned “We Engage Cards” or “are you more like…” sets can also be made using flash cards or assigning specific questions to numbers of ordinary cards. For example, Uno cards could be used by indicating that when someone draws a red card they must share their best moment of the past week.
#3: Get creative!
Break out the construction paper and markers! Ask group members to visualize and draw things such as their happy place, their culture, the culture around them, their environment, their goals, their setbacks, their journey, or even their challenges. After visualizing and drawing the prompt, ask group or audience members to share what they drew. This not only encourages conversation and gets the creative juices flowing, but also helps those who are more introverted prepare for the discussion.
#4: Never have I ever
This classic game can easily be introduced to groups. Prompts can be pulled from the topic at hand or general statements such as, “never have I ever been to a baseball game” can be used. If you have toothpicks on hand, you can distribute 5 to each group member. For everyone who has done what the prompt/statement describes, they must turn in their toothpick to a pile or basket. The winner is the last one with toothpicks remaining after all questions have been asked.
“High energy creates more energy, more energy, more energy. It kicks off synapses, I guess. It opens up your brain and you think of one thing after another thing, after another.” - Michael Keaton
#5: Post-It notes
Post-It notes can be used in a variety of ways. For example, post a prompt such as a question, challenge, or problem on the wall and have your group post solutions or responses in the form of Post-It notes. Encourage group members to share ideas that are out of the ordinary and remind them that they are brainstorming any and all possible ideas. This exercise can energize the audience towards discussion and creative problem solving.
#6: “And” & “But” Exercise
The “And” & “But” exercise is another way to energize audiences through discussion and brainstorming. In this exercise, the group leader or speaker starts with a prompt ending in the word “and.” From there, group or audience members take turns sharing their ideas, also ending with the word “and.” For example, the group leader or speaker could say, “To attract new employees, I will modify my business’ mission statement and…” and someone could respond with, “invest in better marketing strategies and…”
After completing this exercise, the group leader can discuss with the group or audience about how the word “and” is expansive and encourages new ideas. The group can then do a round using the word “but” instead of “and.” For example, “I want to grow my business, but… it will take a long time but… it will require money but…” The group can then discuss how coming up with solutions was easier or harder for each prompt that incorporated the words “and” or “but.”
#7: The elephant in the room
The common phrase “elephant in the room” refers to obstacles, challenges, or problems that are not being addressed but clearly being experienced. Everyone can see or experience the “elephant in the room,” but yet it still goes unnoticed. One way to energize an audience or group is to encourage everyone to name the elephants in the room. A stuffed or model elephant can be used as a reference or even a graphic poster. Consider the exercise by Jennifer Myers of MITRE. She explains that speakers and leaders can post a photo of an elephant on a wall and give the audience or group members sticky notes. The group facilitator can then tell the exercise participants to name the elephant in the room by noting “anything that they consider to be an obstacle to the group’s meeting objectives” (Myers, 2018). She explains that this exercise gives participants the “permission and the psychological safety to raise sensitive or uncomfortable issues, without fear of retribution.” However when using this specific exercise it is important to establish ground rules such as respect, confidentiality, and open communication (Myers, 2018).
“Leadership is not just about giving energy… it’s unleashing other people’s energy.” - Paul Polman
#8: Get moving!
Researchers have found that physical exercise in the form of “game-based” activities can benefit cognitive function (Cooper et al., 2018). Other researchers have also discovered that physical activity breaks for students can benefit their learning and executive functioning (Egger et al., 2019). By getting group or presentation participants up and moving, facilitators can re-energize the group’s focus.
#9: Divide the room
In this energizer, the group facilitator will present a statement such as “Marketing is a challenge for my business.” Group members are then instructed to walk to one side of the room if they agree with the statement, and the other side if they disagree with the statement. This can also be used to quiz group members about the presentation or about themselves. For example, statements can include
I lead a family owned and operated business
The biggest challenge for my business is [fill in the blank]
I have been a CEO or executive for [#] or more years
I am local to [region or state]
#10: Compass walk
This energizer not only involves physical activity, but also communication. The group facilitator instructs participants to get into pairs or teams. Each team will then select one person to be blindfolded. The team or teammate will then guide the blindfolded partner to a specific goal using only verbal commands (playmeo, n.d.). This game can be adapted to include multiple command givers or multiple blindfolded participants to further elaborate on the importance of good communication.
#11: Match the card
This energizer helps participants get to know each other and participate in physical activity. Create pairs of cards and distribute them randomly to the participants. Participants are then instructed to walk around the room and find the individual with the card that matches or pairs with theirs. For example one individual could have the word “happy” and the other person could have the card “birthday.” The cards can also say the same words or have the same photos, etc. Once group members find their match, they can be instructed to share their answer to a prompt or a fact about themselves (icebreakers, n.d.).
#12: The pipeline challenge
The pipeline challenge is a great way for group members to establish teamwork. This challenge instructs participants to work together by using a series of pipes to roll a ping pong ball to a specific target. If the group is large, split into several smaller teams (TrainersWarehouse, n.d.).
#13: Seat swap
Re-energize participants by giving them the opportunity to swap seats and meet others in the room. This can be done by directing participants to get in specific groups or by labeling tables/areas with characteristics or traits. For example, tables can be labeled with things such as “CEO,” “over 45 years old,” or “in the [insert the blank] industry.” In this energizer exercise, groups can be instructed to sit with others that have the same color shirt, are in the same industry, or from the same region.
The main takeaway
Energizers are a great way to recapture attention, inspire creativity, and encourage communication. The energizers mentioned in this insight article can be customized to best fit the unique needs of specific groups or audiences. By using these energizers, you can maintain the attention of your groups and audiences while also engaging with them and creating memorable experiences related to your presentation or group goals.
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” - Benjamin Franklin
Bunce, D. M., Flens, E. A., & Neiles, K. Y. (2010). How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers. Journal of Chemical Education, 87(12), 1438–1443. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed100409p.
Cooper, S. B., Dring, K. J., Morris, J. G., Sunderland, C., Bandelow, S., & Nevill, M. E. (2018). High intensity intermittent games-based activity and adolescents’ cognition: moderating effect of physical fitness. BMC Public Health, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5514-6.
Egger, F., Benzing, V., Conzelmann, A., & Schmidt, M. (2019). Boost your brain, while having a break! The effects of long-term cognitively engaging physical activity breaks on children’s executive functions and academic achievement. PLOS, 14(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212482.
Icebreakers. (n.d.). Who’s My Match? Fun Icebreaker Ideas & Activities. https://www.icebreakers.ws/medium-group/whos-my-match.html.
Myers, J. (2018, July 28). Naming the Elephant in the Room | KDE. MITRE- Knowledge Driven Enterprise. https://kde.mitre.org/blog/2018/07/28/naming-the-elephant-in-the-room/.
Playmeo. (n.d.). Pairs Compass Walk Trust-Building Exercise - Fun Partner Game. https://www.playmeo.com/activities/team-building-problem-solving-activities/pairs-compass-walk/.
Rosengrant, D., Hearrington, D., & O’Brien, J. (2021). Investigating Student Sustained Attention in a Guided Inquiry Lecture Course Using an Eye Tracker. Educational Psychology Review, 33(1), 11–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09540-2.
TrainersWarehouse. (n.d.). Pipeline Challenge. https://trainerswarehouse.com/games-for-learners/team-building-games/pipeline-challenge/
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