Toolbox.

Five structural elements.

An excercise like The Mexican Wave might be an easy structure or tool to reproduce, but not all interventions, tools or structures are that easy. To bring some structure to these structures, I borrowed the “five structural elements” from Liberating Structures. It is an easy and structured way to describe the different dimensions of an excercise, like the Mexican Wave.

My toolboxRead on for the structural elements
Toolbox

On Microstructures

Five conventional structures guide the way we organize routine interactions and how groups work together: presentations, managed discussions, open discussions, status reports and brainstorm sessions.

  1. The Presentation puts maximum control of content in the hands of one person and has no structure to include/engage others (also see some of my personal presentations).
  2. The Status Report is essentially like a series of presentations, putting the control of content into the hands of one person at a time and with no structure to include/engage others.
  3. The Managed Discussion puts into the hands of one person the control for including/engaging a small number of participants.
  4. The Brainstorm provides a structure to include/engage a few people in expressing their ideas without constraints.
  5. The Open Discussion has no control of content and no structure to include everybody.

Next to that, there are the Liberating Structures (number 6), a set of 33 excercices/structures that can help engage people brought together in a meeting. I dedicated a separate page to that, but do want to highlight one of the things that make Liberating Structures: the five structural elements.

The five structural elements

Five elements define the underlying design of all microstructures—conventional or liberating. We call them design elements because you can make choices about them based on what you want to accomplish. The five design elements for a conventional presentation or lecture are illustrated below:

  1. structuring invitation (listen to me);
  2. how the space is arranged and what materials are needed (rows or U-shaped tables facing presenter, screen, projector and PPT slides);
  3. how participation is distributed (nearly 100% of total time for presenter);
  4. how groups are configured (one group, one presenter); and,
  5. a sequence of steps and time allocation (presentation for most of time; possibly Q&A for balance of time).

Liberating Structures are designed with variations on these five structural elements. The elements are the minimum specifications (Min Specs) or essential foundation required to generate results with each Liberating Structure, as well as pretty much any other microstructure. That is why I use the structural elements not only to describe the Liberating Structures in my Toolbox, but also the others structures I use, like the Mexican Wave.

Five structural elements.

Example structural elements: The Mexican Wave

As illustrated here by the amazing audience at the UBX Conference in Munich – the effect resembling a moving wave produced by successive sections of the crowd in a stadium standing up, raising their arms, lowering them, and sitting down again.

Invitation

Doing the wave is not within everyone’s comfort zone, so it pays off to spend some extra time crafting a good invitation. There shouldn’t be randomness in your invitation (e.g. “before I go to the next part of my presentation, let’s do a Mexican Wave”), but it should be a logical part of your talk.

In my case, the invitation I use is often “I travel a lot. And I have two kids. They love drawing, reading, dressing up, but above all … the Mexican Wave. When the oldest one, Ella, was still a toddler, she was scrolling through YouTube and found a Mexican Wave. She loved it. After that I had to promise her that every time when I would be abroad, traveling, I would ask the audience to do a Mexican Wave for her. Well … and today … you are that audience. What we’re going to do is that we’ll try one first before me recording. We will start in the front after I counted down from 3 to 1. Is that ok?”.

I will look to see if everybody is ready (usually people will be stowing away their laptop or tucking way their bottles of water or cups).

In the back, I will have an old recording of a Mexican Wave running so people instantly know what I mean.

Then, I will do a dry-run first, usually commenting that it can be louder, before recording it to put on Instagram.

How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

The Mexican Wave tends to work best when you have a traditional “theatre” setting of a conference room and is most impressive when done with at leat 50-100 people in the room. The bigger the room, the cooler the effect.

Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
  1. Explain the relevance of the Mexican Wave.
  2. Invite the audience to participate, ideally with an other recording on your slides.
  3. Do a dry-run first.
  4. Do the final Mexican Wave and record it.
  5. Thank the audience for participation.
How Groups Are Configured

No special configuration needed.

How Participation Is Distributed

Joint participation.

Wave starts from the front.

You could consider (in case of a larger, wider room) to do the wave from left to right.

Additional tips and pointers
  • If the room is too small, don’t do it.
  • When recording, already have your phone in your hand, unlocked.
  • When recording, check that your recording isn’t influenced by beamer lighting (when the beamer casts its light directly into your phone cam, you get an annoying flare).