The wave

Three ... two ... one ...

For a couple of years now, I have been doing a Mexican Wave at the starting point of many of my talks, all over the world. So much, apparently, that from time to time I have been addressed as ‘that Mexican Wave guy’. However, it all started out as just a simple thing to send my daughter Ella via Whatsapp when I would be away from home for a while. So, here’s the story behind my Mexican Wave tradition at conferences. Read on to see how best apply Mexican Waves in your workshops and presentations.

More on the Mexican Wave
Group

Purpose

Time frame

Group size

The bigger, the better.

Facilitation level

Comfort level participants

Materials needed

None, maybe only a phone to record the wave.

The Wave.

Three … Two … One …

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.

The story behind my wave.

The wave for Ella and Gust.

I travel a lot. A lot a lot – on average over 200 nights per year. I actually maintain a separate blog on all my travels, called Omakas.es.

And although these travels bring me a lot, it is hard sometimes with a wife and kids. We try and keep in contact during my travels via Facetime, Whatsapp, Instagram and other channels. And over the years, Mexican Waves became part of that.

When my daughter Ella was young and I was traveling for a conference in Prague, I once tried a Mexican wave as a surprise for her. I had the audience do a Mexican Wave and shout ‘hello Ella’. Ella loved it. And wanted to watch it over and over and over and over and over again. Now that she is rather skilled in using her iPad, she occasionally watches them herself.

So since then, every time when I’m away from home for a conference, I will do a Mexican Wave. Without ‘hello Ella’ now (because I now also have a son, Gust), but still with the audience

Some people have come up to me over the years that it’s a smart energizer, a great way to be different.

Yes, probably. But for me – it’s just for Ella and Gust.

The Wave.

Credits where credits due.

For a while, I had been in the dark why it was called the ‘Mexican Wave’ in the first place. A lot of comentators call it the “mexican wave” because they saw it for the first time by the Soccer World Cup in Mexico 1986.

Thanks to all audiences around the globe

Then – first of all thanks to all the people who were crazy enough to join me every single time. People in Prague, Athens, Brussels, Amsterdam, Utrecht, London, Bratislava, Johannesburg, Gent, Stockholm, Munich, New York, Hong Kong … and so many other places.

… and especially Bert.

I got my idea for the Mexican Wave from Belgian creative multi-talent Musketon. He had being doing it for a while during his presentation (and to his credits often both from front to back and sideways). It inspired me to try it once in Prague … and now it’s part of most of my presentation.

Thanks Bert!

Five Structural Elements for The wave

The Mexican Wave requires some confidence from the facilitator to pull off.

Five structural elements

How to read the instructions

To bring some structure to tools and excercises, I borrowed the “five structural elements” from Liberating Structures. It is an easy and structured way to describe the different dimensions of an exercise.

More on the elementsHire me as facilitator
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 (mainly: if there just aren’t too many people in the room), 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).

Keep me posted!

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I have 15+ years in changing companies to be less about ads and more about acts. I’d love to hear your story and see how I can help.

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Polle de Maagt

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