Chinese Whispers

Published by Jackie Barrie on

WhisperYou might remember playing this game as a child. One person whispers something to the next, and they pass it on. It’s fun to find out if the original message becomes distorted by the time it arrives.

Probably the most famous garbled message is ‘Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance’ which allegedly turned into ‘Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance’.

The fact that everyone interprets things differently has a bearing on internal communications. Often, senior management fondly imagine that the ‘cascade’ system works, that people read noticeboards or the intranet, and that the message that arrives is the same as the message that is sent.

Here’s a game you can play to demonstrate that’s not true.

Get everyone to stand in a big circle. Walk across to someone else, and say a simple statement. Then take their place. Now, they walk across to someone else, repeating your statement PLUS anything especially noticeable about the way you walked or how you delivered it… adding just a tiny bit more emphasis. Keep repeating this until the behaviours become really exaggerated.

Once the game is flowing, you can get two or three patterns going at the same time (assuming there are lots of people in the circle).


A twist would be to ask people to add a little something they think would make the message they received better in some way. This would be a clear way of showing that, even with the best will in the world, communication can easily get distorted.

Lesley Morrissey also told me about a mime version:

10 people were involved. 9 were outside the door and the trainer mimed blowing up a balloon, stretching it out, blowing, tying the knot and then bouncing it gently in the air. This mime was then passed on by each person in turn – and the final one had to identify what they thought they were doing. Needless to say the movements were unrecognisable by the time 10 people had interpreted what the previous one had done (and forgotten bits)!

And that reminded me of this:


This is one of the many warm-up activities I discovered at a Maydays improv retreat.

It’s not included in the Experiential Speaking book, but lots of similar exercises are.

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