Buzz Ring

Buzz Ring

Talking in Circles 

Source:  Introduced by Pat Rastall; further developed by Michelle Cummings

Published in:   A Teachable Moment, pg.67-68, Cain, Cummings, Stanchfield and  Setting the Conflict Compass, by Michelle Cummings with Mike Anderson 

Purpose:  This physics phenomenon will have your participants talking about the ‘Buzz Words’ of conflict in a unique way.

Type of Initiative:   Problem Solving, Processing

Props Needed:  One buzz ring 

Group Size:  Maximum of 15 people per ring. 


  • To begin this activity, identify the “buzz” words that your group may encounter during a conflict.  For example, your group may come up with the words:  communication, respect, positive language, trust, and conflict.
  • Explain to the group that it takes a lot of effort to keep communication, 

    respect, positive language, trust, and conflict working together simultaneously.  Like most group work, it takes time and practice to master a new skill.  Explain to the group that you are going to start the buzz ring and give them a task that is quite difficult to accomplish.  Explain that you are not certain if they will be able to successfully complete the activity but would like to see how they do.  Then start up your buzz ring.

  • The object is to pass the buzz ring around the circle without stopping any of the rings from buzzing. As previously stated, this is a difficult task, and the majority of groups will not be successful their first attempt.
  • While the group is passing the ring around, you can talk about the buzz words and what they will encounter throughout your program.
  • If someone in the group makes the rings stop, process it immediately.  This person is feeling some embarrassment, disappointment, stress, and may feel that they have let the group down.  First, encourage them to get the rings going again.  If they are unsuccessful, ask the group the following questions:  “Has anyone ever done this before?  Is it acceptable to the group that we do not have to be perfect the first time we attempt
  • new tasks?  How many people hoped that someone else would be the first to stop the rings before it was their turn?”
  • At this point you can have the group set goals based on the number of mistakes they want to allow in one pass of the ring.  Then help the group get the rings going again.
  • Verbal encouragement from the facilitator helps in the group success.  Encouraging statements include: “It’s a simple hand-over-and motion.  Communicate with the person next to you when you are ready to release the buzz ring into their possession.”
  • Encourage the group to celebrate after the ring makes it all the way around the group.

Debriefing Topics:

There are several things to bring up as you process this activity.  Here are a few examples:

  • Was anyone nervous to be the one receiving the ring?  Why?  Examples they may give may include not wanting to fail in front of the group or not wanting to let the group down by making a mistake.  This opens up a great opportunity to talk about how those issues might come up throughout the program as the group works together.  It is also good to point out that most people have not handled a buzz ring before, so being willing to try new things in front of the group is important.  It encourages risk taking and emphasizes how small failures enable us to have success in the end.
  • Starting the program with this activity creates a safe environment for participants to talk about any fears they may have about the day.  Ending the program with this activity lets the group see how much they have learned together as a group.
  • Sometimes if the rings stop in the process, a participant will give a good effort to get the rings going again but only get three of the five rings buzzing and then continue passing it around.  This gives you a good avenue to talk about how difficult it can be to keep all five of the buzz words they came up with (communication, respect, positive language, trust, and conflict) going at one time.  Can we have trust if we do not have respect at the same time? Some great dialogue around conflict can develop from this.
  • Another way to use the buzz ring is to ask who in the group is good at multitasking.  After those people admit (or do not admit!) to the skill, pass the buzzing ring around the circle and ask each participant to tell the group three things about themselves while keeping the rings buzzing.  This is difficult for even great multitaskers!

Specific Debriefing Questions:

  • Were you nervous to receive the ring?  Why?
  • What did your body do as the ring got closer to you?
  • Did you hope that someone else made a mistake before the ring got to you?
  • Has anyone ever tried this before?  Is it acceptable to make mistakes the first time you try new tasks?
  • In what ways can we as a group create an atmosphere of support and respect so people feel comfortable trying new things?
  • How difficult is it to be successful at (the buzz words they chose) trust, teamwork, communication, bullying … at the same time?
  • Was it risky to try something new in front of this group?
  • How likely would you be to try something new in front of someone who had bullied you in the past? 


The Buzz Ring can be implemented in many different ways.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1.  Start and end the training with the Buzz Ring.

Sequencing the Buzz Ring at the beginning of a program can set the tone for what you want to accomplish with the group.  Giving them a task that is difficult to achieve, allows them to think metaphorically, creates some performance anxiety, and has the potential to push them outside their comfort zone is a wonderful first step when talking about the hard topic of conflict.  Dealing with conflict is critical to successful teams and people and often takes a step-by-step approach to resolve.  Being successful at the Buzz Ring activity is also a step-by-step sequence.  Oftentimes we are not 100% successful at our attempts.  The sequence of starting the program with the Buzz Ring allows the group to have the initial experience with the ring itself.

Ending the program with the Buzz Ring allows the group to have other experiences during the day of working together, effective communication, and more conversation about how to deal with conflict and each other.  The more practice we have at resolving conflict and working together, the better we will be at it.  Experience has shown that groups that end the program with the Buzz Ring have a higher success rate at completing the task with little to no errors.  You will be amazed at how well groups do with this.

2.   Use the Buzz Ring as a stand-alone activity.

The Buzz Ring activity works well as a stand-alone activity for many reasons.  Because the buzz ring is such a unique tool participants often buy-in quickly due to the ‘coolness factor’ of what it physically does.  Multiple learning styles are utilized—auditory, visual, and kinesthetic—so right away you have engaged a large percentage of your audience.

3.  Debrief the Day:  Pass the Buzz 

Using the Buzz Ring as a wrap-up at the end of a training or workshop can be an effective way to encourage participants to ‘Pass the Buzz’ about what they learned.

At the end of the training, invite participants to form a circle.

Present the buzz ring and start it buzzing. Then ask:  “How do we keep the buzz going from this workshop?”

While keeping the buzz ring in motion, model a response by saying, "I learned more about the conflict styles of my co-workers.  I’m going to use this knowledge to approach individuals differently if I have conflict with them (or whatever else may be appropriate from the workshop content).” Then pass the buzz ring to the next person in the circle.

When the next person gets the ring, he/she states what he/she will take from the workshop and passes the buzz ring to the next person. This pattern continues around the circle until the ring gets back to the facilitator.

If the ring stops buzzing as it goes around the circle, the person has to restart the buzz and mentions what might be an obstacle that could stop the buzz. After sharing this, they proceed with the initial question.

The fascination with the buzz ring combined with the reflection helps participants leave with a smile and an action plan. 

Getting the Buzz Ring Started:  Getting the rings to start can be tricky, and practicing ahead of time is a must.  There are multiple ways to start the rings so finding your ‘style’ just takes some practice to figure out which system works best for you.  Some place their palm down on the still rings and give them a good spin.  By turning the large ring at the same time, the rings start buzzing.  Others will slap straight down at the rings and turn the large ring at the same time to get them buzzing.  Practice to see which method works best for you.

Here are some basic instructions:

Hold the large metal ring in either hand (see Photo #1).

  1. Use the other hand to spin-out the washers (see Photo #2).
  2. After the washers begin “spinning,” quickly use both hands to smoothly rotate the large metal ring toward you.

The washers should continue to spin as long as you rotate the large ring.

What are the physics behind the Buzz Ring?/How does the Buzz Ring Work? 

The buzz ring is really just five little tops of unusual design strung on a metal ring.  Do you remember how tops appear to start “wobbling” as they slow down?  This rotation of the spin axis is called precession and causes the ring to press on one side of the hole in the spinning top.  The contact point between the ring and the top can be thought of as a gear that changes the motion of the upward-moving ring into the top’s spinning motion.

Purchase from the Training Wheels store: Setting the Conflict Compass, Buzz Ring, A Teachable Moment 

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