Last fall I started taking improvement courses. I am a somewhat self-conscious introvert, and I wanted to learn how to think faster on my feet, and how to speak up in meetings without feeling a clench in my stomach. I also thought improv techniques would help me work more fluidly with my coaching clients, and that the classes would add some zest to my usual round of activities.
The experience has been great.
What I did not know was:
There are rules for improvisation;
If we followed some of these rules in business we would quickly increase the ability to trust our crews and bosses, think more effectively under pressure, se11 and manage more powerfully, and have a lot of fun in the process.
Above all, improv is about teaching kindness. Who knew?
For example, we played a game called 'Hotspot'. As a group we turned our faces to the wall, and one of us had to go into the middle of the room and start singing. Of course, the first person was embarrassed. Very quickly, one of us facing the wall had to save the singer by taking his place and starting to sing. Then we repeated the process: save and sing, save and sing. The goals of the exercise are to take a risk, not let your team look silly for too long, and to save each other graciously,
Even making the previous singer look good.
What a concept! What if that was the focus of how we interact with each other in sales meetings? Take a risk. . . I will save you when you risk embarrassment. . . And I'll try to make you look good. Sales meetings could even become enjoyable, and more people would look forward to attending them.
Here are some other improv exercises that could help living up your meetings, teach some valuable skills, and boost business at the same time. Each activity only takes minutes.
'Yes, and …' (versus 'No, but …' or 'Yes, but …')
The intent: To tell a story by accepting and building on each other's ideas rather than blocking them.
The process: One person starts a story by saying a simple sentence, such as, "Joe went to the store". The next person adds to the storyline, beginning the sentence with "Yes, and … he bought an ice cream cone." Keep going, starting every sentence with, "Yes, and …" until the story concludes. If, after everyone has had at least 2 – 3 turns, an ending is not in sight, ask the next few people to start concluding.
In our group, some people had trouble accepting and building. We asked the person who blocked an idea to try again, using "Yes, and …."
If your team begins a sales meeting with this game, all the participants can agree to only use "Yes, and …" through the rest of the meeting discussion. See what happens.
The payoffs of "yes, and …" to your business can be huge: breaking down barriers, generating ideas, and increasing cooperation and trust. You can also do this exercise on the phone, so it works well for virtual teams.
This is a physical variation of 'Yes, and …' I've started using this activity in my training classes, and it is hilarious.
The intent: To quickly create a frozen scene with three people, each person building on the action.
The process: Everyone stands in a circle. One person moves into the center of the circle, announcing what object he or she is, then freezes in that position (ie, "I am a tree.") A second person comes in, announces what he or she is, and freezes in That position ("I am a dog walking toward the tree.") A third person enters the scene, announces the next part of the tableau, and freezes in that position ("I am the owner of the dog, holding the leash." )
The first person then takes him / herself and one other out of the scene. (Ie, removes the tree and the dog.) The next scene begins, "I am the owner of the dog, holding the leash." The next two people build on that scene, creating something entirely new, and so on.
The business payoff: When people have fun creating together, they can come up with innovative ideas for tackling sales and other business issues. Also, it is impossible to make mistakes in this activity, so it is very safe to include everyone (even those who are shy or contained) and reap a variety of ideas from all participants.
The intent: Loosen up everyone's lips before a meeting begins.
Try these words as a group (repeat each about 10 times, very quickly)
Unique New York
Red leather, yellow leather
She stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping, amicably welcoming him in. (Good luck with this one! It's not as bad as it looks.)
The business payoff: Everybody has already tripped over their tongues in front of the group, so they can participate comfortably. This is another great exercise for virtual teams.
Talk back: I'd love to hear how you are using improv techniques in your company, and what the business payoffs are.