Leading Without A Script
I often talk about my improv experience when facilitating Leading with Presence programs, and more than once a participant has approached me and whispered (sometimes shamefully), “I’ve wanted to take a Comedy Improv class for a long time.” I have three words for them, and for you: Just Do It.
In a former life I was a professional improv comedienne. I performed weekly in clubs, coffeehouses and theaters in major cities and college towns all over the country. If you’ve ever seen “Whose Line is it Anyway?” you know that improv performers come onto a stage with no script, ready to create original scenes based on audience suggestions. Without a doubt my most valuable lessons in communication and leadership were wrought on those tiny stages under hot lights. In fact, I draw heavily on my improv training as a facilitator, public speaker and coach.
I often talk about my improv experience when facilitating Leading with Presence programs, and more than once a participant has approached me and whispered (sometimes shamefully), “I’ve wanted to take a Comedy Improv class for a long time.”
I have three words for them, and for you: Just Do It.
You may think it a frivolous pursuit. It’s not. The skills of improv are so relevant to leadership communication that your company should think about reimbursing you for the cost of the class.
Here are three of my favorite Golden Rules of of Improv when it comes to business. Skeptical? Try substituting “leader” for performer, and “team” for scene partner(s) or audience:
First Idea, Best Idea.
As an improv performer, ideas fly in and out of your head at a dizzying speed. Guess what? The first one is usually the right one.
I was once performing an improv game where I had to act a scene in a style of a particular playwright or filmmaker, based on audience suggestion. The audience started yelling dozens of ideas, and I heard one: Noel Coward. I knew next to nothing about Noel Coward’s plays, and there were other suggestions that were much safer. I picked Noel Coward. I “killed,” as we say in comedy. The times I second-guessed my first idea, and went with a safer choice? I tanked. Trust your instincts even if it means taking a risk.
Say Yes, and…
To start a scene, your partner might enter and make what we call in improv, “an offer.” They might burst onto the stage and say, “Mother’s drunk again!” You have a choice. You can completely accept and build on that idea (perhaps by saying something like, “Oh, no, and she’s due on the Space Shuttle in less than an hour!”) OR you can make a dismissive statement that brings the scene to a screeching halt by preventing anyone else from building on the idea (in this case saying perhaps, “No I just saw her, she’s just tired”). This is called “blocking.” It happens all the time in business, and has the same effect on a meeting that it does in the theater. All the air goes out of the room.
Listen, and when all else fails…Listen.
There’s a trap in improv called “monologuing.” Your energy is high, you’re on a roll, the character you’ve created is getting great laughs, and your scene partners haven’t said a word in seven minutes. They’re in danger of becoming scenery. Stop. Listen. Share the lead. There is a gold mine of wealth in what your scene partners–or your team–have to offer.
What do you think?