What matters to you? Seth Godin’s 140-second challenge

What do you care about? You have 140 seconds to share it with a room full of strangers. Ready, go!

Last night in NYC I took part in a noble experiment by marketing and creativity author and guru Seth Godin.

As part of the release effort for his latest book, he let out a rally cry for individuals to get together and share their passion.

The event provided a unique and thrilling opportunity to be vulnerable, courageous, succinct, clear, and focused…in 140 seconds. This may sound difficult to some of us, but we’re each given numerous opportunities throughout the year, week or even day to present what matters to us in a clear and hopefully, authentic way. Why not practice?

 

I’m curious to know what you would talk about in your 140 seconds?

I challenged myself to improvise much of my talk but here’s what I ended up saying:

My name is Lindsey, and I am an Improviser. Usually when I tell people this, especially if I am outside of New York, I hear one of three reactions:

“Oh, you must be funny, then”, or “Is that like, ‘Whose Line is It Anyway?'”, or “I could never do that”.

Here’s a secret. Everyone is an Improviser. Everyone in this room is an Improviser. No one has a script when they get up in the morning.

But here’s how I really know that everyone in this room tonight is an Improviser. Improvisers are really good at doing these 3 things:

  1. Taking Risks
  2. Embracing Failure
  3. Saying YES to opportunities 

Everyone in this room took a risk to come here tonight. Everyone who got up here and shared their art is embracing failure, and everyone said yes to an opportunity even if they were unsure of what this was. 

5 years ago, almost to this day, I took my first Improv class. Now I work with corporations, teams, and individuals to help them cultivate their inner improviser because I believe that these skills matter. Imagine what the world would look like if everyone learned these skills? Well, I imagine it would be similar to this room here tonight, a room full of people who took risks, embraced failure or re-defined what ‘failure’ meant, and said yes to opportunities. I’m really excited about that world.

My hope for today is that when you leave this room tonight you’ll help someone else unleash and embrace their inner improviser, that you’ll keep taking risks and saying yes to new things, and exercising the muscle that brought you here tonight – then maybe someday we’ll have the courage to throw away the script. 

The year of Daniel Pink

Little did he know it, but in January of 2012 famed author Daniel Pink was already applying some of the tools he talks about in his latest book (out today!), “To Sell is Human“.

I’ll explain. It was December of 2011 when I finished reading his earlier work, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” . I was enamored with the material, and overjoyed that his words seemed to validate my career path, and passion.

On a whim I sent Mr. Pink an email. I complimented him, pointed out our mutual connection (Go ‘Cats!), and…well, asked if he had some time to talk. I may have even quoted Oprah?! Silly me, I thought. But, I had nothing to lose.

I was sitting in a quiet cafe on Polk Street in San Francisco when I received his prompt response:

“hi, lindsey. thanks for the note.

i’m happy to talk, but only on the condition you share with me one or two tips for getting better at improvisation. (as it happens, i’m doing some research that’s kinda, sorta on that topic right now.)”

I screamed. There were some odd looks. I didn’t care – to me, Daniel Pink is a rock star and this was the equivalent of a backstage pass.

Almost a year later Daniel Pink finished the project he alluded to and released “To Sell is Human”. It is a fascinating, thought-provoking read that I highly recommend.

Pink devotes an entire chapter to Improvisation and the tools we use as Improvisers to improve communication, presentation and even, authenticity. Just like in “A Whole New Mind”, Pink has validated, supported, and encouraged the use and application of these tools to a broader base and signals the growth of this field for years to come.

Our conversation in January was one of the highlights of my year. Daniel Pink said “Yes, and” to my request to talk and it is something I will never forget.

In December of 2012 I was chosen to be a part of a small group that would serve as a launch team for “To Sell is Human”.

Small actions (to say “Yes, And”, to help make someone else look good, to practice generosity and taking risks) help to create memories and connections that we don’t soon forget.

Here’s to a new year of saying “Yes, And”,  and to being uncertain but taking a risk anyway. You never know where it will lead.

What’s the drill – September 12: And because of that…

Remember the Story Spine? The fantastic tool we use to apply elements of storytelling to a plethora of organizational situations and cases?

  • Once upon a time …
  • And every day …
  • Until one day..
  • And because of that …
  • And because of that …
  • And because of that…
  • Until finally…
  • And ever since that day ..

Today specifically we can talk about the Story Spine as a means of discussing risk and reward.

Take the phrase, “And because of that…”

Improvisers are taught, and become more comfortable with taking risks. They feel on stage, experientially, what it’s like to get out of their comfort zone. And because of that, they stretch, grow, and so much more.

Sometimes, off-stage, we take a risk (“until one day”) and wait for the reward (“because of that”). We see risk taking as a means to an end. It’s got to be something tangible, right?

“Where is my ‘because of that‘ already?”, we ask. Show me the reward! Let’s flip to the end of the story.

In truth, the other, “because of that’s” might not have been written yet. We often can’t see them coming although we hope they appear. It may take months, years for you to recognize what they are. You might find there are more than 3, perhaps dozens of “because of that” phrases. All we know sometimes is that the risk moves us forward, certainly in learning, and hopefully in tangible results.

If we are taking risks solely in pursuit of the reward we might never be satisfied with our story spine.

The point is that we as organizations and the people who run them have a responsibility to keep the story moving forward. Choosing to take risks and to use the call to action of “until one day” moves us forward, compared to the glacial, steady, predictable pace of “and every day”.

 

What’s the drill – August 21: Find the ending

And, in conclusion…

Sometimes as presenters, communicators and improvisers we spend so much time learning how to start our speech, conversation, or scene that we forget to brush up on how to finish them.

Here are some tips, pulled straight from the world of Improvisation and storytelling to help you find the elusive ending.

1. Know your objective – What do you want your speech to accomplish? Build in tie-back to your objective, and once you’ve achieved it, it’s a key sign it’s time to end.

2. What has changed? Kenn Adams’ story spine gives us a wonderful framework to think about communication and storytelling. “And ever since that day…”, what changed, for the character or for the world you described? Help paint the picture with emotional resolution.

3.  Re-incorporation – Reincorporation is comedy gold. To help find your ending, look to the beginning. What can you reincorporate?

4.  Button it up – Improvisers tend to end scenes on the biggest laugh – they like to go out on top. Once their objective has been achieved, and they have been changed, ending on a big laugh (otherwise known as a “button”) is always a good feeling.

5.  Have you solved the problem? If the problem you’ve established has been solved, your work is done. Be careful not to introduce new problems, or re-hash the same one. Simplicity is key.

6.  Did you answer the audiences questions? The audience has a circle of expectations: with the information you’ve given them, they have questions they expect to answered. Once you’ve done that for them, you can expect to have come to the end. 

A new way to think of change

In an Improv scene, a movie, a story, or a great presentation we find resolution by completing this sentence,

 “and ever since that day”…

What changed?

This change is brought about by what we call a tilt. Something a character says, does, expresses, and admits to, etc in a scene.

It is our goal in an Improv scene to be open to change and to actively seek it. This change then answers the question, “what was different about this day”.

As innovators, creative problem-solvers, leadership coaches, managers, trainers, and facilitators we push positive change.

“And ever since that day”….

The tilt, the catalyst for change, comes from being hyper-aware to what offers and ideas have already been expressed. What is around us that we can use? What are our characters feeling, expressing, and wanting and what honest reactions and desires can we pull from to help our characters organically grow and evolve?

We can think of it this way:

Once there was…
And every day…
Until one day…
And because of that…
And because of that…
And because of that…
Until finally…
And ever since that day…

Improvisers want to be changed. The static scene and character that stays the same from beginning to end is not our friend.

To embrace change is to ask… “and ever since that day”… and to see the world of possibilities that appear when we making even one small tilt pushes us in a direction we couldn’t have predicted.

Once upon a time…Integrating story tips into your organization

“But one day”… is what’s known in storytelling as the tilt. The moment everything changed and our characters, world, and story transformed.

It’s just one part of what’s known as The story spine, by Ken Adams.

As someone who studied screenwriting in college, I have always been fascinated by how the worlds of storytelling and human behavior collide — essentially, studying how screenwriters craft powerful narratives built on human emotion, connection and transformation, and using some of those same secrets to positively affect human and organizational development.

Today I came across this blog, which shares some story rules pulled directly from Pixar Animation. I’ve posted them below. Which ones resonate and connect most with you – whether it pertains to leadership, transformation, presentation skills, or more?

http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

What’s the drill – May 17: The three pillars of persuasion

As the saying goes, everybody wants to buy, but no one wants to be sold.

We are all selling something every day – ideas, products, choices, points of view – persuading someone, somewhere to “buy”, varying our level of persuasion with each.

Aristotle gives us the 3 pillars of persuasion:

  • Ethos: credibility of the speaker
  • Pathos: emotional connection to the audience
  • Logos: The logic of our argument

Together, these pillars are the essential qualities that your speech or presentation must have before your audience will buy in to your message.

Consider which of these 3 pillars is easier for you and which one you tend to rely on or start with.

Do you agree with the notion that we buy on emotion and justify with logic later?

 

TOOL: Delight and engage your audience with reincorporation

Improvisation as a communication tool can be broken down into two steps:

Listen, then react.

Repeat.

Without being able to plan ahead in the conversation or the scene, Improvisers are skilled at being present and in the moment, fine-tuning their listening skills to yield honest reactions that keep moving the story and conversation forward.

Skilled Improvisers are also excellent at re-incorporation, or “the call-back” as it’s coined in the comedy world.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callback_(comedy)

Reincorporating a piece of information, a line of dialogue or a small moment from earlier in the scene or story usually results in a big laugh. Reincorporation is a favorite of Improv audiences because they are amazed we remembered such details, and what is familiar usually get a laugh.

Without superb listening and awareness skills, reincorporation wouldn’t be possible.

But, reincorporation can delight more than just Improv audiences. 

Its applications stretch from presentation skills to interviews, praise, and building connections with everyday conversations.

Reincorporation really just means we’ve been listening, and it always feels nice to know you’ve been listened to. It shows that you care, and you are paying attention – imagine the delight and surprise when a small piece of information is reincorporated in an improvised story, perhaps an hour after it was first introduced. Reincorporating an idea, or an employee concern, or praise of a job well done can have the same effect.

Specificity plays a role here too. The more detailed the reincorporation, the bigger the reaction and delight you are creating.

As a presentation tool, reincorporation helps with retention, learning, and information summary. Repeating key points or key themes  in a presentation is a strategic tool.

Listen, then react… with an emphasis on the listening.