It’s not me, it’s you

“If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that life is a virtuous cycle — when you keep on giving, eventually you get”…

These are the words of Jodi Glickman from her latest HBR piece on networking. The idea of pure generosity, of “it’s not about me, it’s about you”, isn’t something that comes naturally to all of us, but it’s a skill that improvisers hone again and again.

For an improviser, it isn’t about you at all (it, meaning the scene, the game, the moment)…. it is all in support of the other person.

The mantra we adopt is: Make Your Partner Look Good.

What does this do and how does it help us? Well it’s not dissimilar from how we would network at a party or social event.

Focusing on offering support of the other person takes away some of the worry of self-scrutiny, and carrying a conversation. By being curious and generous we find new ways to connect with people, listen for what matters to someone and try to find ways to offer support, understanding, or assistance by “yes, and’ing” their thoughts and answers.

We can learn from anyone and everyone.

And we have something to offer anyone and everyone – it may not be there in that moment but perhaps in the future.

If you can approach a conversation this way, instead of “what can you do for me?”, you’ll find the ease of networking. It just takes some practice.

2 questions to help you crack the employee engagement code

Stan the salesman was not engaged in his work. He felt isolated, lost, and flat-out miserable.

(Just wait, this story has a happier ending).

Stan is not unlike many workers these days. For many, work lacks meaning, it lacks a feeling of true responsibility and purpose.

So, what to do, when we could bury our heads in motivation theory or simply wish there was a quick fix.

Brilliant and experienced management consultant, Suzy Norman, wants you to consider these two questions:

1. How much do you feel needed, and that you matter to your community?

2. Do you feel in control of your future?

For Stan, he’d probably tell you, “not much”.

There is a shift that takes place for us when we feel like our work and just being who we are makes a difference – that we can do something no one else can. That powerful feeling of being needed resonates for us at a human level, and not just at work. Furthermore, not only does it boost our self-esteem, but I’d argue it also allows us to feel more control over that scary word: future.

The next time you feel like Stan, check-in with these two questions.

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. 

How to act the way you want to feel – a lesson in status

Act the way you want to feel. Fake it til you make it. Maybe you’ve heard these phrases before and shook your head with skepticism.

I’ve been coaching a new client on bringing more conscious awareness to his everyday behaviors – teaching him new tools that align mind and body to increase confidence.

Acting the way you want to feel, can start with awareness of your non-verbal behaviors. To improvisers, and comedians we often come back to STATUS.

Status is a combination of body language, reaction, tone of voice, and intent. Our status is in constant flux – and can be lowered or raised by other people, places, or even objects.

We all have a default status. But to be flexible, adaptable, and growth-oriented is to realize that status is a choice, it’s a performance, and a learnable skill – and we can work to make these performance choices more conscious to help us achieve our goals whether it’s a sale, a job interview or even a date.

In this great presentation from Pop Tech, Professor and researcher Amy Cuddy breaks down scientific research on status power poses. How much space do you take up? And what if there was a simple trick you could do before interviews or important presentations that would help you act the way you want to feel.

Take a look:


What’s the drill – June 14: Five questions to get you listening differently

Listen up (said with a friendly, have a comfy seat tone!)… here are five questions to get you thinking about HOW you listen.

To me, active listening means more than paying attention. What we choose to pay attention to when we listen is just as important.

1. Are you listening for potential? If not – what is it you are listening for?

2. Are you planning your response while the other person is still talking?

3. Are you listening with more than just your ears – are you paying attention to non-verbal communication?

4. When someone is talking about something they are really passionate about, or feel strongly towards – how can you listen for more than just the facts – listen in a way that focuses on their values, and what matters to them. What does this person care about, and how can you help? After all, it feels wonderful to know that someone understands you.

5. How can you listen with a focus on the future, instead of hanging onto the past?


What’s the drill – June 11: Silence is golden

Often, one of the most difficult presentation tools to master is one involving no words at all:


In a heightened situation – whether on an improv stage or in a job interview, silence can feel dangerous, vulnerable, uncomfortable and intimidating.

What if we could magically alter our view of silence into something that made us feel powerful, confident, relaxed and observant?

Learning how to become comfortable with silence can add a powerful tool to your communication toolbox.

The truth is, we don’t always need to fill in the space – but we often do so anyway with non-words (the um’s or ah’s, or ands) – what we can call verbal clutter. Throw away the clutter and embrace the silence instead.

Silence can be effective because:

  • Brief silence cues people pay attention.
  • It raises expectation of what’s about to come.
  • Silence slows down learning, creating opportunities for active listening.
  • It guides us as presenters, encouraging clarity and brevity.

Marked by silence – we often assume the audience notices it as much as we do… when in fact, they barely notice the lack of noise. While we often have an exaggerated, or negative view of silence, an audience is much more relaxed and unaware.

One of the most challenging Improv exercises for me is to start a scene with 30 seconds of silence. It can be incredibly vulnerable to stand on a stage with nothing, no words or noises.

The more you practice brief pauses of silence, the easier it will get. How can you practice using this tool in your everyday conversations?



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?

#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.

Closing the gap between knowing and doing

Mind the gap. Respected and internationally known training and educational provider, Crucial Conversations says:

“When it matters the most, we often do our worst”.

When we face interpersonal communication challenges (or any challenge, really), The gap between knowing what to do, and actually putting that knowledge into action is often profound.

How many of us have experienced this before – where the knowing exceeds the doing? We’ve been taught the right way to communicate (read a book or been through a training session) that promises to bring our game to the next level… but we just can’t execute.

In stressful and important situations science research tells us our adrenaline gland fires, our cognitive processes weaken. Forget about it, brain?! You’re not making any of it easier.

In addition, we’re often not doing our brain any favors when the time gap between learning what to do and actually being able to put it into practice is sometimes arbitrary.

I believe just recognizing this gap exists can be the first step to closing it. Additional steps:

  1. A desire to close the gap – we have to go beyond knowing it’s there, we have to want to close it.
  2. The ability to practice “doing”, to flex our communication muscles to build habit and to practice while we learn through role plays, self-reflection and self-assessment.
  3. The confidence and leanings gained from that practice.

We can teach the “knowing” all we want, but I’d argue training needs to provide more applicable and relevant opportunities for doing to help us all close the gap.

Crucial Skills » Putting Skills into Action.