What’s the drill – April 1: Why Improvisation is no laughing matter

Warning warning, no pranks here. April Fools Day may call for laughs and gags, but it’s often a surprise for people to hear that laughs are not the focus of Improvisation classes.

Many people shy away from taking an Improv class because they don’t think they are funny enough. They fear an Improv stage is only for those who have jokes coming out of their ears.

Not so, I tell them. Why? First, as Improvisers our number one goal on stage is to support our partner.

We must accept and build (“yes, and”) whatever they say or do. Sure, laughs are often the result, but if we are busy thinking of the next “funny” thing or joke to say, or what will get the biggest laugh, we as improvisers are often not listening and therefore not supporting our fellow players.

We acquire tools in our toolbox that allow us to embrace the unknown, build an ensemble, and construct a narrative.

Start with the basic tools, and the laughs do come. Focus only on the laughs, and you’ll never build anything solid.

How to design training with introverts in mind

Designing training programs and initiatives to help bring out the best in your employees and help them collaborate and communicate better is hardly a one-size-fits all approach. Just ask Susan Cain. 

Not only must we consider the different ways we all learn, but it’s equally, if not more important to design training that allows both introverts and extroverts to succeed.

Roughly 40% of us (including myself) are introverts, meaning our energy comes from solitude, as opposed to other people. At work and at home, introverts need quiet time and solitude to arrange our thoughts and process information.

Often times, brainstorming sessions or meetings favor extroverts – it is often a scenario where being the best or loudest talker is more important than having the best idea.

So how can we design training programs, Improv classes, and brainstorming sessions that truly allow room for all of us to succeed and where we all feel welcome?

Most importantly, how should we design classes that allow introverts to feel more comfortable expressing their ideas? In a room full of extroverts, it can be difficult to feel heard. Here are some suggestions:

1. Add in some alone time

  • Timeouts fuel introverts thinking, creativity and decision-making. In order for introverts to do their best work, this must be acknowledged. Extroverts can benefit from some solitude as well, to develop insights and learn to rely more on their own thoughts and ideas.
  • alone time also allows introverts to process information
2. Adjust full-group discussions 
  • Debriefs are such a crucial part of Applied Improv and many professional development classes. For introverts, adjust some full-group debrief to small groups or one-on-one’s where more authentic discussions can be had
  • Encourage participants to write down thoughts as opposed to sharing them out loud – self-reflection is still taking place
  • Encourage in-depth questioning of games and activities to allow more time to process each segment and its lessons

3. Celebrate our differences, remember our similarities

  • Acknowledging the differences between extroverts and introverts is important. The more we can get to know our colleagues and our different working styles, the better we can communicate and collaborate
  • Learn “how to make your partner look good”, develop empathy and connection
  • Always circle-back to your overall purpose and mission as a team. Truly make an effort to allow both introverts and extroverts to shine. Pushing people out of their comfort zone is important, but having a home-base to return to and re-charge will make the journey easier for many.

What’s the drill – February 24: One game, many applications

“A game is just an excuse for a debrief”, says Thiagi – game and performance training guru.

Here’s a great game to play which will lead to fascinating debriefs regarding leadership development, communication skills training,  and team-building.

“Ball”  is the name of the game, and it’s one any group can play. I first learned “ball” in my Foundation 1 improv class at BATS Improv in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve played ball to begin almost every single improv class I’ve taken.  Beyond it being a ton of fun, it’s also a great physical warm-up and a way to foster a group mind.

To play, all you need is a plastic or koosh-like large ball.

1. Grab your group and stand in a circle so that everyone can see each other.

2. One person starts with the ball and hits it in the air.

3. Each time the ball is hit/touched by a member of the group, the players count together in unison (1, 2, 3, and so on). The goal of the game is to keep the ball in the air without it touching the ground. Everyone must count together out loud, and a player may not hit the ball twice in a row (like the rules of volleyball).

4. If the ball falls, or if a player touches the ball twice in a row, the game resets and counting starts over again at 1.

5. The goal is to work together as a team and see how high of a number your team can get to.

Try this game with your team and see how you do. What strategies did you use? Most importantly, what can this game teach us about leadership, communication skills, commitment, and team-work? Check in Monday for some results.




What is levity, and why it matters more than ever

In The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up, Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher argue that levity is a must-have tool for your workplace toolbox.

Levity, they argue, helps people work better. For example, it helps people pay attention, eases tension, and enhances a feeling of connection. These factors certainly can contribute to a happier and healthier workplace, and a more engaged one at that.

Increasing levity, and in turn, engagement can have a large effect on profits. We know the cost of disengaged workers:  the Gallup organization has found that disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy roughly $416 billion last year, primarily through lost productivity.

It seems the workplace could benefit from levity, or happiness training.  Now, the question is how. Is there such a thing as levity training?

We can re-train our brain to be more positive, can we train ourselves to be more light-hearted in the stress of day-to-day work, pressures, deadlines, and a difficult economy?

It may not be as hard as it seems. I’ll offer a few tips below.

We know that laughter and humor, for example, release dopamine (and decreases the stress hormone, cortisol) in the brain which regulates mood, motivation, attention and learning. Findings from research at Stanford indicate that humor can have positive effects not only on mood, but also on motivation and learning.

But it’s not just about the laughs. Just like we often dispel myths about Improv training, it’s important to clarify what levity means. The authors stress levity is really a sense of lightness. Just like formal Improv training, it’s less about being funny and more about being able to have fun, and see the humorous side of everyday situations — especially difficult ones.

Improv and levity training can look like this:

  1. Creating a more positive mindset
  2. Building connections and trust amongst groups and teams
  3. Increasing your capacity for gratitude and the gifts of others
  4. Being more present – to appreciate and recognize everything and everyone around you
  5. Increasing confidence to make building connections with others more natural
  6. Turning mistakes into gifts
  7. Adding more play into day-to-day work

We are in charge of our own happiness and how we measure it, but the environment in which we work can do more to increase workplace levity and contribute to more positive experiences at the office. It is worth taking the time.

Gostick and Christopher include a quiz about workplace levity. Take this quiz and see how your workplace measures up. If it falls short, what small changes can you initiate?

New employees are made to feel welcome.
Meetings are positive and light.
We have fun activities at least once a month.
It’s common to hear people laughing around here.
I can be myself at work.
We have a lot of celebrations for special events.
When brainstorming, we like to have fun.
My boss is usually optimistic and smiling.
Customers would call us fun to do business with.
I have a friend at work who makes me laugh.
We have a good time together.

Wanted: Idea Fusers – Bronwyn Fryer – Harvard Business Review

It is said, to innovate is to fuse two previously unmatched things together. More and more companies are looking to train employees on associative thinking to increase their capacity for innovation (Improv training is high on this list, as we know!)

Today’s blog from HBR also makes the case for diversity in experience, collaboration and the appreciation of different ideas and whole brain thinking to increase innovation.

Wanted: Idea Fusers – Bronwyn Fryer – Our Editors – Harvard Business Review.

How Improv brought two rival companies together

It’s no secret that the business world can be competitive – especially when two companies are going after a similar audience. However, decades of rivalry between two top Animation studios was put aside one night in December – for an event that was fully Improvised!

Pixar’s Improv team, “The Improvibles”, invited the DreamWorks team named “I Heard Chicken, Thank You” for a Improv Theatre Sports competition at their studio – this was a completely novel idea! Naturally, we accepted the challenge. What an amazing opportunity! Up until this point, we had put on shows at our studio but were psyched for a chance to perform for a bigger audience.

One of THE most important rules in Improv is to “make your partner look good”. In other words, take care of each other on stage and off. In this spirit, both teams of Improvisers turned this evening into a celebration instead of a competition – a night of goodwill and community building. It was made easier because we all spoke the same language (Improv), and adhered to the same guidelines. An audience of hundreds was reminded of the collaborative spirit of our industry and how much we can learn from each other in pursuit of a common goal. Two studios truly came together to delight our audience and to leave us all with an experience we’ll always remember.

Improv – collaboration, connection and communication between rival studios.

How can staying true to these Improv guidelines help break down barriers across your business sector?

Know Your Audience

It’s not new advice, but here’s a gentle reminder to marketers, advertisers, sales teams and yes, even stand-up comedians…know your audience.

Tonight my dad was one of several comedians performing at a venue in the San Francisco Bay Area. As an observer, I scanned the crowd and took in the scenery. We were in a slightly upscale Bistro which hosts comedy nights. It was early on a weeknight, and the dinner crowd was mostly Baby Boomers and folks who seemed to like PBS instead of TBS, and Newsweek instead of Rolling Stone.

The lineup for the evening included 6 comedians. Most were in their 60’s, but the first two performers were some thirty or forty years younger which turned out to be a disadvantage for them. Instead of playing to their audience (or pointing out the obvious age difference), the twenty-somethings stuck to jokes made for a younger crowd – drug use, pop culture references, sex. It was an example of a one-size-fits-all approach to comedy, or “selling material”. What could work for one crowd, certainly didn’t work for this one.

Now, the next few comedians fared much better. They told stories, they identified with their audience and had a “hey, I’m just like you!” tone. Guess which group got the bigger laughs and head nods?

As a comedian, facilitator, or salesman – check in with your audience. If you’re not receiving the head nod from the beginning, adjust your approach. Improvise. Say the obvious. And most of all, remember to tailor your message to your audience. It could be the difference between a yawn and a laugh, or a sale and a lost lead.

Here’s a great article on the subject (geared towards Presentations)

Presentation – The Power of “Yes, And”

In November of 2011, I had the privilege of presenting to Rotary Club International. My topic was “The Power of Yes, And”.  My goal was to present a new mindset to 70 professionals, and to have them assess their own tendencies in communication.

In addition to my power point presentation below, I utilized some experiential activities and storytelling techniques to engage the participants and help them feel the difference between “Yes, and”, and blocking – or “Yes, But”.

I am happy to report my presentation was widely praised for its originality, relevance, and humor.

I welcome the opportunity to present on “The Power of Yes, And” for your company, lunch function, or professional organization!