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 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?



What’s the drill – June 5: To push or to yield?

Last night I enjoyed a get together with the wonderful community of Bay Area Improvisers that feels like home to me, and in conversation with one good friend I asked:

What is the one most important thing Improv has taught you?

Her answer was short and sweet: It taught her to push and to yield.

Pushing and yielding may also be defined as give and take, dominance and submission, saying yes or saying no…etc.

Improv taught her, and teaches many people what it means to push and yield, what your own tendency is, and how and when to play either role.

But I’ll give you a secret – knowing when to push or to yield isn’t really about you. It’s about the other person. If you put all your attention and focus on the other person in your meeting, presentation, conversation, or improv scene – well, then you’ll pick up on how much to push or to yield.

It’s important to know how to play each role, and to have the confidence and self-awareness to do either. But the other person (your partner) will give you the clues and signs you need along the communication highway.

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?


What’s the drill – May 15: Give your presentation skills a boost

Are you a detail or big-picture person? Do you describe or present information with all of your senses?

One simple exercise changed the way I look at presenting information – and its applications stretch from vision planning, leadership, presentation skills, story, learning retention and more.

It’s an exercise I first learned in an Improvisation class at BATS Improv, and then continued to read about in Kat Koppet’s book, “Training to Imagine”, and then applied to my workshops at DreamWorks Animation.

It’s called, Color/Advance.

Here is a basic example of how it works: Grab a partner and pick one of you to begin describing your day.

At any point, your partner can say, color… or, advance. Color means to add more description to your story – use all of your senses. When your partner says Advance, it is your job to then go back to advancing or continuing the story. Continue to switch back and forth, with the direction given by your partner.

Give your storytelling, imagination, creativity, and presentation skills a boost.

Also use this tool to learn what inspires or interests your audience – see what they want to learn or hear more about.

Color. Or Advance? Why not add both to your toolbox.

What’s the drill – May 9: an education soundbite worthy of debate

“Good education has got to be good entertainment” – Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

TOOL: Delight and engage your audience with reincorporation

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

Listen, then react.


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.

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.

Sell with a story, not a lecture

“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story”— Janet Litherland

It is hard to resist the power of a good story.

Imagine this scenario:  You are a member of a 500-person audience, at the very end of a long day of a conference. It’s time for your final session before dinner and socializing.

One more speaker is presenting, this time about a non-profit and a cause that’s near and dear to her heart.

Your mind is distracted though. You’re probably hungry, and a bit tired. You feel as though your brain has reached capacity.

The presenter needs you to get on board with her cause. Her objective is to get you to donate time, money, and/or energy — but first she needs you to listen.

Designing presentations is always a difficult task, but often can be made easier if we simply alter our perspective on how we view ourselves:

We are all storytellers.

As an audience, we want to be taken on a journey. Stories help give us meaning, allow us to remember facts and comprehend information.  Stories help frame material, and make connections between the content and also personal experience. Telling a story about your cause and choosing a hero for us to follow allows us to relate to what’s being said and follow a narrative with a beginning, middle and end – as opposed to a cavalcade of facts.

Without a visual aide, all the audience has to hold onto are your words. Go ahead, tell us a story. Encourage us to use our imagination. Reincorporate images and important facts within the story to help drive information.

Help make your audience an active part of your presentation.

After all, we all have a story to tell.

I am facing a similar challenge tomorrow when I am scheduled to present a talk on Improvisation and Business at a Business School function near Sacramento California. Without a visual aide (computer, projector, handouts), I will be relying on the power of story.
I can’t wait to see how this story ends.