Imagine making all of those concerns with public speaking, pitch giving, network building, disgruntled customer ranting, or cold calling buyers who have no time and have never heard of your brand, all magically go away. Now, stop dreaming: these are all part of the startup life we’ve accepted. Instead of wishing them away, start doing something that will make them all that much easier. It's not a magic pill. Save those for the infomercials that as background noise to your pitch preparations. No, what we're talking about is improvisation - and not just for you, but for your whole team. Why? Let's dig into the benefits together.
Expand Your Thinking Beyond the Realms of Possibility
One of the first games improv classes teach is “Yes, and…”, a warm up which has one person start with a statement to which each subsequent reply must start with “yes, and…” followed by something that builds the story.
The game can be played in two ways.
Option A has the first statement being something fairly benign such as “You’re dressed quite sharp today” to which each subsequent reply may be along the lines of “Yes, and I had hoped that you might notice this new tie I had”.
Option B is to start with something quite fantastical like “Did you know that the incredible hulk eats 7,482 raw carrots a day?” to which the only logical response would be “Yes, and did you know that Spiderman’s suit is made by a synthetic polymer designed by MacDonald's for the exploration of lard substitutes on Pluto?” – both said with straight faces.
While this might seem quite simple, when you start to translate this into brainstorming / product development / viral marketing, you can see the effects of keeping the statements positive and flowing with the simplicity of requiring “yes, and…” In these situations, a “No”, or even a “but”, can put people on the back foot and kill off any spark of inspiration that may have led to an amazing result. Trying running "Yes, and..." as part of your next team meeting and see the impact it has.
Quick Thinking for Tricky Situations
The most obvious benefit of improv to you and your team is in fine tuning your ability to talk your way out of a tricky situation. When you're just starting out and there is to script from which to handle your sales or customer service, you'll be glad you put time into the practice. Think of times you had to give an answer to a question that seemingly came out of nowhere or had to take a call with an irate customer where you just couldn’t find the words to calm the situation.
While most improv games will help with thinking on your feet, “So I’ll” is a great exercise for forcing each player to listen carefully to what was said before them, then come up with a logical response. The first player starts with a statement like “It’s a bit chilly in here,” to which the next player must say “what you are saying is – it’s a bit chilly in here, so I will put on a coat.” The following participant continues in this fashion, with something like “what you are saying is that – I will put on a coat so that I can work on my computer”.
This may not be the funniest of improv games but, what it lacks in humor is made up for in how much it can improve a team members active listening skills.
Get Over Being Embarrassed
The best thing improv can do for any team is to help each and every member get over the fear of making a fool of themselves. Most importantly, if you are the team leader, you need to help set a good example by participating in the exercises instead of just leading them. Now imagine the boost to morale and the increase in participation that will happen when your CEO gets involved in the back dancing game - or how about the friendly competition created from challenging someone to a game of questions?
Not only are these activities great for building comfort within a team, they also support building the confidence required to attend events, network eagerly, and sell.
Arguably, the best rapport building technique you can employ is to ask great questions.
It's no secret: people enjoy talking about themselves so the better you get at asking insightful questions, the better you become at building your network.
If you get your team to regularly engage in improve games the benefits go beyond personal achievement and help improve team spirit and cohesion. One great improv exercise for improving team work is called “Two Headed Dragon”. In this game, everybody must pair up and start to tell a story with each person speaking alternating words. It forces the team to work together and gets hilarious.
One variation of this game which gets teammates even more in tune is called two headed expert. In this version the pair must say the same word at roughly the same time as if they were one person saying it. Feel free to intertwine pairs so that some are dragons and some are experts and let the games begin.
Making personal development a part of any organization can lead to major benefits. Introducing improv as a part of the personal development program in your office will both improve your team's skills and give you all the chance to have some fun. Do it long enough and you'll gain a secret skill - and perhaps the most important of all: an ability to read your audience. Whether it's a presentation or networking event, I know that I can quickly gauge the audience’s response to what I am saying and adjust it to better capture attention.
There are many improv resources out there that are available for free and don’t be surprised if you stumble across a local troupe where you live. So quit sitting around and get out there and improv yourself….bad pun intended.