Part 2: how improv can boost creativity and collaboration in business

By | December 20th, 2019|Building Confidence, Client skills, Networking Skills, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Team Building, Uncategorized|

In part 1, we covered ‘let yourself fail’ and the ‘yes and’ principles.

This blog looks at how Improv can reframe the way you interact with others.

Make your partner look and feel like a genius

People often say to me ‘It must be terrifying to do improv, there’s so much pressure to be funny’. Yet, Improv is really about the collective contribution of the group – not you as an individual. There’s nothing more irritating than someone in an improv scene on their own agenda and taking the attention away from the group. This irritation might be familiar in the office too!

The focus instead lies on how to set your scene partners up for them to be in the best possible light. How you can make it easy for them to add something to whatever you’ve just said.This completely takes the pressure off you so you relax and just focus better on being present in the scene. What’s more, if everyone is trying to make each other look good, there’s a good chance everyone succeeds!

At work, we can so often be worried about our own performance – we tend to have individual appraisals and targets. However, no one ever really achieves anything alone. Our culture applauds the lone genius but Einstein, Edison and Jobs – they all had teams of people helping them! Ideas were honed through collaboration and discussions.

Improv encourages us back towards the creative power of the group. At work we can often feel that should never present an idea until it’s a fully formed and ‘perfect’. It’s a real creativity inhibitor. Instead, sharing and building ideas as a collective allows them to evolve into so much more than one mind could have created on their own.

Be fully present

There is no more important skill in improv than listening! When you’re in a performance, you have to be so fully present because new details are flying around you by the second – everyone suddenly has new names, are in new settings with new scenarios! If you miss the details, the audience is going to notice.

In real life however, we often listen only to respond. When someone is talking, we are busy formulating our reply rather than intently tuning in. We miss so much detail that way. There are many improv games and exercises, which challenges us to listen to every single word our partners say. It’s enlightening.

In business, imagine if everyone listened in an ‘improv’ way to colleagues, clients and stakeholders. It not only reduces the chance of creating products no-one wants or marketing campaigns that miss the point. It’s deeper than that. If you truly listen to someone, they feel heard – one of our basic human needs. It changes the way someone feels about you.

So not only do you give someone the gift of being heard, you also get access to a lot more accurate information to enable better decisions. It’s something you need to actively switch on though. Honing these skills in the improv classroom gives you a better chance of activating this ‘listening mode’ in any meeting or important conversation.

A final word

The real beauty of Improv is not in any one of these principles but in the alchemy when they are all in force together! Imagine – you are not afraid to share an idea because your team-mates have got your back. Ideas grow into something because everyone  ‘yes, ands’ what is offered. Solutions develop and evolve. Everyone is fully listening and responding to each other in an attentive way.

I grant you this may still seem like a distant fantasy for the office. Yet, what if you chose to just implement some of these for yourself? What would that do for your performance? How would it change how others viewed you?

What’s more, it’s a more joyful approach to work. Improv advocates permission to ‘play’ again. It’s an extremely fun way to refine the very best of human skills.

For more information on how to bring Improv into your office or team, get in touch with Nicola (nicola@msbexecutive.com).

Inspirational Public Speaking: Caroline Taylor

By | January 10th, 2014|Blog, Building Confidence, Marketing, Networking Skills, Portfolio, Presentation skills, Team Building, Voice|

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

Caroline was part of a very lively panel debate called “CMOs and CIOs – heading for a date or divorce” hosted by IBM in their very impressive conference centre on the South Bank. I was impressed by her engaging speaking style and her command of the debate, in which incidentally she was the only female speaker. After the debate ended I asked if I could interview her for the blog and was delighted when she agreed.

Part 1: The Importance of Emotional Engagement with your subject

Q: When do you do public speaking?

A: Most of my public speaking engagements come linked to my day job. A request will either come into IBM or to me directly after other speaking engagements. The third category would be when IBM have sponsored an event and are offered a speaker slot in return. My public speaking subjects are Marketing which is my day job, Diversity which I am very passionate about as I am the Executive sponsor for gender diversity at IBM, and Sustainability, another of my passions.

Q: How do you prepare after getting the request?

A: Firstly I work with my colleagues to assess if the speaking engagement is a good fit for IBM if the request has come from outside the business. I need to see if the time is worth prioritising.  We look to see if it speaks to our target audience or if there is a benefit to IBM by being involved. If it is an externally ran conference on Diversity or Sustainability I check to ensure the conference is open (and therefore welcoming to multiple points of view) or that the theme is in tune with my views. For example if it is a sustainability event with a solus environmental point of view I would decline. I believe sustainability is about finding a true balance between the concerns of all the parties involved.

If I am invited to be on a panel I vet the other speakers. One thing I have learned from years of public speaking is that panels work well if everyone on them is open-minded and up for a good debate. I’m not interested in being part of a slanging match and don’t think it is enjoyable for the audience either. So if I see other panel members that are more interested in generating headlines than a useful and informative talk I decline. Of course if the person asking me to speak is someone I trust then that really helps.

After the assessment stage I get stuck into preparation. For certain topics I have my point of view very well honed through previous appearances so preparation on these occasions is very much a case of reviewing what I have, bringing it up to date, and refreshing it for the audience. If I am new to a topic then I’ll normally get together with a colleague and pick their brains as I find that different experiences and examples really help. And based on the point of view I am taking I’ll look for examples to illustrate the points I am making. Stories and examples really make public speaking interesting for the audience. I’m always looking for new ones, jotting them down when I’m at a talk or event. I do try and reference the source but sometimes the person I heard it from has been borrowing as well! I do enjoy a funny or emotionally engaging anecdote so I collect these as well. This collection of quotes and stories is a really good reference bank for any speaker to compile.

Q: How do you feel just before you speak ? During and After? How does your body react?

I am nervous just before I speak which manifests itself in shaky hands which is something I’ve done since I was a child. I’m probably more nervous before a straight speech as I am prone to forget my script, I much prefer a Q&A session or panel as I’m good at thinking on my feet and confident about my subject matter. Years ago, when I was starting a new role, my predecessor and I shared a presentation to our sales colleagues.  He handed over to me half way through the talk which was in front of 4k people. Afterwards he said he could feel my anxiety as I was twitchy and pale sitting beside him before we were on stage. He then said he couldn’t believe it when I strode on stage to takeover from him that it just seemed to dissolve away. I think this is because I really enjoy public speaking. Life is too short to do things you hate so my advice would be try it a few times but if after that you still hate doing it then find other ways to communicate, write an article or go on radio.  Because the world still needs to hear your views.

I recommend drinking lots of water (with toilet visit factored in!) because it makes your voice clearer. And make sure your blood sugar levels are right, skipping breakfast or lunch is not sensible because your brain needs the fuel. Especially when you talk on a panel your brain needs to think quickly. And only agree to talk if you care about the subject. Audiences love a speaker who sounds like they care. This works even on serious topics. I am Chair of the Trustee board of Stop The Traffik and the CEO Ruth Dearnley conveys her shock and outrage about human trafficking to deliver impactful and engaging speeches. Your own emotional engagement with your subject gives you confidence and in turn inspires the audience. Find a subject (it may be outside of work) you care deeply about and wax lyrical about that. People often find this makes public speaking easier. Once you have experienced enjoying talking about your pet subject moving on to talking about your work can be less daunting.

 

Helping your team to grow this Spring

By | April 2nd, 2012|Blog, Team Building|

As a keen gardener April is a rewarding month when the toil, care and attention starts to pay off. Blossom is breaking on the fruit trees and the tulips that were lovingly planted back in October are now showing off their glorious colours.

 

If you’ve ever seen a flower bulb, they are pretty unimpressive. In fact I planted out hundreds of seemingly ugly knobbly fibrous lumps in the ground this weekend that will turn out to be beautiful Aliums, Iris and Freesia in a few months time.  They are quite expensive but unlike seeds, each has a greater probability of producing something special. Bulbs need the right stimuli: nutritious soil, water and light to grow toward.

 

So bulbs need the right conditions to grow. Kept in a box they will stay that way, lumpy and pretty useless. Just taking up space.

 

What’s this got to do with training?

 

Well the same goes for your team. There is no point spending your time and money to attract the very best talent, only to let it fester on your open-plan benches so that their potential is not achieved.

 

Ask yourself, in your organisation are your employees:

 

•Given the right conditions to grow?

•Given the opportunity to put together their own development plans?

•Given support in putting their development plan into action?

•Are they given check-in sessions to test their progress?

•Do they know what they are contributing to your mission? Are you showing them a light to grow toward?

 

Your employees need to take responsibility for their own development. You cannot make a bulb grow, only give it the right conditions. But you can give your employees the right conditions to thrive.

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