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).

Answering questions when you have forgotten the answer: Corbyn, childcare and the missing figures

By | May 31st, 2017|Authenticity, Difficult conversations, Nerves, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Q&As|

The first question I asked when listening to Jeremy Corbyn’s uncomfortable stumbling on Woman’s Hour when he had forgotten the answer on the cost of Labour’s childcare policy was, “Does it matter?” If the policy is a good one then perhaps it does not matter whether Jeremy Corbyn can produce the exact figures on demand. On the other hand, surely he knew that the media are trying to find any lapses from Labour on figures. This is especially true after the even more cringeworthy Diane Abbott interview.

Confirmation Bias

I suspect on this question it depends on your view of Jeremy Corbyn. His supporters will say Labour are getting unfair scrutiny, his opponents will question his competence.

How not to handle it when you have forgotten the answer

The more important point for me is how he handled the question. This provides an interesting insight into how to handle questions when we have forgotten the answer. Corbyn’s approach is to start to answer, fruitlessly check his notes and then pause. “I presume you have the figures?” asks Emma Barnett. “Yes I do,” he quickly fires back.

And so starts the bigger problem. Jeremy Corbyn now has to give a precise answer. This is where the incident becomes more relevant for an undecided voter. If Jeremy Corbyn says he can do something and then immediately fails to deliver then that starts to undermine his credibility.

How you can handle it when you have forgotten the answer

So what should he have done? And what can we do when we are asked something and have forgotten the answer? Being honest before returning to your key point is often a good tactic. Something like, “I do not have the exact figure but we have costed every policy in detail in our manifesto. This is something that the tories have not done…..etc.”. If he is feeling particularly feisty he could explain that the Labour manifesto has exact figure for [insert long list of policies] and that he is more concerned that everything is properly costed than trying to memorise every single figure. Not as good as confidently rattling off the figures but at least it is going to avoid being lead story on the BBC news website.

“The cover up is worse than the crime”

As is so often the case, the cover up (in this case of the fact he has forgotten the answer) is worse than not having the figures in the first place. It would take a hard heart not to have some sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn. We have all been put on the spot about something we have forgotten. How we deal with the situation makes all the difference about how your audience will remember it.

Donald Trump: Storytelling in 140 Characters

By | January 31st, 2017|Blog, Featured, Perception, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Storytelling|

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!”

So says President Trump. Whatever you think about the personality or the policy, one thing is for certain: Donald Trump knows the art of storytelling.

Villain, Victim, Hero

One of the classic storytelling techniques we cover in our workshops is the Villain, Victim, Hero formula. It is so familiar to us that our brains expect it and respond to it. From bedtime stories as a child to Star Wars, the formula’s power is used again and again.

To summarise how it works:

Villain: this could be person, think Lex Luthor, or a “thing” such as the shark in Jaws or a volcano about to erupt.

Victim: the poor, innocent victim.

Hero: Superhero or ordinary person doing extraordinary things  (or both in the case of Superman/Clark Kent).

To make the story more dramatic, make the Villain more dastardly, the victim more worthy of our pity or the hero more compelling.

Donald Trump uses this formal in a relentlessly consistent and simple way:

Villain: the establishment, “crooked Hilary”, “the swamp” in Washington.

Victim: You! The honest, decent hard-working ordinary soul.

Hero: An outstandingly successful businessman with stellar talents and dealmaking prowess…….

Instead of varying the message, Donald Trump is a master at giving more impact to his storytelling by repeating and strengthening the formula. He makes his villains ever more villainous. The victims and their suffering, “the horrible mess” from the tweet above, is presented in colourful and dramatic ways. And of course, the more dangerous the villain and the more wronged the victim, the more impressive the hero is!

Using storytelling in your presentations

We may not want to emulate Donald Trump but we can certainly learn from how he tells stories. If you have to present data and facts in a way that will have your audience paying attention, try to think about:

  • Who is the Villain?
  • How bad is that Villain?
  • Who is suffering because of the Villain?
  • What is the impact on the Victim?
  • How can this be solved?
  • What are the qualities of your hero?

Next time you hear a speech from Donald Trump listen out for Villains and Victims. You will hear what an impact storytelling can have.

Martyn Barmby

Speaking Outside – 5 top tips for communicating in the open air

By | August 3rd, 2016|Blog, Building Confidence, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Voice|

Last week we enjoyed running a day’s team-building activity in the open air with the team at Bianca Sainty Personal Training. As well as looking at body language and posture we spent a large percentage of the programme exploring the speaking outside. In particular we worked on making yourself heard above the noises in a busy open air space.

On the day the conditions were perfectly challenging. In the park there was a tree surgeon felling branches with a chainsaw and someone mowing the football pitch. Along came a basketball game accompanied by amplified music. This is fairly typical London park noise and so most days a personal trainer will need to work hard when speaking outside.

Why is it important to be heard? First and most obviously so that the client can hear what you need them to do. Personal training can be quite intense and it would be a shame to break the momentum by stopping to ask for instructions to be repeated. Secondly it is all about trust. If you give directions in a clear, confident and audible way the client is more likely to trust that you are knowledgeable. Clients of personal trainers look for support from someone who can help them build their confidence so it is useful if the personal trainer exudes confidence.

The workshop covered many areas but here are 5 top tips for open air communication:

1. Face the clients

This may seem obvious but when explaining actions it is tempting for example to turn towards where you may want a client to run rather than stay facing them. In the workplace this often happens when a presenter turns their back on an audience to read their own powerpoint slide. First of all most people do not engage well with somebody’s back. Secondly people lip-read more than is realised and make up for gaps in what they have heard with what they can see. So always face your clients especially when speaking outside.

2. Hydration

Like the body needs to stay hydrated for muscles to perform the vocal cords are highly sensitive to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your voice strong and authoritative.

3. Voice from stomach rather than throat

Engaging the core isn’t just useful when performing physical exercises. It can really help increase the sound your body can produce. Standing in a strong neutral position, engaging the core and sounding from the diaphragm rather than the throat is key.

4. Keep the sun in your eyes, not your clients’!

It is natural to keep the sun behind us so that we can see clearly when speaking outside. This can mean clients are looking straight into the sun. As well as being uncomfortable this interferes with the lip-reading we mentioned in point.

5. Don’t stick your chin out towards your client.

We often feel the need to move closer to our clients to make ourselves heard by sticking our chin out. This puts a lot of pressure on the vocal cords which can lead to us losing our voice. Use you voice to reach out, not your chin!

Why doesn’t Shakespeare get tired even after 450 years?

By | April 22nd, 2014|Authenticity, Featured, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Voice|

The text remains the same, with a few spelling adjustments. People the world over have been performing and reciting Shakespeare’s words year in year out. Year upon year drama students select and perfect the famous monologues for male and female characters as set pieces for auditions.

But the words are the same, so why aren’t we bored of hearing them? The answer lies of course in the fact that it is the delivery of the words that makes them come to life. And every actor brings to the stage their own personal interpretation of the script making each performance a unique and fascinating entity.

Compare for example the St Crispin’s day speech from Henry V. The following links show Mark Rylance, Kenneth Brannagh and Richard Burton delivering this most familiar of speeches in three entirely different ways. The tonality, the rhythm and emphasis chosen by each makes the audience hear different parts of the text and consider the story in significantly different lights.

And so on Shakespeare’s birthday take a little bit of inspiration from this and remember that whatever words you are delivering  – be they a sonnet or a summary of the yearly turnover for your company you bring to it your own interpretation. There is no one “right” way to deliver any message, but you must make it your own.

Inspirational Public Speaking: Caroline Taylor

By | January 29th, 2014|Authenticity, Blog, Building Confidence, Leadership, Nerves, Perception, Personal Profile, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

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

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

b>Part 2: If you enjoy Public Speaking it can provide a great boost to your profile, plus some top tips for building confidence and overcoming nerves.

Q: What do you look at when you speak?

A: I always look at the audience. In the past at a big conference the lighting often made it look as if you were talking to a vast empty dark space. Luckily these days lighting is better and it allows me to look around at different people in the crowd. As I like to use a bit of humour in my talks I look to see if it has got a response or reaction. One of the hardest gigs I have encountered is hosting our annual “Bring Your daughters to work Day” which is a scheme we introduced at IBM to show young women that technology is a career option open for them. 12-15 year old girls are quite a hard crowd, and an adult trying to make them laugh is probably the last thing they want to hear!. So I made sure I shared eye contact around to encourage them to engage with me and see that I want to communicate with them. So your audience reaction can help you to adapt your style to be as effective as you can with them.  When you are doing a talk it is a great idea to go along to the pre-event dinner, lunch or coffee and mingle with the audience. Share what your topic is and sometimes they will give you a great opinion or example that you can share during your talk. This really makes your topic come to life as you are talking about something that one of their colleagues has shared. You can look for the people you spoke to beforehand during your talk and that gives you a friendly reaction which boosts confidence levels as well.

Q: What do you hear when speaking?

A: I hear myself saying “Slow Down Caroline” ! I’ve always been a fast talker, something which people have commented on for years. In my new European based role slowing down is especially important as many of my new colleagues have English as a second language. I also try and keep an eye on the time. Although I’m therefore conscious of being slower I still speak relatively quickly because that is who I am. At IBM we talk a lot about personal eminence and about being consistently authentic in every method of communication. For example if each of your digital personalities are in conflict with each other or at odds with your public personality you will not gain the trust of your audience. So of course it is important to adapt your style of speaking so that is clear and easy to understand but no-one wants to listen to a public-speaking clone so always remember to stay true to yourself.

Q: Does public speaking help you?

A: Definitely. Thanks to my public speaking appearances I’ve been invited to do extraordinary things. One of these was being invited to be a adjunct professor at a Business school after being spotted by the Dean at a conference where I was a guest speaker. Public speaking boosts your profile and offers another angle on you, which of course must be true to who you are and what your values are. It increases your network and introduces you to others who you can learn things from. It is extremely valuable.

Q: Do you think public speaking is important for women?

A: It is just as important for women as it is for men, perhaps more important as women often struggle to build their profiles to help them achieve success in business. But don’t try and ape the guys. Trying to be something you are not will back-fire as it isn’t authentic. If you are someone who has a quiet squeaky voice then seek out some voice training but only if you really want to improve your voice. If not you can make a name for yourself in other mediums like print or on digital platforms where you can still share your knowledge and expertise. Audiences welcome someone who is knowledgeable and enjoys sharing that knowledge. Find the subject you are passionate about and public speaking can be a really enjoyable and valuable skill.

My thanks to Caroline for explaining her public speaking experiences so openly and for sharing some great tips to help people take to the stage.

About Caroline Taylor : Caroline Taylor is Vice President Marketing, Communications & Citizenship, and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for IBM Europe. Based in London, Caroline leads the teams responsible for all aspects of marketing, communications and citizenship for IBM throughout Europe.With 28 years of professional marketing experience, Caroline is an Adjunct Professor at Imperial College Business School in London and is also a Business to Business Ambassador for the UK’s Marketing Society, to which she was appointed Fellow in September 2012.

Caroline is a passionate advocate for equality and diversity, particularly in the workplace. She is executive sponsor for Gender Diversity for IBM in the UK. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Opportunity Now Champion Award, recognising her contribution to advancing, promoting and embedding a diversity culture within the workplace.

 

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