For speakers, managers, team leads – and all who have to communicate with others – improv, or improvisational, skills are essential. And we want to make a clear distinction that improv is not simply “winging” it or “talking off the cuff”.
View our video on the “Mind the Gap” concept here
It is being present and flexible in the moment – listening and responding to the needs of the situation. Being excellent at improv takes practice.
Why improvisation? Why are business schools incorporating improv into the curriculum?
In business it pays to be nimble with our thoughts, decisions and responses.
Improvisation is about learning to be in the moment, quick on the uptake, and flexible.
Business training realizes it has a great deal to learn from the arts. Improv troupes and jazz musicians understand that improvisation is about knowing your subject so well that you can move without a script, handle variations, and play with embellishment while still having the tune recognizable.
In business, listening is absolutely essential. Improv seems like it can be all about the quick come back or retort. Yet, phenomenal listening skills are the foundation to that response. What do master improv actors and highly successful business people have in common? They excel at listening and observing. (more…)
In business, project managers need to be able to cast a team that will add value to their public speaking projects to assure the best outcome.
That’s why casting directors of stage and screen are paid so well. Their job sets the foundation for a win or a loss at the box office.
Is casting any different for a company project than it is for the performing arts? No, it’s crucial in both settings to find the right people for the right roles.
Is casting any different than selecting a team for a project? Not really — casting directors and project managers both know what skills and experience is required. Presence and chemistry are necessary, so both must assemble a cast that “clicks.”
Is casting any different in the workplace for assigning the specific team members to create the perfect cast? Teams and casts are both made up of individuals, but must function as a unit. Some people won’t make the grade, but casting directors (and project managers) must be resolute in casting only the people who can best lead the cast to success.
To create your blockbuster in the workplace:
Identify the specific needs that will have to be met to reach the goal. For example, if the client is difficult to work with, consider assigning a team member who is good at working with challenging personalities to work with that client. If the team’s goal is to close a deal, determine which team member is best at closing.
Make sure the entire cast is able to bring their “A” game: It matters who is available to be a part of the team. If a certain team member is not available, that could shift the casting decisions for the rest of the team members.
Are the players flexible? If someone is accustomed to playing one particular role in the office, be sure they can give up that role and shift to another role if necessary. Players should also be able to identify and respond quickly when a shift is needed — it could be necessary immediately prior to going into the event, or even as the event is unfolding.
Collaboration is essential: While some colleagues like each other and get along well in general, they don’t always work well together on a team. Be on the lookout for those who have good chemistry and can be productive together.
Stack the deck: When it comes to casting the right team for a public speaking project, be sure to cast those who complement each other’s skills.
Build a team you can trust to play well together. When the team is “performing,” if one team member drops something, every other member should be ready to pick it up. There’s no room for “but …” “Yes, and…” is a key phrase for teams that work excellently with each other.
For ultimate success, create a casting “breakdown”:
Write it down. In theater, a casting call asks everyone who thinks they are right for the role to show up. There is a written breakdown that folks read to see if they fit, or think they can fit. To create a breakdown for your business needs, write out what is necessary. This makes it much less personal and more about the job and which mix of folks is best.
Ask questions. What factors do you consider when you are putting together a team? Do your needs differ depending on whether you’re pulling together a two- or 10-member team? Do members of the team discuss why they are together? They should be asking themselves: “What skills do we have?” “Who should do what?” “What “role” am I playing?”
Consider your audience in your casting decisions. We all have a variety of skills that we bring to the workplace and to each situation. Many of us can play a variety of roles. Casting choices change depending on the needs of the specific job and on mix of people already cast. Even within a team of three people who often work together, the individual roles may shift depending on the scenario and the intended audience. Perhaps, in one scenario, person A takes the lead because they have the most experience or they are the oldest. Or, perhaps they are female, and in this scenario, the audience would be most receptive to a female lead. Don’t let being politically correct blind you to who your audience is and which team members should be cast in which roles for a particular audience.
Define the roles. There are many roles for each project, and sometimes cast members play more than one part. If you have cast the best three folks for a particular project, figure out their specific roles. Who is truly best for leading? Who is best for being ready with facts? Who should keep the meeting on track? Who will be the active listener?
Communicate with each other, not just the audience. Team huddle ensures that the casting sticks. Take time to communicate with the rest of the cast before your event, presentation, or project. Well before the curtain rises, of course you will decide your team tactics and what role each of you will play. Equally important is determining how you will communicate once you are in the room or on the project. Great teams, like great casts, constantly communicate and adapt to new information. If roles are clear, it’s hard to be thrown — and easy for excellence to dominate.
Remember: Great casting directors are highly sought after. They understand the magic of a great team. Good casting pays off at the box office, so it is a good bet that it will pay off for your business, too. Pause. Take the moment to cast well. Then, don’t be surprised by rave reviews.
By Hilary Blair,Head ARTiculator and Lead Coach, with Robin A. Miller, PhD,COO/Lead Coach
This article was originally posted on BeInkandescent.com in March 2015.
The need for good communication skills is heightened during the holiday season, as are the many opportunities at parties and events to show off these skills.
One holiday that I continue to love is Thanksgiving. My passion for it began as a child. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning with the aroma of pumpkin bread wafting through the house. I’d spend the morning watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—the signal to me that the holiday season had officially begun. Soon would come myriad parties, presents, and goodies to share with family and friends.
I discovered that to be well-prepared for the holiday season requires one essential ingredient: lists.
Lists of ingredients we need to bake the treats, lists of gifts to give, lists of parties to attend, guests to invite, and more.
The tradition of making lists is one that continues to be part of my everyday life, since lists are a great tool for staying on track. But what happens when we communicate like a list? Well, that’s where the fun ends.
I call this the Bullet Point Effect.
Here’s the issue: When we are writing an email or talking over the phone or even in person, sometimes we are moving so fast that we are only communicating the practical business of the conversation.
Here’s the problem: In the “Bullet Point Effect,” we jump right to the point of the conversation. We may think that we are being efficient and effective, while others are experiencing our conversation or email as disconnected and uncaring.
Bullet point lists can keep us on track, but they don’t foster trust. For example, I was recently talking with a client who said he wanted his new employees to feel that he was approachable. When we dove deeper into his communication style, he realized that he was an expert in bullet point communication. While he felt it was efficient, he also realized his pointed delivery didn’t allow time for any connection.
We agreed that without that essential connection, it is difficult to develop trust. And without trust, it is even harder to establish employee buy-in.
If you are a bullet point person and communicate in lists, try shifting your approach:
Be friendly. A warm greeting is always beneficial, whether in person, over the phone, or in email. Connect on a personal level beyond the business topic at hand. If you aren’t good at making small talk, practice this with friends or a coach.
Approach gently. Once a connection is established, guide listeners to the topic of the conversation with ease. For instance, you could say something like this: “I know that you have been working hard on project X, and I’d appreciate hearing your findings.”
Be transparent. If you know that your communication style is “bulleted,” let others know that you are aware this is your style—and that your intent is not to put them off. Give them permission to tell you if they need more details or guidance around projects. You don’t have to change your style, but you do need to acknowledge that others communicate differently and may need more connection.
Remember, communication is about making a connection. And connections create trust so that others are willing to follow where you are trying to go—ultimately, to a place that is mutually beneficial. When you are clear about your intentions, it allows others to approach you comfortably when they have a question or a problem that needs your input.
The Bottom Line
While our bulleted lists may give all the information that we need to move forward, they may not provide all the detail that others need to understand our goals.
Filling in the spaces or expanding bullet point conversations will make it more likely that what you say is heard, and that will benefit you, your team, and your organization as a whole.
So this holiday season, if you are bullet point person, get into the holiday spirit and try something new. When you do, I’m confident that the project, interaction, and goal of your conversations will turn out like my grandmother’s Cherry Chocolate Cake, which I bake each Christmas—delicious, beautiful to look at, and everyone comes back for seconds.
ByRobin A. Miller, PhD,COO/Lead Coach, withHilary Blair,Head ARTiculator and Lead Coach
This article was originally posted on BeInkandescent.com in December 2014.
You can feel the audience “with” you when you speak.
You can feel the meeting going really well.
You can feel the agreement from the whole room as you finish speaking.
Now open your eyes. Was that all just a dream? Yes—and no.
Yes, it may be in your imagination.
And no, because you truly have access to it.
This is your potential.
I’m a coach. Developing the potential in my clients is what I do on a daily basis. As a result, when I look into someone’s eyes, I don’t just see what is before me. I see all that they can be. In fact, I see them already being exactly where they are going to end up. Pretty cool, right?
Case in point: I recently worked with a client who came to me with solid confidence, but underdeveloped speaking skills. She could sense a disconnect between what she was doing and what she could be doing. It was invigorating to give her specific suggestions to guide her. It didn’t take long for her ability to communicate clearly to skyrocket. We both knew she had potential. Now, she’s living up to it.
What do you do if you don’t have access to a public speaking coach?
Coaches come in all forms, and many people who know and love you can help you find ways to communicate more clearly.
Public speaking is an exercise that is part mental and part physical. Athletes know that to improve their performance they have to cultivate the right attitude, and reinforce it by practicing and ratcheting up the reps.
The same is true for those who aspire to improve their public speaking abilities. The idea to keep in mind is this: You gotta think it, and you gotta practice it, so you that good communication skills become part of your muscle memory.
Remember this: Don’t let anyone psyche you out. It continues to amaze and sadden me how severely others can tear us apart and shut us down. Sometimes we may not even realize that subtle negativity has seeped in and eaten away at our confidence.
The first step is to realize how phenomenal you already are!
Now stand up, take a deep breath, and unlock your potential:
Identify someone who sees your potential. It could be you, a friend, a professional coach—or all three! Be really sure they are on your side—ask them what they see in you, and if you agree, enlist their guidance.
Identify and reinforce the skills you have. You will need a lot of practice and repetition to reinforce what is working.
Leave behind old ideas of who or what you thought you should be. Shed those restrictions and step into who you know you are. Some of those restrictions could be in the form of rules around how to speak, what to speak about, and whom to speak to. They might even be constraining your notion of what you should wear.
Now, find a “sandbox,” any place you feel comfortable, and practice your speaking skills. Play, build, knock it down, and play again.
Your potential is right there waiting for you to develop it. Make room in your heart, mind, and life to be the best you possible.
Now go back to the top of this article and read those five affirmations again. It’s not just a dream. It’s your future self.
By Hilary Blair,Head ARTiculator and Lead Coach, with Robin A. Miller, PhD,COO/Lead Coach
This article was originally posted on BeInkandescent.com in October 2014.
Like many professional business leaders, odds are good that you are moving into Act 2 of your career and your life. You want to speak publicly because you know that you have something important to say—something that audiences will benefit from knowing.
Clearly, this is not an ending. It’s simply the next phase.
And your timing couldn’t be better because in Act 1, you set everything up to prepare you for this big, bold step. Perhaps it was almost formulaic: College, grad school, job, family, promotion. Now you are looking at what you have done—and re-thinking, re-working, re-committing—and the possibilities abound, including having your voice heard, whether or not it is connected to your current job.
We meet many presenters at this juncture. Wisely, they approach a company like ARTiculate: Real&Clear because before they embark on the journey of speaking publicly, they want to find, unearth, and create the best keynotes they can to share with the world. Or they are polishing their speaking skills to take it up a notch.
Public speaking is a powerful platform, providing a place for individuals to share their experience and ideas and leave their footprint on the world. If one person can move another person to shift their perspective on business or life, they have created a ripple effect that moves others and moves the world.
So let’s get started.
Step 1. Begin by gathering your thoughts about what you want to speak about.
Write down all of the topics you’d like to speak about, no matter how incomplete they may seem. Just get it all down on paper.
Another option is to speak your ideas into a recorder if you feel limited by the writing process.
Remember, the goal is to be as free and creative as you can. Don’t edit yourself or over-think how your ideas will be received. Just get them all out.
Step 2. Take a public speaking class—in person or virtually.
There are plenty of courses in cities around the country, and these classes are a great way to help you overcome anything that holds you back in terms of public speaking—nerves, especially.
Toastmasters International is a great option, for they have 292,000 members in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. Odds are good there is a chapter near you!
Hire a speaking coach. One-on-one sessions are invaluable, and a good coach will help you create your speech, and work with you on the delivery, too.
Step 3. Practice, practice, practice, wherever you can.
Speak whenever you can—at work, at the clubs you belong to, and eventually to nonprofit groups that want to hear what you have to say. From here, you’ll be able to leverage your experience as a speaker and—if it’s your goal—to eventually get paid to speak.
Also check out the National Speakers Association, a great source for community, education, and entrepreneurial business knowledge that can help you to be successful in the speaking profession.
Again, we have found Toastmasters to be a fantastic option, for the goal is to give speeches regularly in front of a group of your peers. The rule of thumb here is that practice makes perfect.
Here’s to your Act 2! The curtain is rising. Take the stage and let your voice be heard. Do it!
By Hilary Blair,Head ARTiculator and Lead Coach and Robin A. Miller, PhD,COO/Lead Coach
This article was originally posted on BeInkandescent.com in May 2014.