Tips from the World of Improv to Improve Your Presence as an Offsite Leader and Facilitator
Kat Koppett, Koppett’s eponymous founder, brings to our work a deep commitment to serving the needs of our clients with whatever tools, styles and approach are best suited to them. Kat holds a B.F.A. in Drama from New York University and an M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, and continually seeks to combine the wisdom and strengths of both disciplines to create programs that are both practical and transformative.
As the world moves at an ever faster pace, and organizations grow more global and diverse, flexibility, resilience, creative-problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills have become highly-prized critical professional skills. But how do companies, teams, and individuals grow these skills rather than just talk about valuing them? We believe improvisational theatre provides a key learning and development source.
Why improv? Improv is not a metaphor. We are all improvising all the time. We make performance choices, consciously and unconsciously, every day, and none of us wakes up to find a script for the day sitting on our bedside table. Professional improvisers, because they are making up scenes and songs – sometimes entire plays – on-the-spot, in front of paying audiences have developed exercises to help them tackle what we all must do on our own stages. In other words, “Improv is the gym,” for creativity, collaboration, and communication “muscles.”
Improv helps us do two main things:
- Increase our awareness of the scenes we are in, our performance choices and their impact
- Expand our range of performance options so our impact can align with our objectives
As facilitators and group leaders, we can draw on the principles and techniques of improv in multiple ways:
- To develop your own executive presence and performance range
- To expand your awareness of and ability to connect to the group
- To strengthen your flexibility, responsiveness and comfort dealing with the unexpected
- As a source of activities and approaches for engaging groups
Here are some tips to take with you right now to be a more effective facilitator and group leader.
1. Celebrate Failure!
The secret improvisers know is that the “failures” can be as satisfying and useful as the successes.
Acknowledge and celebrate failure. Things don’t always go according to plan, or well for that matter. As we are encouraging our participants to take risks and try on new performances, we must also be willing to try new things, adapt to the needs and styles of the participants in the room, and acknowledge and celebrate when activities don’t work. People notice, and are delighted when leaders demonstrate that they too aren’t perfect, and are not only willing to try and fail, but accept it good-naturedly.
We often take a literal bow when something doesn’t go quite right in our office and receive applause from whoever is near. Fail good-naturedly and not only will you and your team be more open to risk and growth, but you will create an environment ripe for creative thought, vulnerability, and connection.
2. Harness the Power of Story
Stories engage us more deeply and completely than presentations of mere facts without context. Our emotions are engaged, associations are stimulated and memories are activated when we are told a story. Story is how we make meaning out of facts and data. Think about where and how you can use story to amplify your presence as a leader and enhance your content.
Use story to ignite interest in the topics you are going to cover, use collaborative storytelling as a way to connect the team and assess their needs, or even begin your session or introduce yourself with a story. We are all natural storytellers, so what story are you going to tell?
3. Listen to Understand
We all know being a good listener is important.
Improvisers know that listening is the real super-power of brilliant improvisers: not being clever or funny or original: listening. The ability to notice more is the lynchpin of all creativity and collaboration. Improvisers practice expanding their circle of awareness and noticing more things and more KINDS of things – without judgment or evaluation – at least at first. In improv, we have a technical term “offer.” We say Everything is an Offer, and the goal is to notice as many of them as possible so as to have as much to work with as possible. When put into practice in real life, great listeners ask themselves three critical questions:
- What am I listening for? (Information, Emotions, Values, Intentions)
- Who am I listening to? (The speaker, myself, the room)
- How am I listening? (As an ally or an adversary?)
By implementing some of these mindsets and skills that improvisers practice, you’ll be better at guiding groups, creating an engaging and comfortable environment, and connecting with your team.
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