Thursday, February 25, 2016

Finding improv and learning how to use it to enhance my leadership capabilities: Part 2

I wasn’t sure what to expect at my first improv class. I wondered about the people who would be there. Twelve people were in the room, more than I expected. Their ages ranged from 16 to late forties and their careers were diverse. There was a stand-up comedian and actor and that made sense for improv; But I didn’t anticipate a social worker, retired military, librarian, or educator in the class! Despite our varying backgrounds and being a mix of introverts and extroverts, we were all there for the similar reasons. Some were looking to be more creative in their work, others wanted to improve their public speaking or being comfortable with speaking in front of others and a few wanted to use improv to be more responsive and collaborative with others.

The class was very active. We started and ended every class with a physical group ice-breaker that focused on a communication or active listening skill. In improv, you learn the importance of thinking fast on your feet and reacting to your partner(s) in a scene. If you’re not listening and paying attention to your partner, the scene falls flat. In a work environment this translates into miscommunication that hinders the development of relationships with others. Throughout the four weeks the acronym CROW was reinforced in our classes. It stands for:

Character – Who are you in the scene and have you established that character for the audience?
Relation – What are the relationships between the people in the scene and does the audience understand them?
Objective – What’s the purpose of the scene? Does the audience understand the character’s objectives?
Where/When – Where does the whole scene take place? In the present, in the past, or in the future?

What’s nifty about CROW is that the focus areas highlighted with each word are transferable to your professional relationships and help to develop your leadership style. You can apply CROW at work by asking these questions?

Character – How well do the employees you work with or lead know your character? Have you made your objectives clear? Are you making sure people understand you?
Relation – How are you developing relationships with your team and coworkers? Do you greet people in the morning?  Do you try to understand them more than just for their work?
Objective – What’s the purpose or goal? Do people understand their roles and responsibilities? Are you actively listening to your team and your peers?
Where/When – Where are we at with project tasks? What problems do we anticipate?  What’s the project timeline?

At the end of the four classes I felt more creative and noticed I paid better attention to the body language of my classmates in scenes. I also applied this experience to the workplace by asking my colleagues clarifying questions when they share ideas and paying attention to their body language in addition to what they are saying. Taking an improv class was a fun and valuable experience, where I’ve shared some of what I learned with colleagues. At an offsite team meeting I used one of the ice breaker activities with our team.

And while you may not have the time to sign-up for an improv class, it's something you should consider in the future. You'll learn and have fun while doing it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Finding improv and learning how to use it to enhance my leadership capabilities: Part 1

When you hear the word improv, also referred to as improvisation, leadership probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.Instead you probably think of the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway,” or the famous improv group “Second City”. Maybe you’re familiar with famous artists like Bill Murray, Steve Carroll, Wayne Brady, or Tina Fey, who all got their start in improv.

You don’t just have to be a comedian, actor or entertainer to reap the benefits from improv. These days we’re all challenged to bring our ‘A’ game to work. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a stage in front of a few hundred people or leading a team of seven, there’s a need for all of us to be innovative and creative! In my role as a communications consultant I write a lot. It’s not just sharing information, I’m telling stories. In managing an online community at Aetna I’m focused on understanding our audience’s leadership and professional development needs and providing content that resonates with them while also helping them be better and more effective leaders. Keeping topics interesting and fresh for audiences can be a daunting process, especially when creative ideas dry up and writer’s block sets in. I’m always looking for inspiration and it’s not in the places I expect to find it.

Last year, I attended Content Marketing World conference, an event focused on helping communications and marketing professionals be better storytellers. I sat in on a session entitled, “Improv Rules for Creating Award Winning Content.”  Tim Washer, senior marketing manager for Cisco and a former comedian and executive producer for “The Stephen Colbert Show” and “Saturday Night Live” was the presenter. His session shared four key
principles of improv that people can use to be funnier and more creative with their corporate material. They include:

  • Listening – As simple as this seems, it is probably one of the most difficult skills to master. Listening will free you from having to think of what you are going to say a head of time.
  • Relationship – The scene is always about the relationship, not things or what you are doing. Make the scene focus on the relationship.
  • Point of View, Opinion & Intention – Enter a scene with a point of view, opinion or intention… let these drive your character and response.
  • Make Active Choices – Do something, don’t be a talking head. Do something but don’t make the scene about that something.
His humorous presentation engaged the audience and gave examples of how you can be funny (even in the corporate world). Believe it or not, even executives like a good laugh. During the Q&A session attendees wanted concrete ways they could learn to be funny. His advice? Take an improv class! I decided to look into a class and after a few tweets and Twitter mentions from Tim, I signed up for an intro to improv class with Sea Tea Improv, located in downtown Hartford, Connecticut.

In my next post, I’ll share what I learned from my four-week "Intro to Improv" course with Sea Tea Improv.

Have you taken an improv, public speaking or acting class to help you be more creative?