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July 19, 2005

Better Business Through Improv

Improv_wisdom_2Recently I struck up an email conversation with Patricia Ryan Madson, author of IMPROV WISDOM.

Readers of this blog may recall I’m learning how to apply basic Improv skills into my every day business life. I’m also learning how to carry these lessons into my every day personal life and Patricia's book is helping me to do just that.

IMPROV WISDOM is a worthwhile read whether you are trying to become more open, accepting, and spontaneous in business or in life. While the book is geared more to encourage us to take chances and do more of the things that are important to us in our personal lives, the Improv Maxims Patricia shares are highly applicable to business.

The following is an excerpt of our email conversation where Patricia answers some questions on applying Improv in business. (The full email conversation is available as a PDF – click here.)

Patricia, for folks not familiar with Improv, please demystify what Improv is and why we can benefit by using basic Improv techniques in our daily work/home life.

"Demystify" is the perfect word since a common misunderstanding of improv is that is a form of comedy done by witty and talented performers who, unlike most of us, are skillful in "coming up with fast, funny replies."

To "improv" or "improvise" is a way of doing things, a methodology that involves paying attention, responding supportively, and acting constructively. Anyone--a banker, a baker, a stay-at-home mom, an entrepreneur, a physician--can benefit from this way of working.

Since most of our daily lives actually are improvisations, doesn't it make sense to use some of the time honored strategies that the pros use?

The subtitle of your book is "Don't Prepare, Just Show Up." What do you mean by that and how can business professionals apply that thinking into their job performance?

I want the reader to know that his entire life has been the preparation for this moment. I want him to trust his mind and experience. I'm not really against any kind of preparation or analysis. It is simply that time and again I see people, business professionals in particular, who substitute preparation for action. They plan when they should be executing, or trying things out. Fear of failure invites inertia or at worst, paralysis.

The advice you gave on being more natural while delivering presentations was spot-on. You say to write questions to oneself instead of writing out a full script of what you want to say. Talk about that advice as well as how it relates to Improv where it is less about 'what' you say and more about 'how' you say it?

Consider how different it is to hear someone "reciting a speech"/"reading a lecture" and the same speaker "just talking".

It is nearly impossible to make a written speech sound natural. The "sound" of reading is the kiss of death to really effective communication, in my view. I want a speaker to tell me something, to talk to me about the things they know, the product they believe in. Telling and talking have a human quality. Reading or reciting, even with correct emphasis, will never have the same persuasiveness or authenticity of natural speech.

What we may lose in elegant phrasing, we win in communicativeness if we allow ourselves to speak naturally. I suggest to work from a series of questions as prompts. Answering a question is usually easy. And, even if we struggle a little to access the best word, that process is a lively, human one.

So much of business life is spent living in the 'projects.' Every business person is a project manager in some way. Which of your 13 Improv maxims you write about in the book will benefit a project manager the most and why?

The "Wake Up to the Gifts" maxim comes to mind. Project managers are often looking at the big picture, keeping their eye on what isn't working and why. If we constantly notice what is wrong we are likely to miss the hundreds of things that are going right or overlook them as givens. Great team leaders, project managers and bosses are champions at seeing the detail of what everyone is doing well, doing right, doing on time. They observe the contributions of others on a continual basis and express appreciation. They never take a team members work "for granted".

Special Offer from Patricia Ryan Madson …

I want to make two offers to the readers of this blog. First, I have 10 copies of IMPROV WISDOM to share with anyone who would like to read my book, but can't afford to buy one. Just email me and I'll see that you get a copy.

Second, to anyone who already owns a copy, but who wishes they had it autographed, just contact me and I'll send you a hand-made bookmark with an autograph on it to tuck inside your copy.

Thanks to all your readers and especially the Brand Autopsy crew. You are doing great work.

Patricia Ryan Madson

CLICK HERE (pdf) for the full email conversation with Patricia Ryan Madson


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» Better Business Through Improv from The Big Picture
John Moore at Brand Autopsy is sharpening his improv skills - and his business skills, too, it seems. Recently he struck up an e-mail conversation with Patricia Ryan Madsen, author of IMPROV WISDOM, his current textbook. (While the book [Read More]

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I am interested to read this book, but will admit to some concerns about the messages that many will take from it. I have been a professional comedic performer for more than a decade and have participated in numerous improvisational performances. What you find frequently is the appearance of spontaneity, rather than the actual thing. In other words, it is a more of a one size fits all exercise than real creative power.

hi, I read your interesting articals and I do understand that I was really LATE in responding! I really would love to own one so how do I get it?

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