Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Archive for the ‘Appearances’ Category

Introverts at Parties: Part 2

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About two years ago I wrote a quick post on how introverts can survive at parties. It was a good idea but, upon rereading it at the end of 2014, I realize I didn’t include a lot of usable advice. Therefore, in the proud tradition of the internet, I present this listicle:

  • Go with a friend. Partying can be lonely work when you’re there by yourself. If you can, find someone to attend the party/affair/function/whatever with you.
  • Practice your introduction. Neil Gaiman, a famous writer, follows a script. “Hi, my name is Neil. I’m a writer. What do you do?” If it’s a party without name tags or place settings, you could modify that statement to: “Hi, I’m Curt. I’m a writer. How about you?” Learning and remembering names helps establish yourself as a good conversational partner.
  • Arrive a little after the start time and leave after about a third of the guests have departed. Arriving too early is awkward and leaving too soon implies you’re not having a good time, but if you’re tiring and need a break, having a guideline in place can help take the stress off. That said, if you’re truly uncomfortable, make your apologies and head home.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is a social lubricant, but the first thing it affects is your judgment. It’s also a mood enhancer, meaning that it makes your emotions stronger. If you’re feeling crowded and overwhelmed, consuming alcohol can make it worse. In a similar vein, alcohol removes inhibitions. That might sound like a great thing for an introvert, but remember that if you’re not used to being outgoing you could easily overdo it and make a fool of yourself (see “affects your judgment” above). Feel free to drink a little, but one serving (1 ounce of whiskey, 4 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer) per hour is about right for the average person.
  • Share the wall. Standing with your back to a wall or in a corner provides literal support, but anyone facing you must at least partially block your path forward. If you’re in a one-on-one conversation, turn so you’re both away from the wall and can move as freely as furniture and other guests allow.
  • Spread yourself around a little. As an introvert, I often hoped to find one person to talk with for the rest of the evening. For most party-goers that won’t be possible or desirable, so be ready to move around and don’t take it amiss when the person you love talking to moves on.
  • Thank your conversation partner. My wife and I took ballroom dance classes for about a year and, while we no longer pursue it as a hobby, I do like the practice of thanking your partner when you switch around. Smiling and expressing appreciation reinforces that you’re a pleasant person others will enjoy talking to, which makes starting the next conversation easier.
  • Learn more about your introverted self. The best book I’ve found in living as (or with) an introvert is Quiet, by Susan Cain. I’m not severely introverted, but I found lots of useful insights in her book.

I hope this advice helps. Remember: be open, be honest, and understand we’re all works in progress. If something goes wrong this holiday season, do better next time.

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Written by curtisfrye

December 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Performers, Releases, and Misrepresentation

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I straddle two professional worlds — technology and performance. Those fields overlap in more ways than you might expect, especially when it comes to the types of contracts we’re asked to sign.

Note: I am not a lawyer. The following statements are not legal advice. If you have any legal questions about a contract or its terms, consult an attorney who is licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Contracts are put in place to codify an agreement between two or more parties. Almost all contracts have an “entire agreement” clause, which states that the written document is the sole representation of the agreement between the parties. That means that any side conversations, verbal agreements, or even written statements not included in the contract are non-binding and unenforceable. They don’t count. What matters is the signed document.

Because contracts matter so much, each party is motivated to negotiate an agreement that is most favorable to them. Reality television show contracts, created by the production company and to be signed by the individuals appearing on the show, are some of the most one-sided contracts available. Terms include the right of the production company to misrepresent a person’s statements, actions, or motivations for the sake of drama. I probably don’t have to tell you that this provision is slightly weighted in favor of the producers.

Recently, Maker Studios’ Polaris unit started taping footage for GAME_JAM, a reality show intended to run on YouTube. The show was set up as a team competition (like Top Chef or The Amazing Race), so there was some tension to the scenario. Polaris offered one-sided contracts to potential participants, with mixed results: some people signed them, some negotiated better deals, and some refused to sign but were allowed to participate anyway. That last consideration is telling…would the show have gone forward without their participation? Were not enough qualified programmers interested?

The GAME_JAM project came to a crashing halt when a production company employee attempted to create controversy by asking if teams with female programmers were at a disadvantage. After one day, the individuals who were not under contract walked away from the project, forcing it to shut down.

The lesson for employees, independent contractors, and performers is obvious. You can decide which projects to take on and under what circumstances. If you’re offered a contract, have a lawyer or (if you’re a performer) an agent look it over and get their advice on how to make it better. Yes, you have to pay for their services, but it’s often worth it. If you don’t have an agent when you’re offered a role, don’t worry. If you approach an agent with a contract offer in hand, you are giving them a shot at 15% (or the rate you negotiate) of a relatively sure thing. Even if it’s just for that single deal, having an experienced attorney or agent on your side gives you leverage and removes you from the negotiations, allowing you to concentrate on your performance.

And you can always walk away.

Law and Magic: Revealing the Links

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I had the very good fortune to speak at the Law and Magic: Revealing the Links conference, co-hosted by the Law and Humanities Institute and the Thomas Jefferson School of Law last Friday in beautiful San Diego. The conference was organized by Professors Christine Corcos of the LSU Law Center and Julie Cromer Young of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Licensed attendees could earn up to 6.5 hours of CLE credit.

As the conference’s name implies, the day’s presentations were about how the art and practice of the law intersects and interacts with the art and practice of magic and what Professor Corcos called the “crafty sciences.” I had the good fortune to perform a 30-minute show over lunch. Later in the afternoon, my presentation Rhetorical Mathematics examined how performers and lawyers can use and abuse math to further their arguments. Practitioners of both arts have a wide range of confusion-inducing techniques from which to choose: misstating probabilities, relying on unspoken assumptions, pulling numbers out of thin air, and many others.

I think my paper went over pretty well. I covered probability calculations that went beyond simple liability calculations such as the Hand Rule articulated in United States vs. Carroll Towing, so there was some head scratching at times. The most fun for me was when I presented the Monty Hall Paradox, which describes the math behind the game played at the end of Monty’s show Let’s Make a Deal. The idea of the game is that Monty displays three doors, two of which hide a losing choice, such as a goat, and the third a prize such as a new car. You start the game by choosing one of the doors. Once you do, Monty (who knows where the car is) opens a losing door. You can then either stay with your original choice or switch.

The question for you: does it matter whether you switch or stay? If so, what are your chances of winning for either strategy?

Improspectives at ASTD-Cascadia 2013

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I had the very good fortune to present an Improspectives session at the annual conference put on by the Cascadia chapter of the American Society for Training and Development last Friday. My room was pleasantly full and the participants were willing to engage with me and their colleagues in a series of exercises (interspersed with bits of lecture).

The conference’s theme was Collaboration, so I focused on listening, game play, and storytelling. I broke the topics down this way:

  • Prerequisites for effective improvisation
  • Five types of listening
  • Games and game theory
  • Building narratives as a team

After my introductory remarks on what it takes to improvise effectively, I led the group in exercises to reinforce skills described in the listening, play, and narrative sections. We laughed, we talked, we pondered…but most of all, we had fun and learned together for an hour.

Improspectives Session at ASTD-Cascadia this Friday

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I’m preparing to lead a concurrent session at the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) Cascadia chapter’s annual conference this Friday, October 4. I’ll feature some of the core concepts from my book Improspectives and offer my participants a wide range of exercises they can take back to their workplace to help develop their teams and build narratives for their organizations and customers.

I’ve divided my presentation into four sections:

  • Fundamental Theorem of Improv
  • Listening
  • Playing games for fun and profit
  • Developing narratives

I hope to see some of you there!

You Might Not Have a Book in You…Yet

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A book with your name on the cover is a badge of honor. Many individuals find writing anything longer than an e-mail too painful to contemplate, with good reason: writing your first book-length manuscript is hard.

I’m preparing for some upcoming speaking engagements, so I took the time to re-read Million Dollar Speaking by Alan Weiss. Weiss has made a very (very, very) good living as a speaker and trainer and came highly recommended from a friend who makes a very (very) good living as an entertainer on the college and corporate circuits. In his book, Weiss explodes the myth that says “if you have a speech, you have a book”:

This should be restated as follows: if you have a speech, you have an excruciatingly tiny book. Speaking and writing are discrete skills, sometimes synergistic but not at all equal. Don’t give the published work short shrift: books require extensive research; tight, Jesuit-like logic; brilliant metaphors; and immaculate construction. If that sounds like it doesn’t resemble a lot of books out there, that’s because most books are not very good.

Improspectives runs 126 small-format pages and, according to the word count feature in Microsoft Word, contains 28,807 words. Most business books are 250 pages in length; at 350 words per page, you’re looking at 87,500 words. That’s a lot of information. Consider this: if you speak for an hour at a rate of 150 words per minute, you will have spoken 9,000 words. The spoken word and, by extension, video, are low bandwidth when you’re not presenting graphical content. it’s easier for you to talk for an hour than to write 9,000 words and, yes, video can be more fun to watch (though Weiss gives the example of a speaker whose video showed him writing on an easel pad), but you’re trading your convenience for the amount of information you deliver to your audience.

I dislike giving bad reviews to books, but I did want to give a real-life example of how having a speech or, in this case, a workshop doesn’t mean you have a book. Red Thread Thinking, by Debra Kaye (with Karen Kelly) describes Kaye’s “red thread” approach to finding connections between ideas for profitable innovation. I’ve been in and led enough corporate training sessions to see the value in her approach and believe her workshops would be valuable to many businesses. Unfortunately, so much of the good that comes out a workshop is unspoken and difficult to quantify. Many workshop leaders walk into the room with at most five or six pieces of paper with their outline and rely on the participants to provide the fuel for the day. Even success stories, if you can share them because of confidentiality concerns, can get repetitive when they rely on the same methods.

That’s where Karen Kelly comes in. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess the main author, Debra Kaye, had difficulty generating a manuscript that met the 250-page ideal for business books. The “with” credit on a book indicates the secondary author took on a significant role, which in this case meant lengthening the book by pumping the main author for more talking points, stories, and supporting research. Using that additional input, the professional book doctor can remix material, restating it in slightly different ways to change the emphasis and illustrating the points with new examples. If you add in a prologue and appendices and trim the target page count a bit, you reduce your writing burden from 87,500 words to around 70,000.

Once the first draft is in place, the developmental editor flags obvious repetitions and incongruent material so the “with” author can adjust the manuscript as needed. As an experienced author, I can see where Karen Kelly helped the Red Thread Thinking manuscript along. I think she did a great job, both due to her professional skills and because Debra Kaye’s basic ideas are sound.

My advice to anyone who wants to create intellectual property to support your work and sell in the back of the room? Don’t be afraid to write a series of short pieces at first. A 10-page white paper or 30-minute podcast is far better than a book that’s 90% fluff. Build your material gradually and, when you have enough of it for the type of book you want, bring it together into a coherent whole.