Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Posts Tagged ‘speaking

Always Be Ready

leave a comment »

Performers should always be ready to go. If another group doesn’t show up or someone gets sick, you can step in.

I did the regular show with the ComedySportz Portland group last night, during which our referee hyped an after hours show by another group. Unfortunately, that group had cancelled their show, but the message didn’t get to anyone in the show that night. We had a significant portion of the regular crowd stay for the after hours show, but there was no one there to do it.

Most of the players in the ComedySportz show had had long days, but they were willing to hang around and do a show for the folks who stayed. I always carry the materials I need to do Magic of the Mind (and my wife’s out of town visiting family), so I volunteered to do the after hours. Part of the team stayed to do a quick Q&A session with the fans while I set up, but after those five minutes it was business as usual. Well, as usual as it can be when you’re doing a show in a t-shirt and cargo shorts.

As an aside, I actually have two emergency Magic of the Mind kits: one in my ComedySportz bag and another, more complete set in the trunk of my car.

If you’re a speaker, you should always have a digital copy of your slide deck with you in case a scheduled speaker isn’t able to go on. I recommend preparing three versions of your talk: 50-minute, 25-minute, and 5-minute. The long version works for conference presentations, the middle for a half-slot, and the short version as program filler or for a quick presentation during a break. You can use the Ignite conference series model to create your 5-minute piece. Ignite presentations consist of 20 slides displayed for 15 seconds each. The slides are on auto-advance, so the presentation lasts exactly five minutes. The format requires some extra rehearsal, but it’s great for boiling your presentation down to its essential elements.

If you have a few minutes of down time in an airport, on a plane, or in your hotel room, take a few minutes to flip through your slides and notes to review your talking points. Stepping up to help a meeting organizer and delivering a polished, professional presentation is good for everyone and can lead to future speaking opportunities.

Five Ways to Avoid Performance Burnout

leave a comment »

Performers of all kinds, whether you’re a keynote speaker, sales presenter, or actor, can fall into ruts. You’re especially at risk of getting bored with your material if you have to deliver the same content multiple times over several days. Even improvisers, who make up scenes as we go along, are prone to repetition. When you find a bit that works, it’s easy to keep going back to it regardless (or in spite of) the audience’s suggestion.

I’ve found these hints, culled from various other speakers and performers, to be a great help in avoiding burnout and boredom.

  1. Emphasize different words in a sentence. If you’re pitching a design service, you might start with “Our designers have more than 20 years of experience in the industry.” Next time, change the emphasis to say “Our designers have more than 20 years of experience in the industry.” Even this little change helps break the rhythm you’re used to, which keeps things fresh.
  2. Change the order of your topics. If you can rearrange the contents of your presentation, and if it makes sense for you to do so, change the order in which you deliver your material. You should consider applying this technique when you identify a client’s pain point and feel you should address it earlier rather than later in your talk.
  3. Take advantage of interactions outside of your performance or presentation. Too many actors and presenters walk into a room with their head down, ignoring everyone else and focusing on hooking up their computer, grabbing a bottle of water, and powering through their material so they can go to lunch. Human interaction helps you connect to your audience and, more importantly, lets them connect to you. Don’t ignore or dismiss them–they’re the reason you’re there in the first place!
  4. Allow questions in the middle of your presentation. Speakers usually leave 5-10 minutes for questions at the end of their presentation, but doing so robs you of the opportunity to get feedback from your audience. You should know your material well enough so taking time out for questions doesn’t throw you off your game.
  5. Focus on your audience, both in your attitude and your material. Your audience cares what’s in it for them. It takes more work to customize your message for each audience, but it’s worth the time. They’ll appreciate the effort and will often provide additional information you can use to make your message even more effective.

Dialogue and Cooperative Play

leave a comment »

Success at improv and business requires the clear communication of ideas and a willingness to incorporate others’ contributions into your work. This interchange doesn’t just happen verbally…among architects, this type of exchange happens on paper. In an opinion piece published in the September 2, 2012 New York Times, architect and Princeton professor (emeritus) Michael Graves wrote about an unspoken dialogue he had with a colleague during a boring faculty meeting:

While we didn’t speak, we were engaged in a dialogue over this plan and we understood each other perfectly. I suppose that you could have a debate like that with words, but it would have been entirely different. Our game was not about winners or losers, but about a shared language. We had a genuine love for making this drawing. There was an insistence, by the act of drawing, that the composition would stay open, that the speculation would stay “wet” in the sense of a painting. Our plan was without scale and we could as easily have been drawing a domestic building as a portion of a city. It was the act of drawing that allowed us to speculate.

Players from the ComedySportz Portland improv group love the game of Paper Telephone. The idea is that you write a starting line at the top of a piece of paper, then pass it to a friend. Your friend reads the first line, writes a second line, and then folds the paper so only the most recent line is visible. You continue passing the paper around until there’s no more room, then unfold the paper and read the story. A fun variation is to have as many pieces of paper as there are players so you get lots of stories. The results are often hilarious and the similarities among stories can be eerie.

If you haven’t played Paper Telephone, you might have written stories with a friend, trading off after every paragraph. I’ve found this method works well for developing business presentations. Sit down with two or three of your colleagues and take turns telling a story or building an outline one line at a time. Don’t worry about coherence or order yet — all you want to do is get the information down so you can revise it later. This type of cooperative play helps you get beyond the creative person’s nightmare: a blank page.