Public speaking is an art. As someone who provides multiple speeches every year, I have a chance to see many of other speakers.
Inevitably, I see the same thing. Like this article in Forbes, the same mistakes are made over and over. You can see the coaching that someone has been told, and the little things that a speech coach did to quell the speaker's normal responses: they walk in a straight line from one side of the stage to another, they try to have flashy graphics, and they start with a joke of some sort (which often does not work as well as planned.)
From my work as a professional Actor - we train to engage an audience. We practice bringing a personal connection, carrying the rhythm and tone, changing the speed to make emphasis.These are all part of the tools of our trade. And it takes years to master - one ToastMaster class is not going to make you a dynamic speaker overnight.
As with all practices, it takes perseverance, training and practice. And it shows when someone has spent the time, and invested in their presentation. It makes us, as listeners, feel respected.
So next time you have a big speech coming up - consider it this way: You are a world famous actor, and these are your lines. You might win an Oscar/ Tony for this role, so you want to prepare for every possible scenario, and stay on message. And most important, you want to be willing to improvise based on unforeseen changes in the situation and make it all seem like it was planned.
So be prepared for your next presentation. Take an acting class.
In a recent report from USC, researchers discovered how being funny changes your brain.
They showed a cartoon from the New Yorker, and asked participants to create one funny caption, and one un-funny caption. Meanwhile, they performed MRI scans on them to record their brain activity.
“What we found is that the more experienced someone is at doing comedy, the more activation we saw in the temporal lobe,” said USC doctoral student Ori Amir, who led the study with Irving Biederman, professor of psychology and computer science. The temporal lobe receives sensory information and is the region of the brain key to comprehending speech and visual cognition. It’s also where abstract information, semantic information and remote associations meaningfully converge.
In contrast, the amateur comedians and non-comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions like planning complex cognitive behavior and decision-making.
“The professional improv comedians let their free associations give them solutions,” Biederman said.
Many business leaders ask me what they can do to create more independent thinkers and problem solvers in their organizations. Now the answer is clear: Send them to an Improv Class! The more experience they get, the more they will rely on making new connections between items and creating innovative solutions.
For information about having an improv class for your organization, contact Andrew for details.
Many years ago I had the honor of working with the head of the Lithuanian National Theater , Jonas Jurasas. I was in graduate school, and he was a guest director of great renown that the school hired to direct a play. The show was a messy circus themed play that was a huge stretch for many of us, and a great challenge for us as actors and artists.
At one section, I had to descend down a ramp overhearing the onstage conversation. I would start walking and Jonas would say "faster!" so I would speed up. Then he would say "slower!" and I would slow down. Then he would say "No! Faster!" and I would speed up. Only to have him say "No! Slower!" I finally took the moment at a great to ask him, “When I make that entrance, do you want me to move fast, or slow?" His answer was emphatically “Yes!”
At first I thought it was a translation barrier. Did he understand what I was asking him? His english was quite good, but there had been a few translation errors in the process. So I asked him again, "What I am wondering is, should I move fast, or should I move slow?" His answer again - "YES!"
After a few other questions, he finally clarified what he wanted. He said "you are walking slowly, but you are moving so fast inside!”
At first, I took this as an example of how a crazy Lithuanian Director tells you to do something. I mean, how was this possible? I can move one way, or the other, not both! After a little more conversation with him, I realized what he wanted. He wanted the movement to be physically slow, and the thought process to be very fast, like holding a team of horses back from running. When I started trying that, he would yell out "YES! THAT IS WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR!"
Very often I find myself telling this story as a great example to being able to do two things that I thought were incongruent. In my mind, I couldn't do both - it was impossible. I was limiting what I thought I could do, and what I was needing to do to make the play work. I had been stuck in an 'either / or' style of linear thinking, and was unable to find a win-win solution. The possibility of doing both things simultaneously was alien to me, and so it could never be a solution.
So when you find yourself in an 'either / or' decision process, ask yourself the question: "Can I do both?" Maybe unlocking the linear thinking can be a key to a new innovative solution.
About five weeks ago my wife and I rescued an eight-year old dog named Brodie.
He was transported up to Seattle from a high kill shelter in California, and had been in and out of shelters, foster care and trial stays with families for the last six months. When we met him, we knew we were in love. He has one crinkled ear, some extensive scarring on his head and other ear, is fairly deaf and as lovable as possible. Clearly he has had a tough life (or at least we imagine he has) and we are happy to provide him a forever home.
Since our other dog passed away over four years ago, we have been adjusting to having a dog again. Early morning wake up's for walks (6am?!?! Really?!?!?!) and changing schedules for feeding times have all been a welcome addition to our world.
I am reminded again of the lessons of leadership and shared responsibility from having a pet. When we walk in the morning (yes, at 6am, like clockwork) we practice walking next to each other, heeling when we need to, and not pulling my arm out of it's socket when a squirrel runs by. Sometimes he gets to choose the neighborhood route, which tends to put a little more pep in his step as he makes the decisions and I follow him. We travel the journey together, each day practicing the shared responsibility of the task at hand, even though we are both aware that I hold the end of the leash and am responsible for his care and well being. It is a give and take - and he provides for us the comfort and love that helps us to grow and be productive in our world, and we provide a home and care.
At work I have noticed more of my inclination to share the responsibility of the walk, rather than set out the route and demand we stay on it. As we feel which way will work for all of us, we then chart a direction knowing the goal and that we each can control and give input on how we get there. Even in those moments where we are having trouble lsitening (or deaf - like Brodie) we can still feel how the direction needs to change.
So be aware for yourself; What are the aspects of your journey where you can share the responsibility? How can you let others lead, so that they can have more pep in their step? What can you do to foster someone who needs fostering, and help them to share the responsibility of leadership?
And see how that changes your work for the better.
Just ask Brodie.
Click here to contact Andrew for more information on workshops and classes for Leadership Development,
Every year we perform an improvised Shakespearian show called "The Lost Folio". The idea behind "The Lost Folio" is that it is a play of William Shakespeare's that was lost in time. We recreate it live, with suggestions from the audience.
This year, I was reminded how fluid the English language has always been, and how many words, grammatical conventions, and idioms were in flux during Shakespeare's time. Due to the influence of new ideas and languages it was ever changing. When the complete works of Shakespeare were eventually published, many scholars believe that moment started to codify the English language, and set certain parts of it in stone.
In improv, one thing I have found is that codifying something, naming it and setting the rules, begins to make it stale. It now has edges - set perimeters - that keeps it reigned in and not fluid. For many new improvisers they get stuck on the rules and the question of "Am I doing this right?"
By codifying something, you stop the forward motion and arrest its development. When you stop a process by naming it, you no longer make it innovation.
When I speak with many business leaders, I ask them "What are hard and fast rules that you adhere to?" Sometimes looking at the assumptions and rules can help to find where we have blocked ourselves from innovation, and where we can open up to new ideas. Ask yourself "If this were all new, and the rules didn't apply, what would you be doing differently?"
So, as I perform in "The Lost Folio" this summer, I look forward to inventing some new words that are a mash-up of many languages, and having fun with a style of English that existed before we were stuck in the rules of grammar.
Contact Andrew to find out more about how to drive innovation in your organization.
There is one thing that separates good actors from struggling actors: How well do you listen?
In my work I get to interact with actors at all levels. A struggling actor knows their lines, and is pre-planning how they will react when they hear their scene partner say something. They are scripting (even if the play is improvised) how the story will come out, and how they will listen. There is a need to control what happens, and what the audience sees, rather than actually listening and being affected by what someone is giving you. In fact, you can actually see them trying to listen, as if listening is something to show people you are doing it. You can visually see them planning how they will respond, rather than listening and reacting.
The same is true for managers. I have worked with many managers who have a "listening face" which they use to "show" people they are listening. When asked to share what they just heard, their retention and understanding of what was said to them is appallingly low. And just like with actors, employees can see when you are not listening to them. They can see when you're merely waiting for their mouth to move so you can speak. They can see when you have disengaged because you have already solved the problem you think they have (even if you are not sure what the problem actually is, or if there even is one!) They can see when you are not present.
This skill is hard to learn, and there are a variety of methods to help you be aware of how you listen and how you can improve. After a few of my exercises, I have had participants say "This was the first time I really was able to hear what someone said..." Imagine if all your staff felt that way, like they have been heard and appreciated.
Honing this skill can affect your bottom line in multiple ways: increased engagement, improved customer satisfaction, innovative directions, happier and appreciative staff and family, etc. It's a simple skill that we often overlook in the wider scope of our work.
Find out how to increase your listening potential - email Andrew today.
Show and Tell: Leave it in Kindergarten
Show, don't tell. This concept is something you learn in theater. Show, don't tell. In other words, I don't want to hear your explanations, your reasons, or your justifications. What I want to see is you doing something.
As an audience member, I am not engaged by listening to you talk about an old lady doing tricks on roller skates. However, I would be intrigued to see the old lady on stage doing tricks on roller skates! That’s what I want.
Too often with Improv, people will talk about what they are doing: “I am going to get you a glass of water now…” “I am walking my dog now...” “I am stapling papers…” How many times have you heard someone at your office say "I am stapling papers now!" (and if you have, I would LOVE to know more content about that…)
As we do things normally in our world, we don’t talk about it. We just do it. We brush our teeth without exclaiming "I am brushing my teeth!” We drive a car without constantly saying, "I am driving now, I am still driving, look at me drive!”
The same is true for business. I sit in meetings often and hear people talk about what they plan to do. And a lot of the time, people feel like if they talked about it, then they actually DID something. But the truth is, TALK is NOT action.
So when you are confronted with people who describe what they will do, ask them "When? When will you do it?"
Don’t tell me you will do it. Show me you have done it. That is forward motion, rather than idle chatter.
Increase Emotional Intelligence; take a class in theater. Or learn from a Whale.
I was recently in Langley out on Whitby Island in Washington. A beautiful area, and they had all of the Whale spotting that have happened in the last week. Multiple grey whales have been spotted along with a few orcas as well. While strolling through the Whale Visitor Center, they had a display on the brains of whales, and that whales and humans share in one trait for out brains structure: the presence of Spindle Cells. In fact, it appears that Whales have a concentration of spindle cells three times larger than humans do. In their display, they equated that feature to the understanding of music and emotional connection.
A little more research uncovered that Spindle Neurons are considered the 'air traffic controllers' for emotions. When a person hits a situation of extreme emotion (anger, mistakes, self judgement, danger) then the ancient parts of the brain fire up. They can flood the brain with feelings of fight or flight, and the spindle neurons take the information quickly out to the newer portions of the brain that deal with rational thinking and higher decision making processes. They help to understand self awareness and emotional connection.
In theater, we are trained to understand how a character in a play feels. We study what motivates their decisions to do something, and what tactics they take to achieve their objective. Even though the action a character does might not be anything remotely close to what we as a person would consider, we find ways to understand the motivations, desires and thought process of that character.
By continually practicing this craft, we build up that skill to help understand why someone does what they do. We may not agree with their actions, but we can see why the character is lead to make them. This process allows us to recognize the emotional stakes of others, and to see their point of view.
So if you are ever confused why and employee of yours does that they do, put yourself in their situation: What are their motives? What are the tactics they take to try to achieve their goals? What could be their objective? By understanding and building up our understanding of how someone else thinks, we can help to build our own emotional intelligence. We can develop our Emotional Intelligence.
And maybe someday, we'll figure out what whales are thinking.
At a recent workshop for an executive group at Microsoft we discussed using a shared language for listening. We defined three methods:
The goal with defining these styles ws to say 'How do you want me to listen to what you are saying?' It was to help them set expectations for the conversation, and allow the listener to be attentive and best provide what their fellow co-worker needed. It also created a little negotiation in the beginning of the conversation, so that both parties were on the same page with what they wanted to have happen. And many times, one thing bled into another. Conversations would begin as a Friend, and then change into the Solver. However, it was the speaker, the initiator who was responsible for the changing. 'I wanted you to listen as a Friend, but I guess I am asking you to help me Solve this as well...'
So when you head into a conversation - try setting up the expectation of how you should listen. Does your co-worker need a Rock, a Solver, or a Friend? Ask first, and see if you set the expectations first to be be the most attentive and available you can be.
Which way do you want me to listen?
Click here for more information on Andrew's workshops for your organization.
The act of Creation
Many people look at the theatrical work that my company does onstage and they say "it's amazing that this is unscripted!" Or more often it is "So, what part was scripted, and what part was improvised..."
The idea that things are constantly being created in the spot using a few simple rules is mind boggling, and somewhat impossible for people to believe.
The truth is - Improvisation is an act of constant innovation. We take what the audience gives us and create a theatrical work that amazes, engages and involves the audience as active participants in the process. The audience leaves the theater knowing they had a part in the end product that was created.
Wouldn't that be great for your business? If each employee left with the thought that they were a part of the whole, that they had an amount of control over the larger piece that has been created?
These rules for engagement in improvisational theater cross over to any phase of work, to any industry. They can help shape how your company operates, giving each of your employees the chance to leave each day feeling like they are a part of the larger organization.
These tenets: Being willing to play, finding the drive / commitment in what you do, listening and building on offers with your team; these are all skills that we strive for in our organizations.
So why would people look at Improv and say 'what can you teach me about business?'
The answer is: a lot.