How does it feel when you've just let go of the trapeze only to find there is no safety net?
Driving to a recent pitch meeting, I mentally rehearsed the key messages I wanted to get across. I had made a short video to illustrate some creative ideas; and I had three simple, trusty slides to demonstrate how to develop strategy and manage plans through to implementation. I was a bit nervous, not a bad thing, but I felt OK. I knew my stuff, I was well-prepared.
Trouble is, meetings don't always go as planned.
The future is unwritten
At the last moment my contact was called away from the meeting. Instead I met two unfamiliar senior managers. It dawned on me that my preparation was out the window.
My new hosts were welcoming and bright but—while they knew why I was in the room—they were deputising and not truly briefed.
I suppose the rug was pulled from under all three of us.
Their questions were ‘left field’, unsettling and probing. My planned pitch was a distant memory. I was under intense pressure, with no road map, and it was crucial that I didn’t crumble. In short, I had to improvise.
Improvisation is about having no safety net, right?
Luckily my friend and neighbour John Nicholson has shared some business improvisation magic with me. He’s an award-winning producer, director and writer, and has brought improvisation skills from theatre practise and cleverly adapted them to the world of business.
I learnt from him that at the heart of successful improvisation lies the ability to listen, accept and make offers; and I have recently been developing those specific skills, just like you’d train a muscle. The benefits of such improvisation training are extensive but boil down to being agile when the pressure is on.
That day in an unfamiliar office with people I’d not met I needed to:
- LISTEN: and distill the real meanings behind what I was being asked
- ACCEPT: that I was on an unknown journey with strangers; why shouldn’t it be interesting, challenging and exciting?
- MAKE OFFERS: to interpret what I was being asked, weigh up my options and present ideas that chimed with their aspirations.
I think all three of us in that meeting were ‘on the spot’ but we had good fun dealing with it!
I have been impressed with John Nicholson’s ability to re-tune his unique improvisation skills for a business audience. So much so that I have formed a new venture with him: Business Improvers. Business improvisation training gave me a lifeline, and now its learnable secrets—which are behind some exciting innovations in companies big and small—can be yours, too.
Watch 1-minute videos explaining how improvisation skills benefit business.