This past weekend held the 12th BarCamp Philly. This is my third BarCamp Philly that I’ve attended and presented at.
For the last three years, I shared some version of Collaborative Improv.
- In 2017, I shared a slide-free version of the content. That year, I had so much fun at the 10AM slot that I rebuilt the content for a smaller audience at the last slot of the day
- In 2018, I used the opportunity to workshop a slide-supported session in advanced of my PixelUp speaking opportunity
- And this year, in 2019, I went back to my roots and went slide-free
The 2017 and 2018 approach, and much of the book, addresses Improv as a lens for Collaboration. Recently, I have received questions about Improv as a lens for communication. I took BarCamp as an opportunity to workshop these ideas.
Below, is the outline I approached the conversation with. After 25 minutes (slots run 45-minutes) I was out of content.
Wanting to workshop this material, I opened up the conversation to the attendees, asking what they hoped to gain from this session and why they came to this room compared to any other. I jotted down the questions as they came and offered some insights. Below is a summary of some of the questions.
Confidence in the Unknown
How do you find confidence in the unknown when you don’t have all the answers?
During the session, I facilitated Premise Lawyer. Three brave attendees rose to the challenge, answering prompts such as “cats are all aliens” and “computers are run by tiny people”.
Their feedback after coming up with these responses included things along the lines of “I found the answer the more I talked” and “repeating the prompt helped me think through it”.
Improv doesn’t give us the answers. But it does offer a way to find answers and to buy time. Repeating the questions we are asked when presenting allows our brains a few precious moments to think, consider, and offer a solution.
Throughout the Q&A at BarCamp, I would repeat the question, allowing my brain a moment to catch up.
How do you make talks, lectures, and presentations more collaborative?
I have taken a page from the teachings of Christina Wodtke (@cwodtke). One of Christina’s teachings when facilitating is not to have too much lecture or presentation. I regret I cannot give you the specific number advised, but I try to have no more than 15-minutes of lecture before an activity. This may be a 5-minute exercise or a 20-minute activity.
The idea is that our attention spans are limited. And if we can break up our listening with doing information is stickier.
How do you approach presenting as an introvert?
First, I want to stress this to anyone new to presenting: As the person invited to speak, you are the expert. Nobody wants to watch you fail. In fact, everyone is rooting for your success.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can address two other aspects of presenting, our energy and our approach.
Energy. When looking at our energy levels, I suggest a quick round of Crazy Eights to get your body and your mind loosened up before going in front of the crowd.
Approach. We all have different presentation styles. Be genuine to your own. Are you loud and full of expression? Are you more reserved and conversational? Do you go off of slide notes or riff based on the audience? Are you a Robot, a Pirate, or a Ninja? Identify your communication style and lean into your strengths.
How can you bring improv into all aspects of work?
Improv is not the answer to everything. Nor is it the answer for everyone. It is my answer to most things. I hope others can borrow from it too. That being said, we can all be better at supporting one another. At saying Yes-And. At actively listening.
Improv in Presentation
How can we leverage improv to ensure we are having meaningful conversations?
Simply put, remember to Find the Sandwich. When leading a conversation, what is the interesting thing being said. Follow it. Improv has taught me to allow a conversation to follow its natural cadence, and how to guide it to the interesting parts.
Ask folks to repeat themselves, to add granularity to what they are saying. Or acknowledge key information as a topic for later investigation.
In improv, we don’t want to let any interesting detail go past us. In work, where timelines and meeting agendas often dictate our schedules, we want to honor the interesting while pursuing the necessary. An improviser’s mindset empowers us to do both.
Improv for Communication
Improv for communication is just one more aspect of Collaborative Improv. How we become better listeners, communicators, and collaborators. How we explore the unknown and define the scope of our work by understanding requirements and opportunities together.
Thank you to the BarCamp Philly organizers, attendees, and those who participated in my session last weekend.
Please let me know what questions you may have and how Collaborative Improv supports your work.