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Taking cues from the comedy club

2 min read


Today’s guest post is from Charlie Allenson, owner of Improving with Improv, which provides adaptive thinking workshops that use the techniques of improvisational comedy. His client list includes GE, Accenture, the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler, and Coach Leather.

We’ve all been there: The meeting that defies the time/space continuum. Where everybody, except the person speaking, starts texting under the table: About the endless meeting. Sports. Shopping. OMG — what?

Perhaps the speaker should have taken a page from the improv comedy handbook.

Getting to the heart of the matter quickly is as critical at a meeting as it is on stage. The faster you can get to the point, the faster your people can come back with a solution.

One improv exercise provides a particularly good model for setting up effective meetings. You take a one-word suggestion, and in only three lines between two people establish:

  • The relationship between the two people
  • The physical location
  • What the scene is going to be about

For example, if the suggestion is “candle” here’s a possible scene:

  • “Mom, all the kids here keep asking about the extra candle on my cake.”
  • “Ah, honey, the extra candle stands for good luck.”
  • “But mom, I never have any good luck.”

So we have a mother-and-child relationship, a kid’s birthday party for location, and a scene about how this kid has nothing but bad luck.

You can do something similar when you’re leading a meeting. Let’s say the subject is increasing market share. Don’t head right for the PowerPoint. Instead:

  • Tell them your market share is X and you need to reach Y. That tells them their “location.”
  • Then tell them how they stack up to the competition. That’s their relationship.
  • Then ask how they think they can make it happen. That’s where the scene plays itself out with everyone participating.

By letting your people fill in the blanks themselves, there’s stronger message retention. They’ll feel like they’re part of the process. And they’re energized to get it done.

What tips and tricks do you use to make your meetings more effective?

Image credit, iStock