Ditch Your Elevator Pitch
Cartoon from The New Yorker magazine

Do you keep your distance at networking events? Do you find yourself repeating the same elevator pitch no matter who you’re talking to? Do you feel lonely in a room full of people?

ImprovNetworking is an off-script approach to relationship building that doesn’t rely on a scripted process or a formulaic solution. In fact, ImprovNetworking reignites the natural curiosity all people have about each other – the key to great networking. Participants reconnect to the innate human ability to play and improvise.

Professionals at all levels come to networking events with preconceived, often negative, associations with the notion of building and sustaining a network of relationships. By introducing performance – the ability to be who we are and who we are not (like actors do when they play a role) – networking can transform into a creative activity.

My advice to anyone tired (or afraid) of networking is to step outside of your comfort zone with ImprovNetworking. You’ll learn how to be more yourself and how to make a more lasting connection with those you meet. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or extrovert, ImprovNetworking will give you helpful tools to use right away. 

By pursuing curiosity about others, formulating interesting questions, and sharing our passions and motivations without following the tired and worn out scripts (the elevator pitch), we create a genuine human connection.

Being fully present with another person co-creating an improvisational conversation (“scene”), allows us to step out of our comfort zone, take some risks and get to know others in new ways. By doing so, we have a shot at impacting each other which builds memorable and lasting relationships.

Need to Engage and Retain Millennials?

As more and more companies are looking for ways to engage and retain talent, listening to the needs of millennials becomes critical.

According to a study by Deloitte of 10,455 millennials, there is a demand for skill development in the areas of interpersonal skills, confidence/motivation, innovation and creativity.

ImprovNetworking is an entirely new and off-script approach to networking and relationship building that was designed for professionals at all levels. This approach is particularly useful for millennials, who are often disengaged by traditional learning and development offerings. Half an hour into an ImprovNetworking session, participants are speaking with each other in new ways that are relaxed, natural, and effective. Participants reconnect to the innate human ability to play and improvise.

Rather than relying on a scripted process or a formulaic solution, ImprovNetworking reignites the natural curiosity all people have about each other – the key to great networking. By engaging in a more playful approach to relationship-building younger professionals have the chance to perform confidently, to develop their creative capacity and spontaneity. They learn new ways to build relationships without relying on an “elevator pitch.”

This cost-effective approach has immediate results. ImprovNeworking sessions can be customized to meet the needs of any organization.

How to engage millennial employees? Give them opportunities to grow and develop by stepping out of their comfort zones to improve their capacity to build relationships and communicate in a more spontaneous and confident manner.

A Passion for Learning … yes, and …

Take a look at critical skills needed for success in the 21st century, as listed in CIO.com article The 14 soft skills every IT pro needs:

Salesmanship
Effective communication
The ability to translate tech
A collaborative mindset
Empathy
The ability to put things in context
Customer service — even with colleagues
The ability to ask the right questions
Problem solving
Adaptability
The ability to set aside ego
Emotional intelligence
Comfort with uncertainty

These are typical outcomes from workshops and trainings that teach people the fundamentals of improvisation (yes, and/accept and build with “offers,” active listening, make your partner look good, take risks).

The recently published book Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre has catapulted to the number one best seller on Amazon’s list of hot new releases in business entrepreneurship for good reason. According to authors Theresa Robbins Dudeck and Caitlin McClure, applied improvisation is “…changing the way people lead, create and collaborate.” Full disclosure, McClure has long been a mentor, teacher and friend.

According to Capgemini and LinkedIn’s valuable report: The Digital Talent Gap: Are Companies Doing Enough? to succeed in our rapidly changing and digitally-driven workforce, hard digital skills are needed (cybersecurity and cloud computing being most in demand), but equally important are “soft digital skills,” which the report identified as customer-centricity and passion for learning. 59% of employers say that these skills are lacking in their employees.

The report goes on to say, “Employees feel organizations’ training programs are not hugely effective and those who want to excel are looking beyond their organizations’ learning and development. … Close to half actually describe the training as ‘useless and boring.’”

What are the solutions? Two from Capgemini and LinkedIn’s report are worth noting:

  1. “Create an environment that prioritizes and rewards learning.”  As traditional trainings can be experienced as “useless and boring,” more and more organizations are turning to applied improv facilitators and trainers for good reason.
  2. “Diversify your recruiting approach.” In chapter 1 of Dudeck and McClure’s wonderful case studies, “A Burger; Fries and a Side of Improv,” authors Hirsch and Veltman write of the work they did over a decade with the restaurant chain Burgerville in Portland, Oregon. Along with trainings, used improv as a “diagnostic for hiring teams and customer service providers” to great effect. As a longtime recruiter, improviser, and applied improv facilitator I was inspired!

Not only do we lead trainings that enhance the skills needed for success in business, applied improvisation (to quote Dudeck and McClure), “brings joy into this uncertain and crazy world.” I think we can all say “yes, and…” to that!

What I Learned From What Google Learned

I recently revisited research Google has been engaged in with their employees over the last few years. Contrary to what one might expect from the tech giant and 21st century conventional wisdom (“learn to code!”), their findings were that the top characteristics of success are all “soft skills.

Interestingly, but not at all surprising, the findings of Google’s multi-year Project Aristotle supports why corporate executives, scientists, and leaders in multiple industries have turned to improvisational training.

A few excerpts from an article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine before the study was completed: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

…the good teams … were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

As an applied improvisational facilitator and trainer, revisiting Google’s findings generated this list of the top attributes of a good improviser:

  • Learn to say “yes, and” in order to build with the contribution of others.
  • Find your way to collaboration, rather than disagreement.
  • Make others look good; build trust and a safe environment so people can take risks and develop new capabilities.
  • Actively listen, be present and sensitive to nonverbal cues.
  • Celebrate mistakes (in order to create a culture of learning and innovation).

Re-reading Google’s findings shed light on why recent trainings with undergraduates and graduate students that I’ve conducted via Career Services, have been so rewarding. Arming young people who are entering the workforce with the tools of improv and performance means that they will, indeed, become our leaders of tomorrow.

 

The Art of Interviewing: How to Create Conversation

Job seekers tend to rehearse (prepare) for interviews.  Hiring managers, on the other hand, because they’re often busy executives, don’t necessarily prepare for interviewing candidates.

Candidates frequently report that an interviewer seemed unprepared and/or unintrested. At their worst, interviewers are doing most of the talking and barely ask a question or they ask the overly-scripted questions, i.e., “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” At their best, interviewers are relaxed and open. Candidates enjoy conversational interviews where a true connection is established.

The best interviewers work to create a conversation. One way to develop this skill is to approach the interview as an improvised scene. Put your focus on creating a conversation that allows for both the interviewer and the candidate to get to know each other. By doing so, it’s easier to assess the fit – culturally and otherwise – for both parties. An additional plus is that interviewing might even be enjoyable!

 Performance tips for interviewers:

  • Lead and enjoy the activity of creating conversation.
  • Be present as an active listener.
  • Be thoughtful and follow your curiosity.
  • Go slowly and allow the conversation to unfold.
  • Allow space for the interviewee’s questions. Be as honest and direct as possible in answering.
  • Take a risk and go somewhere together as you co-create the interview scene.
How to Pursue Purpose and Passion in Work (and Life)

I recently saw this graphic on Facebook and it reminded me of Ken Robinson’s great book: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Thinking about our passion and our careers is not always something we do, as work often leads us away from our passions in life. Certainly there are some people who have successfully married their passions with their professional lives – this is what Robinson would call being in your “element”.

Robinson makes a case for exploring our passions and creativity to help us find where we belong professionally. Robinson writes about highly successful people from all walks of life, many of whom did not do well in school, who found communities of like-minded people, and created their lives by following their passions.

I recently came across an article by John Coleman on the Harvard Business Review site, You Don’t Find Your Purpose – You Build It. I appreciate how Coleman frames the discussion of purpose:

In achieving professional purpose, most of us have to focus as much on making our work meaningful as in taking meaning from it. Put differently, purpose is a thing you build, not a thing you find. Almost any work can possess remarkable purpose.

I agree with Coleman that purpose is something we build in our lives. When I am working on a recruiting project I am creating conversations with a wide variety of executives. I’m always fascinated by the unexpected connections we make with each other when we create conversations that allow space for discovery. In doing this, each of us can create what Robinson calls our “tribe” – a community, a company, a grouping of people who share our passion, desires and purpose.

As the workforce transforms, more and more of us will pursue multiple careers during our lifetimes. Discovering and building purpose in work is a creative and relational process, and that in of itself is joyful. I can get passionate about that!

Creating Otherness

How can we build with our differences? 

Can we create opportunities to make discoveries about “the other?”  

How can we bridge the divide between diverse communities?

While the media doesn’t cover the story of people creating new possibilities around the world, they are!

In August I joined Dr. Patch Adams for my second humanitarian clown trip to Costa Rica. I brought two colleagues who also practice the social therapeutic approach to human development and social change. We relate to people of all ages and life circumstances as social performers and creators of their lives.

My colleague, Dr. Tony Perone, and I co-facilitated a workshop at the University of Costa Rica about the performance activism community. We led a room of students, professors, artists and community organizers in new performances of our shared humanity (one of which is pictured above). You can read more about it here: http://eastsideinstitutecommunitynews.org/love-revolutionaries-tony-perone-marian-rich-do-therapeutic-clowning-in-costa-rica/

I attended the CESTEMER (Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research) conference in Chicago as an educator, community activist and improviser (I’m not a scientist). The keynote presentations from the National Academy of Sciences were entertaining! One was about integrating science, math and engineering with the arts and humanities and “Hooray for Hollywood Science” was about The Science & Entertainment Exchange. This grouping of scientists, artists, and educators moved out of our comfort zones and embraced “the other.” We created new opportunities for growth.

Also in Chicago I met with a close colleague, David Cherry, the City Leader of the Chicago All Stars Project. He spoke to me with enormous passion about his work bringing together the city’s poorest youth with affluent donors to create new conversations and new possiblities.

Most recently, I attended a talk by Jackie Salit of independent voting.org called Finding Otherness. Jackie travels around the country speaking to independents (the “others”) who are often left out of the mainstream political process. A “postmodern agitator,” she’s creating new performances of otherness in the political arena.

Jackie shared a final thought about what’s needed to create otherness (along with this image from the film Zorba the Greek):

We all need a little madness to create new sources of political, cultural and emotional power.

 

Creating with Gender Stereotypes

Are gender stereotypes preventing women from pursuing careers in STEM fields?  Do women innately have “softer” skills that could make them successful data scientists?  I’m an advocate for STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).  I’m also a coach and trainer who teaches collaborative communication skills to technical professionals. Not surprisingly, I find this to be an interesting discussion.

In the field of data science, the numbers don’t lie. While the number of female data scientists is currently disproportionate to men, the employment demands and signs from academia are encouraging. We may have to fight a little harder to break down the stereotypes that have prevented women from entering STEM fields for many years, but it’s worth the fight. Setting the stage now will inspire future generations to see that they too can be a data scientist. (Quoted from Tanja Rueckert’s article Numbers don’t lie: Why women must fill the data science demand

Rueckert cites three “stereotypically female traits” that make for a successful data scientist: communication, collaboration and perspective. Female data scientists are entering a man’s world…for now.  In coaching seasoned female executives or a recent MBA’s entering the workforce, women struggle to find their voice and develop greater confidence and gravitas.

Developing a performance of gravitas means an awareness of intonation when they speak. I listen to how a young woman’s voice rises at the end of their sentences. We play with creative imitation and use other tools of the theatre to transform how they communicate. We can learn to perform both who we are and who we are becoming. A recent female MBA graduate shared how an interviewer asked her how should could successfully manage projects, given how “nice” she is. Was she “aggressive enough” for the role? Female executives might be great at collaboration but they still have to “show teeth if needed,” as one of my coaching clients recently put it.

While stereotypes can hold us back, they don’t have to.  They can be a source of creativity for developing new performances. My guess is that the more play and improvisational performance is brought into STE(A)M education and the workplace, the more women (and men) will develop and create new ways of performing as data scientists.

Find out more about FUNctional Collaborative Communication trainings for data scientists https://careerplayinc.com/functional-collaborative-communication/

 

The Art and Science of Communication

“I feel closer to the participants in this workshop then I do to my team at work.”

We received this comment from a participant in an R&D workshop I recently co-led with my colleague Dr. Raquell Holmes, the founder of improvscience. The workshop was part of an incubation process to develop an innovative approach to strengthen the communication and collaboration capabilities of data scientists, analysts, engineers and developers.

Raquell and I have been seeking ways to help technical professionals at all management levels develop their communication and collaborative skills for a long while. We have both been keenly aware of the need. Raquell is a pioneer in science communications and has worked with thousands of technical people to develop these softer skills. As a longtime recruiter of quantitative talent, my clients are always looking for analytical professionals who are also strong communicators. It is often the case that qualified candidates are hard to find.

Oftentimes a talented data scientist will struggle to communicate the value of his/her work. There is an art to telling the story that lies within the data; these skills are rarely taught to technical professionals. As organizations put more demands on data scientists and other technical talent to work cross functionally, there is a greater need to strengthen communication and collaborative skills. How do you ask questions in the midst of creating new technologies and products?  We help people talk to each other so that they don’t get too far down the line without being able to catch important technical issues.

Our expertise is creating playful environments where people have the opportunity to develop emotional intelligence, get out of their comfort zones and learn new relational skills. We bring improvisation, executive coaching, human resources experience and technical expertise together in our trainings through our unique partnership.

Experiential learning environments are particularly helpful to teams of people from different countries and cultures. People acquire a greater ability to collaborate and innovate. When taken further, multiple engagements enable a serious developmental process so that talent at every level can contribute to the overall needs of the organization and their functions.

It just might be that play, performance and improvisation is the kind of FUNctional Collaborative Communication that is needed to advance innovation in your organization!

 

 

 

Recruiting is Career Play

 

Having recently completed a successful assignment as the Interim Recruiting Manager at a financial services advisory firm, I’ve been thinking about the process of recruiting talent into an organization.  In close to 20 years of recruiting it is the rare organization that puts the human equation before all else when it comes to recruiting.   Ironic as it may seem (because it is), all too often recruiters, human resource leaders and hiring managers create a process that works best for them and for their organization, without much thought for the candidates they are seeking to hire.

Sadly, it is not unusual for an organization to have an arrogant posture throughout the interview and recruiting process.  The performance of the interview team is analogous to conversing with a person who is “all about me” — and we all know how difficult it can be to spend time in conversation with someone who disregards “the other”.  Some interviewers will keep a candidate waiting, then s/he will sneak a peek at their emails while interviewing, some interrupt the interview to take a call, or even step out of the room and leave the interviewee sitting there dumbfounded. Of course the underlying message that is being sent to the candidate is, “I have more important things to do.”

A smart organization is thinking about how to create a thoughtful and efficient interview process that allows the team to really get to know the candidate, while conveying a culture that values it’s employees. Not everyone has the capability to do this.  HR leaders and recruiting managers are in the best position to ensure, in every step of the recruiting process, that candidates feel welcomed.  Having the right talent in place is critical for a company’s success; a strong recruiting process will attract the best and the brightest.

Creating and training a strong interview team is key to good hiring.  Not only do interviewers have to know the right questions to ask, perhaps the more importantly, they have to develop  a welcoming performance during the interview.  Learning to perform actions like a strong handshake, making eye contact and a greeting candidates with a smile can make all the difference for the interviewee.  Using emotional intelligence and a willingness to create a conversation that goes somewhere unexpected, tells candidates that the organization has a serious investment in fostering development and growth for it’s people.  Perhaps the interviewer shares something from her/his work experience that didn’t go well as a way to ask about times the candidate has failed and what s/he learned from their failure.

When putting together an interview team some questions to ask might be: Does this interviewer have a high level of emotional intelligence? Will this interviewer make a candidate feel comfortable? Is this interviewer an active listener?  Can s/he create a conversation that might very well go somewhere unexpected? Can s/he frame questions that help the candidate do her/his best at conveying their unique qualities, experience, creativity and ability to add value to the organization?  How are we, as an organization, conveying our corporate culture in our interviewing process?

How can organizations create a better recruiting process?  By putting themselves in the shoes of their candidates.  As one of my recruiting mentors used to say, “It’s simple, treat people the way you want to be treated.”  Using the tools and language of improvisation and theatre, good interviewers focus on “the other.”  Be giving; a good performer always makes her/his fellow actor look good.  Make your candidates look good and see how that changes your recruiting process.