Archive for the 'Life Skills' Category

Improv Skills Applied to Life

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Improv comedy skills are not just for the stage.  The principles which make for great humor also apply to leadership skills and building strong relationships.  Let’s look at three areas where improv skills help us succeed with the challenges of life:  Energy, Creativity and Trust.

ENERGY:  As an improv player you need to energize yourself to be your best as a performer.  As a speaker you need to energize yourself to deliver your message from the platform.  As a leader you need to energize yourself and your team to be productive. 

We normally open each improv workshop, and warm-up before a show, with energy-building exercises.  Zip Zap Zop, Bunny, Whoosh Bang Pow, My Name is Joe…are examples of energy building exercises.  These exercises could also be used to open a staff meeting.  They build energy and are fun.  I’ve used exercises to warm myself up before a speech.  I remember doing My Name is Joe at 7:00 am in an empty hallway before a keynote speech.  It worked.  It warmed me up mentally and physically.  It energized me.

CREATIVITY:  Improv games are good for changing routine patterns, for breaking pre-occupation, and for stepping outside your comfort zones.  Improv can help us with the brain-storming process by helping us to suspend judgment and to accept different solutions.

Improv games help us focus on looking for connections and get our creative juices flowing.  Just as the key to humor is in the connections we make, the key to creative problem solving is also linked to seeing connections and approaches which give us fresh insights for solving problems.

TRUST:  Improv helps us to develop a sense of trust that our team is there to support us.  One of the guiding principles of improv is to accept all offers.  What that means is that when one improv player suggests something, the correct behavior is to accept the “gift” or the “offer” and to build on to it.  The principle is referred to as “Yes…And“.   The idea is to agree with what has been said, done or offered and then to add to it.  The reverse of this behavior is to say NO to an offer.  Also blocking an offer is the response of “Yes…But.”  Good improv players learn to accept what is offered by other members of the troupe.  This skill is valuable in the workplace too.  People are encouraged to contribute if they feel that their contributions will be accepted and valued. 

We need to have the mindset that we are always giving and receiving gifts.  We need to treat our fellow players and co-workers as though each one is a genius.  Look for what is right and good in each person you are dealing with.

An amazing thing I learned on the improv stage is that when you’re having a hard time working with a “difficult” player or team member…the problem isn’t them…it’s you.  I remember watching a seasoned player in the Santa Barbara improv troupe playing onstage with a novice player who was doing everything wrong (based on traditional improv rules).  His approach was to accept everything she was offering…and the result was a brilliant and very funny scene.  In one of our Santa Maria shows we hosted a guest player from Los Angeles, Dan O’Conner.  I remember a scene where he played with one of our players who would always do the unexpected.  Again he played Yes…And to the extreme, and the result was absolutely amazing. 

What I learned from these experiences is that whenever you are having difficulty playing with another player, perhaps one who doesn’t have the seasoned skills necessary to guarantee success…the problem is that YOU aren’t good enough to play with them.  The problem isn’t them.  The skilled player…the pro…brings out the best in others.  That’s a profound message.

Strong improv skills help you to bring out the best in others.  Consider this:  What would this world be like if everyone you dealt with was present with you, if everyone listened to you, if everyone treated you like you were a genius, if everyone agreed with you, if everyone trusted you?  And then consider, what would it be like if everyone you met experienced that kind of world because of you?  Apply the principles of improv and you can create that kind of world for you and for the people you meet.

When First Impressions Are Wrong

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Susan Boyle, age 47, took the stage at Britain’s Got Talent to sing I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables.
The way she looked…
The way she moved…
The way she talked…
I’ll admit, I was looking for something like Mrs Miller from the 1960s Ed Sullivan show…so bad that it was entertaining.
But then they cued the music…
And she brought a skeptical crowd to their feet.
I watched the video four times.
Talent speaks louder than first impressions.
A great reminder to us as we prejudge the people we meet.
What you see isn’t what you get!

PS:  Note how Simon Cowell uses the rule of three to get a laugh during the judges comments:  Surprised, Surprised, Not Surprised.

Office Humor — Fun In The Workplace

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

The workplace should not be all work and no play.  To have fun at the office we need to be able to laugh at our mistakes.

Sixteen years ago my marketing director and good friend Connie handled all my speaking booking and correspondence.  We had a second office set up in her home and she handled the administrative end of my business.

In preparing confirmation letters for upcoming engagements, we would include the closing sentence:  “Please sign a copy of this letter of agreement and return to us to confirm the engagement date.”

Of course, Connie would always run the letter through the spell checker to ensure there were no spelling errors.  Once blessed by the spell checker, we knew everything was perfect.  One day a signed letter was returned to us and we discovered that the meeting planner had been instructed to “SING a copy of the letter.”  The meeting planner had SIGNED it, but we always wondered if she also SANG the letter before returning it!

We laughed about that incident for years.  Spell checkers are nice, but we learned first-hand the funny situations which can happen if you totally depend on them.

That reminds me of the ODE TO A SPELL CHECKER by Jerrold H Zar which starts:

Eye halve a spelling check her,
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye kin knot sea.

As a side note:  I asked Connie (16 years ago) if she would like to enroll in an English class at the local college and that I would pay for the tuition.  Since she had not attended college, she loved the idea.  After she completed the first class, she enrolled herself in another.  And another.  Three years ago Connie received her Masters Degree in English!  I’m sure the Chancellor of the University wanted to SING her diploma!  Congratulations Connie.

Laughing at your mistakes is a positive thing and can lead to wonderful results.

Humor and Disabilities

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

“I’ve used humor as a defense mechanism for as long as I can remember,”  Steve Mertz shared with me.  I met Steve when he presented a program on Search Engine Optimization at the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSA).  “Humor is the universal language and it’s impossible to have a pity party and laugh at the same time.”

Steve walks with the use of forearm crutches. He observes that “this makes my upper body mean and lean–kind of like doing bench presses all day!  Because of spinal cord damage it’s necessary for me to use the crutches when walking. I have movement in my legs and love to swim.”

“Humor has been my favorite coping tool over the years. It’s diffused many an awkward situation and made many friends for me.  Combine humor with the ability to generate small talk and you have a powerful combination.”

“I also have found that my intention is to tell people what happened to me, without being dramatic, so they can focus on what I have to say.  Therefore, I tell them the facts and then try to interject humor to disarm them and let them know that I’m OK with my condition. I’m still the same person with the same heart–I just have this inconvenience to deal with!”

Here are a couple of examples of how Steve has used humor in his interactions with people:

  – People will often comment on my good-looking crutches.  They like the color.  If they comment, I may say something like, “It’s important for crippled people to follow fashion as well.”

  – If someone is rude, I might say:  “Don’t worry it’s not contagious.”

“At first, it really pissed me off that people would just stop, stare, point and ask ‘what happened?!’  I soon discovered that being bitter did me absolutely no good and I learned that a smile and some humor would immediately disarm the rudest of people.”

“I’m writing a children’s book to help young people with disabilities. It will be titled:  Our Footprints are Different–But our Hearts are The Same (   One of the suggestions that I make to parents is to have their kids take an Improv class on humor–a little tamer than some of the comedy you see in a nightclub–but along the same lines.  The sooner we can start laughing the quicker the healing starts!”

Steve Mertz is the President, NSA Colorado Chapter, 2008-2009.  He can help you optimize your web site so that people can find you on the search engines.  One of his tag-lines:  “Fall asleep doing a Google search for your website?”  His program for our NSA Chapter was terrific, insightful and practical.  Check out Steve’s web site (

Personal Development

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

A book Review

Personal Development for Smart People is a new book by Steve Pavlina.  He explores seven universal principles that are keys to personal growth.  The book doesn’t tell you what to do, but rather helps you to discover your own truths.

A philosophy in the book is that exposing you to a wide variety of inputs and resources uncovers patterns that you would otherwise not recognize.  This opens your mind to new ways of thinking and doing.

I’ll share a couple of perspectives which I found interesting and valuable: 

About Relationships.
“People who are too different from you are difficult to bond with, and those who are too similar can’t teach you very much.  The best relationships provide enough common ground to form a strong bond while also stimulating growth in new directions.”

About Goal Setting.
“Whenever you consider a new goal, pay attention to the effect it has on your present reality.  Set goals that make you feel powerful, motivated and driven when you focus on them.”

Pavlina recommends that we apply a military battlefield triage system to set our priorities and allocate our precious resources.  I’ve read 50 books on time management and never seen this common-sense approach suggested in the way that he explains it.

About Security.
On security Pavlina points out that “safe” is both an adjective (free from danger) and a noun (a container with a lock).  “If you’re living the adjective, you’re living the noun…don’t trap yourself in a cage of false security.”

“The illusion of security is the primary aim of the false path.”  And he points you to finding your right path. 

It’s a book that I think most people will want to read more than once.  Insightful and practical.  Highly recommended.  You’ll find it on Amazon.

5 Powerful Lessons That Will Get You Speaking on Par With The Best

Friday, September 19th, 2008

by Eric Feng, The Public Speaking Blog.

“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward!”  Rocky Balboa

I have never watched a single Rocky movie even though my roommate and dad are huge fans. However after Monday’s presentation by a phenomenal speaker, I will most likely (more…)

Political Satire — Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Check out this satire on Palin/Clinton featured on Saturday Night Live

Four things that make impersonations work are:

1.  The look.

2.  The gestures and movement.

3.  The voice

4.  The use of key words/phrases/themes.

Your Sense of Humor — Funny Signs

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I’m a fan of looking for humorous signs.  I have my own collection of photos.  Some of my favorites from the Las Vegas area are:

1.  A sign from Itchy’s Pizzaria — Everything is made from scratch!

2.  A sign next to a casino parking garage:  No Stopping.  Just below that sign, a STOP sign!

3.  A freeway exit sign:  Las Vegas Boulevard (Strip).  Maybe that explains all the naked drivers in Las Vegas!

I captured photos of all three of those signs before they were removed.  All three signs are now gone.  You need to keep your radar tuned.  Sometimes the photo ops are fleeting.

Looking for humorous signs when traveling abroad usually offers something to smile about.  Here is a link to some signs which are lost in translation.  I’m sure tourists to the USA find humor in our signs which have translations in their native language.  Probably more so, because Americans are some of the least likely people in the world to be bi-lingual. 

When it comes to humor, keep your eyes focused on the signs around you…and always carry a camera.  Signs are a great place to find a laugh or two.

Laughing With Friends

Monday, May 12th, 2008

“You’re the average of the five people you hang out with most.”  I love that quote from Jack Canfield.

Who do I hang out with?  Let me introduce you to five of my friends.  We are disc (Frisbee) golf buddies.  Once a week we tee off at 6:00 am and spend two hours walking the disc golf course set up in a public park.  Here are our regular players:

Jim Jackson (Immediate Past President of Las Vegas Chapter National Speakers Assn)
Darren LaCroix (Winner 2001 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking)
Steve Pavlina (popular blogger, Personal Development For Smart People)
Bryant Pergerson (Finalist 2007 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking)
S Frank Stringham (Music Director of the Las Vegas Improvisation Players, appeared on the opening show of Season-One America’s Got Talent)
John Kinde (Little old me)

What does this group have in common…besides playing disc golf together?  They all happen to be speakers, entertainers or bloggers.  But more importantly, they all have a great sense of humor and are fun to hang out with. 

We take the game seriously.  We have spreadsheets with score averages and win/loss percentages.  But our primary goal is exercise and fun.

We didn’t break any records this morning…unless you count a disc stuck on an awning with two water bottles.  It wasn’t until Steve took off his belt, the closest thing we had to a rope, that a maintenance man came by with a golf cart and a rake to rescue us.  Once the second water bottle got stuck, I think we broke the record for laughs.

People either lift you up or drag you down.  Who do you hang out with?  Do they make you feel good?  Do they make you laugh?  Do they whine and complain?  Do you spend too much time with toxic people?  Does your circle of friends need an extreme makeover? 

What kind of a friend are you?  Are you a magnet for positive thoughts?  Do you gossip?  Are you an asset in other people’s lives?  Do you bring smiles to your friends?  Do you need to change your own behavior? 

Food for thought.  You become the people you hang out with…and the people you hang out with become you!

Friends and Laughter

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

What an enjoyable morning.  I Played disc golf with my friends  Darren LaCroix and Steve Pavlina.  It was a close three-way match up ending in a sudden-death playoff.  Great fun.  It’s played on a special course with chain baskets and frisbees.   Las Vegas has a couple courses set up in the city parks.  We hadn’t played much since the weather cooled down and we look forward to getting back into the swing of things by playing weekly again as we have for the past few years. 

The best thing about playing is the joking around.  We encourage each other and at the same time kid around, poking fun at all aspects of our games.  We’re competitive and decent players, but by no means pros.  So there’s plenty of room for laughing at our game, while still taking the game very seriously.

I remember a TV interview where Christopher Reeve said that the true essence of life was our relationships…not our money, cars, houses and things.  One of the measures of our wealth is how often we laugh with our friends and loved ones.  That’s what energizes me.  I had a terrific time, in spite of losing on the first hole of sudden death! 

We joke about the discs which get stuck in the trees, the imaginary magnets planted on the course to mess up our competitor’s game, the wind that blows the discs off course.  On the sudden-death playoff we had color commentary on the Novice versus the Member of the Senior Tour.  There seemed to be something to kid about on every hole.

Looking back on my life, I have special memories of those who made me laugh the most.  My good friend from high school days, Ed Hunt.  We still talk about our funny stories and some of the really stupid things we did.  My buddy from my Air Force days, Charlie Bitner, with whom I would take my Charlie Breaks.  Who needs a coffee break when you can take a Charlie Break?  He could always bring a smile and a laugh to my face.  Not an easy task!  And my good friend Maureen Keene who recently moved to Phoenix.  I miss our laughter-filled dinners.  Her birthday is next week.  Hopefully we’ll connect and share some laughs if she visits Las Vegas this week.

I hope your life is filled with people who bring you sunshine.  We need to avoid toxic people as much as possible.  On my 30-minute drive home from the disc golf course, I had a guy honk at me (it seemed like 15 seconds) for making a right turn into his lane.  It was “my bad”…I didn’t realize that he was going about 60 MPH or that my Honda Civic wouldn’t have much zip on that upgrade.  I should have been tuned into those things, but I wasn’t.  But, it was obvious that he was in a big rush to get home to argue with his wife.  So I didn’t dwell on the incident…for more than 60 seconds.  He’s probably one of those toxic people that I’m thankful not to have in MY life.  If you run into someone who pushes your buttons…that’s OK…you’re normal…just get over it quickly.  And then hang out with the fun people in your life.  And never take them for granted.  They are a gift.

Related Article:  How Success in Disc Golf Relates to Public Speaking