Yes, and: My newly Improved Presentation (and other) Skills

Last week, after groaning and moaning about it for weeks, I traveled to the Open Text corporate headquarters for presentation training. The big surprise (to me) was that it was well worth the effort. And relevant in many dimensions.

Second City – yes, the improv comedy troupe – held the class with the idea that presentation skills and improv skills are closely related. They’re main premise is that presenting is about communicating with an audience. Pretty basic  – and yet when taken very literally – the idea of really connecting with an audience – we explored some very valuable ideas for improving communication in very actionable ways.

First, and most interesting. Lindsey and Lee are improvisational comedians. They work as part of a troupe. And the troupe has figured out ways to ensure that they are reliably spontaneous and funny. They depend on one another on stage to keep the comedic ball in the air.

Improv, like all serious professions, has developed a vocabulary that is keenly useful in communications.

When someone feeds you a line, it is called the “offering”. It is received as a “gift”. So what?

Well they had us go through an exercise where we partnered up. After one of the partners said any random thing, the job was to say “thank you” and then respond. So what? Try it. You’ll quickly see that it makes you very conscious indeed of whether you are in fact being open minded and building on what the other person is saying or not. It doesn’t make you more cooperative, but it certainly makes you more aware of how cooperative you are being.

Another very telling exercise – the difference between saying “yes, but” and “yes, and”. Go ahead and try with a friend. Giggling is to be expected. We laughed a lot during this day and a half. Have a friend toss you a line. Respond, “Yes, and ….”. Then try “yes, but”. See how  the conversations go in different directions.

What these silly, inane exercises that we’re all too busy or too sophisticated to bother with is highlight and reveal the fact that we can choose to accept what other people say and do and build upon it – even if we’re trying to persuade them otherwise. And that in doing that, we ensure that the entire team succeeds vastly more effectively.

It may be that “yes, and” and “thank you” are the keys to true cooperation – the cornerstone of effective collaboration.

I also learned that I tend to present with balled fists. I wish you’d mentioned that to me earlier. I had no idea.

There were, of course many other important and surprisingly useful things we reviewed, from physical presentation, to tone and variety, and they even forced me to present without slides!!!! It was like skinny dipping.

All very useful, and boy, do I have a long way to go before I can truly embody all of the excellent advice I was given. But the thing I’m going to try to practice, like the little pilgrim, is “yes, and”.

So why is this so important to me. Not because of my presentation skills, but because I spend time trying to understand the difference between effective and ineffective teams and leaders. And people ask me how to build these. And I think that Lindsey and Lee just taught me a very effective tool. Accept the offering as a gift. Build on it – even if you disagree. And the presentation is not about the slides. Its about how you present yourself and connect with your audience. The ideas and content are an overlay to that.

I hope you accept this offering and receive it as a gift. I hope you’ll hear the unspoken “thank you” and “yes and” when next we chat.

Thank you.

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2 comments

  1. Deb – great post (as are so many on your blog)! Sounds like a fascinating workshop. “Yes, and” is a fantastic technique – I bring up similar guidance in both our innovation and Enterprise 2.0 work. Such as difference of a single word (and vs. but) – but huge magnifier in the outcomes.

    Analyzing your own presentation style is difficult – very handy to have constructive criticism/feedback from outside of your own “system” (of one). Changing (on purpose) your style (with or without slides), format (auto-timed vs. freeform slide flow), etc., is something that I’ve found to purposefully pull myself out of my comfort zone and refine (or at least experiment with the INTENT of refining/improving) my own technique.

    Fascinating topic – and I hope we can continue to have these discussions, in larger and larger circles.

    Thank you for surfacing this – even for all of the “average workers” who don’t think they need to have presenting skills, or a need to be “better collaborators” – it’s time to wake up. We’re all presenting, and all collaborating, all the time. Practice, practice, practice, and get yourself up and ahead of the curve, and while there are no guarantees, your chances for long-term success, employment and, dare I say, happiness, rise signficiantly.

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