What clients really want from improv


November 22nd, 2009

There’s a tremendous hunger in organisations for individuals to be seen and to have the skills to communicate what they’re passionate about.

One of the workshops I attended at the Improv Conference was an interview with three clients who currently use improv within their organisations and the On Your Feet folk who provide the applied improv. The clients were from Nike, Intel and the Oregon Public Service.

We heard about the challenges that the clients face in introducing improv in their organisations and in getting buy-in from senior management and participants, particularly if their backgrounds and work are largely science/engineering focused. The tricky bit is demonstrating the value of improv in advance, hence the importance of starting with a relationship.

“Get yourself out there – find a trusted partner who knows your work and will get you a foot in the door. Try a pilot with a handful of people.”

Once you’ve delivered something you can start collecting data to demonstrate value: ask people how they applied what they learnt, capture anecdotal evidence, before and after stories – and don’t underestimate the value of your web site.

“Executives often process information and make judgment based on visiting the web site of the improv provider to see who else they have worked with.”

On Your Feet sometimes do before and after scenario measurement. They provide three situations and ask participants six weeks before the workshop how they would deal with them. Then they ask them the same question about the same scenarios six weeks after. The results and compared and analysed, providing valuable information for the client and OYF.

“You can get away with anything once. It’s about getting a return engagement.”

To get internal buy-in clients will tie the improv to whatever big initiative is current, especially when competing internally for funding. So it’s useful for providers to know what the big initiatives are and provide a clear tie-in.

And what about the nay-sayers and skeptics? It’s important to recognise the differences in the audience, listen to them and acknowledge that everything won’t work for everyone. Strategically, it’s useful to do pre-interviews with known skeptics and be prepared to use the organisational language and situations.

One of my own tactics for dealing with skeptics is to make sure that whatever they are doing in a workshop is tied to an actual situation they have to deal with in the workplace. This starts to build confidence that this ‘stuff’ might even be useful!

People in organisations are often passionate about what they are doing – even if it seems mundane to others. They will try and innovate and do their best no matter what their role is. They like to be acknowledged – don’t we all? They want to share what they know and learn from others. It’s part of what makes us human. Improv can build the confidence and communication skills for even the most introverted to communicate with others (don’t I know it!). Individuals in organisations want to be seen and heard.

“And it’s valuable to get people just to laugh and enjoy themselves.”

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