I remember a terrible moment from a conference I attended…
There was a person who was not quite a fit for the culture of the conference who had insisted on doing the introductory speech. And because of her connection to the host organization, she got the gig.
She was dressed to the nines, with a carefully curated smile as she strolled on stage.
But then, her slides didn’t work.
She stopped. She stuttered. She stammered. And she sat on stage with a painful smirk on her face, until the technical issues got sorted out.
Because she was wound so tight in knots, she couldn’t find ANY comfort in improvising with where she was at.
Any of the other experts at the conference would’ve riffed. Had fun. Joked about the technical issues. Or simply started their presentation, knowing it might not be a 100% fit with their planned slides, but sure in themselves and able to provide value anyway.
Who would you rather be, when you get your moment on stage? Whether it’s a literal stage, at a conference or other event. Or the “stage” of presenting any other message.
It’s been 16 months since I started doing improv…
I got into it because I thought it would be fun. I got into it because I enjoy the thrill of performing but hadn’t done any live performance in years. I got into it to stretch myself. I got into it to be more comfortable in my own skin, in moments “on stage.”
I didn’t get into improv to be a better marketer and thought leader, or better media personality.
But the reality is, you can’t do a bunch of improv and simultaneously not develop a more powerful “voice.”
And having a powerful voice is a huge part of what makes you a better marketer, thought leader, and media personality.
And so much of that goes back to the first rule, “yes, and…”
Improv forces you to practice diving into the uncomfortable…
When most people start doing improv comedy or acting, they find it hard to say yes. They find it hard to accept what their scene partner is bringing.
They often reject it almost unconsciously.
It’s like they’re trying to correct their partner for not bringing the correct element forward into the mix. They treat their partner like those broken slides, and shut down.
That’s not what improv is.
Improv is about seeing what comes up in the moment. And using that as the jumping off point for what comes next.
Improv requires you to recognize what is, and have an ever-changing conception of what could be.
And then, thrust yourself forward into the great unknown, with confidence that you will handle whatever comes up.
This is a powerful skill for leaders and communicators…
And I will focus on marketers, thought leaders, and people like me who have blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, or any other media platform that they regularly create content for.
There are very few people who meticulously plan and are tremendously successful.
I can think of Dan Carlin and his Hardcore History podcast as one example. I struggle to find many others. Because success and meticulous planning working together is an exception, seldom the rule.
It’s far more common for people to go and go and go and go, saying yes and to the next opportunity to speak up, and the next and the next and the next, and for that to turn into success.
That requires you to say “yes, and…”
That requires you to make a decision about what you’re going to do, and start moving forward. To take action. To commit. To take the risk that you will put out a message that will fail. And to keep going in the face of obstacles and issues that arise.
In fact, it requires you to accept failure as a probability, not just a possibility.
If you are not failing, you’re not succeeding either…
There is a reason that every honest biography of highly successful people includes the maximum that failure is a learning experience.
Because if you are not failing, it means you’re not trying. You’re not stepping on stage and going, even when things don’t go right. You’re not saying “yes, and” to life.
When you step on stage, you have to be ready to fail. You have to be ready to make a fool of yourself. You have to be ready to bomb. And keep going…
And the way to be ready, is to commit to learning from any failures before you start.
Of course, it’s better if you do not fail. Of course, you want success.
And if you are constantly learning, success will come.
But if you freeze in fear of failure, you won’t succeed or fail, because you will have never stepped on stage.
What is this have to do with marketing?
Even if you are creating marketing for clients, this matters. Tremendously.
First off, you have to have the same attitude to turn in work to clients.
You must be willing to step up and be unique. You must be willing to stretch yourself. You must be willing to try new things, that may lead to breakthroughs.
Yes, of course, you want to also learn from what works. Proven formulas are proven formulas. But your specific messaging and execution of the formula should have an element of risk. It should step on stage. It should risk failure.
This is how you get attention. This is how you make people care.
You don’t generate response by fitting into the same box as everybody else. You generate response by taking the left turn, and running with it.
You generate response by having a thought-provoking voice, that comes from taking on life head on.
Even if you are a freelance copywriter writing in someone else’s voice, if you cultivate this voice in yourself, you can bring it out through your writing on behalf of others. You can channel it. You can find their voice through their stories, and put it into your writing.
This is doubly important if you are creating content for yourself…
I’m doing more YouTube videos recently. You may have seen my link in yesterday’s email.
That was planned, in the sense that I came up with five things I wanted to talk about. But that’s where the planning stopped. It was unscripted, and better for it.
Likewise with my One Big Idea videos. I decide on the idea, and then I riff. I’m not responding to someone in that moment. But I am starting with the germ of an idea and improvising with it.
I use the same skill constantly. When I write these essays. When I write a quick email for clients. When I write some other piece of copy, often based on an idea that the client hands me or that I dig up through research.
My role in every single one of these situations is to say yes, and then take it somewhere new, to add information.
My role is to improvise, bringing in what is known and the proven principles, and creating something fresh in the moment.
Improv is practice, life is the performance…
I strongly recommend you learn improv. I strongly recommend you go to workshops or classes if you can.
Then, practice saying yes.
Practice listening and paying attention to what comes up in the moment.
Accept what is given to you.
Commit to responding to what is in front of you.
An expand on that with what you are able to bring to the table.
Do it in life. Do it in your content. Do it in your marketing.
And when you step on stage in front of a roomful of people looking at you, and your slides are broken?
Well, what you say next just might be a breakthrough…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,