Improvising highway: it’s your line anyway

“Okay team, what’s the plan?”

Everyone glances around the table, expecting someone else to break the silence.

“Garry, let’s hear what you’ve got to say” his boss demands.

***

Sound familiar? Minus the enjoyable comedic factor, this kind of think-on-your-feet scenario is like an everyday office version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Unfortunately, high-pressure situations are not only reserved for a weekly planning meeting. They happen in the form of surprise board meetings, last minute speaking engagements, behind schedule projects and more. Time marches on causing continual company changes, which in turn equates to continued improvisation on the job for leaders and team members.

 

Improvising tricks for Performers:

 

Be Grounded
You know those natural speakers that you admire, but think you could never be? They’re talented speakers because they’re true to themselves on stage. In order to react well on the spot in any given situation, one must be comfortable walking in their own shoes. Those people know their beliefs and stick to them. They understand their strengths and capitalize on them. This isn’t about trying to be like someone else; it’s understanding your own quarks and embracing them. Also, know you’re industry and be as up-to-date on changes as possible, which will keep you confident.

 

Plan to Improvise
Life is one big tangle of surprises. Having a schedule and planning is essential to functioning professionals. However, developing flexibility for the unexpected is crucial to success as well. As stated in the ChiefExecutive.net newsletter article Improvisation May be the Key to Successfully Managing Change, “sometimes you can anticipate change, and if you can’t do that, you plan to address that change in a flexible way.”

 

Keep pushing forward
If you’re drawing a blank, keep moving anyway. In networking and communication coaching, trainees learn to ask questions and keep the ball rolling. Don’t let “dead air” as they say in acting, fill the space. Even when faced with a last minute project, this rule applies. While it’s good to have a plan of attack, too much time spent planning will sap away performance time. Even in the planning stages, improvise by getting small tasks done.

 

Remain honest and humble
Mark Twain said “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.” Sometimes the key to pushing forward on the spot is learning to be honest. Imagine you’re a psychology professor who’s just been hit with a random question about a new theory. While the concept sounds familiar, it isn’t a subject you’ve spent much time on. Here is a potential response “Yes, I’ve heard all about that and am looking to learn more myself. Here’s what I’ve heard ______. What can you tell me?” You’ve responded honestly but also kept the ball rolling.

 

WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?, (from left): Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles, (Season 3), 1998-2006. © Warner Bros. Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Lighten Up
If you’ve read this far into the article, you’re probably someone who struggles with spontaneity. You may be thinking “this all sounds good on paper, but I freeze up when I’m on the spot. My mind seems to go blank under pressure.”  You’re not alone, but you can improve. This reaction is due to stress and confidence issues. Remember that life continues on and a dose of humor about things may be the medicine you need. Instead of dreading unexpected situations, think of them in a positive light. If you don’t know something right off the bat, you are being given an opportunity to grow and learn. Whatever happens, you will get through it just fine if you’ve got the right attitude.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Even if reading tips doesn’t quite give you the confidence to deal with everyday surprises, you can always seek assistance in learning to handle setbacks and growing as a professional. That being said, the advice above will give you a good start on improvement.