It’s a Funny Thing

Many rules for comedians’ improvisation also can be applied to training.

It’s probably occurred to you that the comedian’s art and the trainer’s art have a lot in common. Over the years, I’ve worked with Disney Institute and Disney University and their trainers a number of times. And on these trips, I take advantage of the opportunity to learn from them, as well.

One program, on the art of improvisation, was led by four talented comics from the Comedy Warehouse at Disney’s Pleasure Island. During the combination performance and class, the comics shared with us their rules for improv. As they revealed each rule, they led us through a piece of improv that continuously included audience members.

I was struck by how well their rules apply to training—especially training that involves coleading with one or more other trainers. Here are some of the comedians’ rules:

  • Trust. You must assume that you can depend upon the people with whom you work—to do their part, to support you, and not to lead you down a blind path and leave you there.
  • Give and take. No one is the star. We share the stage and work to ensure that everyone gets “air time.”
  • Say, “Yes and …” Never contradict your partner or anyone else. Acknowledge what they say. If you wish to take it in another direction, say, “Yes, and…” rather than “No, but…”
  • Accept “gifts.” Your partner or the audience may offer thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. Accept these as gifts—a happy opportunity to do something new and different, to go somewhere you hadn’t planned.
  • Be “in the moment.” Don’t be so wrapped up in the plan or in how you’ve handled things in the past that you can’t take new things unfolding on the spot and work with them for a better result than you’ve ever achieved before.
  • Use the “top of your Intelligence.” It’s easy in improv to go for the cheap or tawdry laugh, to be off-color or risqué. Don’t. Take the high road. Help people enjoy themselves and laugh on a higher plane. It may take some digging and thinking on your feet. The results are worth it. This is equally true for the trainer. We’ve all seen the trainer who is willing to get a laugh at someone’s expense. And I have found myself guilty of making a comment, not to advance learning, but to simply get a laugh.

Just think of the freshness we can bring to our own presentations if we are willing to take things as they come, rather than reciting a scripted performance. What it means is that you and I must teach from prepared lives, as well as prepared lessons. When we have mastered our content, it means we can focus simply on the best processes for delivering that content.

My goal whenever I design a program is to have not just one way to deliver each “chunk” of content, but two and then later three so that I always keep the program fresh for myself and for my participants. It also provides me with the flexibility to “in the moment” deliver something in a different way based on the response and needs of my audience. That’s something we all can do—if we have mastered the content.

I’m on my way to a session right now—and I look forward to today’s opportunity to improvise!

Until next time—continue to add value and make a difference!

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAE-Speakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.