Improve Bad Conversations With Improv

Improv can minimize bad conversations

Bad conversations cost businesses untold dollars every year—how much are they costing you? How much of the verbalization in your last meeting was actually beneficial to the cause? Seventy percent?  Sixty percent? Lower? The odds are if you actually timed it, the number would be startling. (You could appropriate this website for your purposes and give it a whirl next meeting.)

The result of these bad conversations are stone walls, hurdles and no’s that make communications take forever.  Worse, they don’t lead to useful conclusions. Unfortunately, many of the culprits don’t even realize the effect that they’re having. Instead of working Yes, And that could move things to the next step, they throw out the stop-strips and slow things to a crawl. Here are some of the major offenders.

Real-time Fact Checker – This person stops every conversation to re-assert, “actually” that they know more or better than whoever is talking, usually interjecting a point that is not critical to the conversation. Example: Oscar from The Office.

Aggressive Agreer – What’s the problem, they agree, right? Wrong. This person one that agrees with what was said, but has to add their own, unnecessary point, becoming almost contrarians while agreeing. Example, you say. “The sky is blue.”They say, “It’s not as blue as it used to be.” That’s not the point.

Swirler Twirler – What if … this person could make up their mind? Your meeting would be a lot shorter and move from one point to another. The swirler twirler continuously restates opposing viewpoints “to make sure we covered all of the bases.” We did. And we did it again. And again.

HEAR WHAT I SAY!! – Bring the oxygen tanks because this person is going to use all of the air in the room and you’re going to know it. How? They’re never going to cede the floor. They’re going to talk until the time is up.

Say It Again, Sam – This person waits until the meeting has reached a conclusion, then restarts the meeting by repeating what was said previously as their own thoughts. Step, by step.

Silent Denier – Think that person that hasn’t added anything to the meeting isn’t listening? Wrong. They’re waiting until the meeting is over so that they can tell everyone privately how they disagree with everything that has transpired. But they’re not going to speak now.

Teach An Old ____________ New Tricks

But there’s hope. Improv techniques can shake these aspiring conversationalist into patterns that move things forward. How? It starts with “Yes, And.” Like any change in human behavior,  becoming aware of what is verbalized and what the intended audience hears and experiences is the first step. The exercises that are the basis for improv bring these out in a natural and non-threatening way with guidance from seasoned practitioners.

The results are that conversations continue to a conclusion quickly. This can enable groups to explore more ideas and discover if they’re viable or doomed to failure. By allowing for multiple iterations, organizations find the agility and transparency that are the keys to success.

Improv Exercises In Practice

Here are some examples of how improv exercises could Yes, And the bad conversationalist above into a more aware and others’ focused state.

The Real-time Fact Checker –  Exercise: Take that Back

Aggressive Agreer -Exercise: Follow the Follower

Swirler-Twirler –Exercise: String of Pearls

HEAR WHAT I SAY!! –  Exercise: Word at a Time Story

Say It Again, Sam – Exercise: Last Word Response

Silent Denier – Exercise: Thank You Statues

You can find instructions to these exercises as well as more examples and case studies in the excellent book, ” Yes, And” by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton.

How to Be Visible When You’re Working Virtually


Working virtually has a number of advantages for both the company and the employee, the first and most important creating more engaged workers. But it’s not without its challenges for both sides. 

Remote offices have perks, but require diligence to maintain visibility.

For the Virtual worker in a remote office, a lack of facetime can mean out of sight, out of mind. And that’s not good for a career. Here are some tips on how remote workers can ensure their lack of an physical presence doesn’t make them invisible.

1. Jump In, Ease Out: Remote workers skip the commute and parking hassles. That means they can often be ready and focused to work earlier then office-bound colleagues and finish up details later without stressing to beat rush hour.
Action: Log in early with relevant questions or responses to start the day. Or share something interesting that you’ve found that might inspire someone else. Use the ending part of the day to plan your next day’s activities.

2. Maximize Focused Time: Most remote job roles require blocks of times that are uninterrupted by needless meetings, office chatter, and other interruptions. Diligent remote workers can tackle set time to delve into deep problems and ask for input when they need it.
Action: Use your calendar to block time appropriately, with visibility for the rest of the team, but ensure that you’re not excluded from necessary meetings.

3. Use the Technology: Many offices struggle to know what anyone is doing on a daily basis when colleagues are in the office. When associates are out of the office, it’s even worse. Don’t leave it in doubt or to chance.
Action: Communicate through channels the team uses, and acknowledge even the less important conversations that inevitably happen. Even though avoiding the extraneous chatter is one of the benefits of working remote, don’t ignore it completely. Participating keeps you present and in the loop office loop.

4. Set the Agenda: Just because you’re not on site doesn’t mean that you don’t have goals and things to accomplish. But you have to tell them. Being remote doesn’t mean that you can’t meet—the best companies do it and you can too. There’s a variety of technologies available that make meeting anywhere possible.
Action: Create the meeting, invite the team, and run the agenda. Being remote is not an excuse to not be proactive. Be diligent with recording what transpires so that you can refer to it later.

5. Nurture Personal Connections: All work is personal, and in many ways being remote enables even stronger connections. Communication can occur at a variety of paces that fit any number of parties and their time frames.
Action: Again, use technology to stay in touch with current and past colleagues. Sharing useful or interesting items will help you stay engaged and the lucky recipients as well.

6. Be Present: When you’re in meetings virtually, contribute. That’s why you were invited. It’s not enough to log in, put the microphone on mute and carry on as if you’re not there.
Action: Plan for the meeting, have questions, and actively listen. Take notes. Follow up afterward to make sure action items are clear. In other words, treat it like a meeting on site, because the remote you is “on your site.” It’s also a great idea to check-in and ask how you can help when you have openings on your calendar.

7. Facetime: When you do have a face-to-face meeting or are on site maximize your time to make an impression and build your value.
Action: Make a list of what you’re working on, what’s going well and where you could use assistance or feedback. Schedule quick meetings—even just coffee—in accordance with your needs. Need approval? Schedule the higher-ups first. Need validation? Check-in with your peers.

A Virtual World of Opportunity

Working remote allows employers to hire the best talent wherever they are and workers to contribute in ways they never imagined. It has proven to lead to great business results and improved work-life balance. It takes diligence and dedication to make it worthwhile for both parties, with a lot of it falling on the remote worker to make sure that they and their contributions are seen.


Mobile First? Not So Fast—Consider the Journey

While there are good reasons to make mobile a priority—from the 50% increase in travel-related searches on mobile to improved search rankings to controlling design costs—the perception that everything is mobile or mobile only, is misleading. In fact, what’s more common is using multiple devices during the day and for adults to choose the best device based on their objective.

The previous is an excerpt from a blog post first published on Nov. 7, 2017 on  Wilson Advertising, Mobile First? Not so Fast—Consider the Journey.

Drive Increased Visibility with You-Directed User-Generated Content

Your future marketing opportunity is right in front of you: your current visitors. They are interacting with your brand and impacting future visits. Almost half of all US travelers are inspired and influenced by travel pictures that are posted by their friends (i.e., the people here right now.) See how you can help your destination marketing with travel pictures from your visitors.

This excerpt is from a blog post first published on Wilson Advertising on Oct. 12, 2017, Drive Increased Visibility with You-Directed User-Generated Content.

Marketing Treads

Content marketing can be hard work. Creating content and moving an audience from one point to another can be a big lift and take a lot of power. But many organizations make it more difficult for themselves than they have to because they don’t realize one simple fact: you can’t reach your entire audience at one single time because they aren’t all in the same place at the same time. By that I mean, different members of your audience are at different points in their journey.
Embed from Getty Images

Instead of picking a starting point and away running toward the finish and away from your new, yet to be, audience, think of your content as the treads on a bulldozer. You’ll introduce your first piece, then the next, then the next and so on as move across the ground picking up new audience members as you go. Eventually you’ll pick up the piece, clean it off, give it a once over, and put it back to the work of pickup new audiences. At the end, if things go right, you’ll have moved a large audience towards your end.

What that means for your content is that a large portion of your potential audience are just that—potential. They need that ‘evergreen’ introductory piece or series that you were sick of last year to start them off. Once you’ve established an audience, be sure to provide that segment with new and fresh content. But don’t be mislead into thinking that everyone has seen your content at the same time. That’s not possible.

Done VS Perfect

The “perfect cast” when fly-fishing is something anglers strive for, talk up, and brag about for years. But there’s two things to note here.

The first is that thinking, seeing, and planning the perfect cast does not matter in the least until it’s executed. That’s when you’ll know if you actually completed a perfect cast, or what you intended at least.

The second is what we think is the perfect cast often doesn’t result in a strike. You might have thought it was a perfect cast, but the fish (your audience) disagree. Can it really be a perfect cast if it doesn’t produce a fish? Conversely, lots of fish are caught on less than perfect casts. I’d even guess that describes most of them.

Sandberg in Masters of Scale podcast hit on the idea of done is better than perfect. When it’s done, you can see the results, get feedback, learn, and try again.

It’s been my experience that most fish are caught in the water. Get your line wet and the lure in the water. Then you’ll know what works, perfect or not.


The Importance of Peer Feedback (Even from the Boss)


Even Grammy Award winners need feedback. Everybody needs and craves feedback, whether you think it or they admit it, regardless of their accomplishments and success. This point was reminded to me when I recently went to see Grammy Award-winning John Legend (Stephens), from my hometown of Springfield, play a homecoming show in support of his brother Vaughn’s “be about it” foundation. It was a great show.

For an hour, it was just John and his piano. Halfway through the show, John told a story. A while ago, Jimmie Fallon had a Bruce Springsteen tribute week. The show called and wanted John to do a tribute. He thought it was a little out of the expected. Most people, including John, didn’t link “the Boss” and “John Legend” together. (I think John might underestimate himself – my Pandora app pairs him with Ray LaMontage and Griffin House (another Springfielder – he literally goes with anything. But I digress).

They came up with a dark and jazzy take on Bruce’s 80’s pop hit “Dancing in the Dark.” It gave the song a completely different feel. And it  was completely awesome.

John hoped that Bruce would like it.

The Roots, the audience all seemed to like it. But nothing from the “Boss.” Not a note. Not an email from one manager to another. Not a tweet. Nothing. John was concerned. He really wanted him to like it, or at least to know that he didn’t hate it.

A week went by. A month. Then a year. Then there was another tribute to Bruce. He was being recognized as the 2013 MusiCares Person of the Year. John received a letter signed by the Boss. He had heard the version and really liked it. In fact, he wanted John to perform it at the ceremony.

Even Grammy Award-winning artists need feedback. More than just the acknowledgement, that he liked it meant a lot to the artist. It didn’t take a lot of time. But it would have meant a lot to the artist to have had it much earlier. But the important thing was that eventually came.

When people do things for your or produce things that you enjoy, recognize their efforts. It will be good for them and for you. You might be the spark that helps them create more of what you enjoyed in the first place.

Here is John’s rendition of the Boss’ Dancing in the Dark.

This entry was posted in Creative Marketing, High Bar Marketing and tagged Bruce Springsteen, feedback, John Legend on March 20, 2014 by Devin Meister.

Growing a New Audience

grown an audience - like bamboo

About three years ago, my next door neighbor planted a pot (pot, singular) of bamboo in the corner where our yards adjoin. The plan was for the bamboo to serve as a border. It quickly did that. Little did we expect that the bamboo had an ulterior motive: to take over the United States, starting in the Midwest. More specifically, our back yard. It’s now moving west and will arrive in Chicago in the near future.

Growing a new unintended audience - like bamboo

One morning last spring one of my kids looked out the window and asked “who’s that strange lady in our backyard?” Turns out, it was not just a lady, but several ladies from the local Chinese restaurant. They were cutting bags full of young bamboo shoots. My mother tutors at the local literacy center and the ladies were her students. This gets us 15-25% off an all ready ridiculously cheap order and a friendly “How your mommy?” when I visit (which makes me wonder about my mom’s teaching skills).

a new audience arrives to pick bamboo

Through their conversation, it came up that I had bamboo growing in my backyard. Apparently outside of our backyard, it’s hard to find fresh bamboo in our area, for now. From what I can see the situation is quickly changing. But every day for a couple of weeks afterwards, there were varying numbers of local people of chinese descent cutting bamboo. Bags and bags of bamboo left, without making any appreciable visual difference.

So, while the bamboo was intended as barrier, it found a completely different alternative use with a completely different audience through my “network.” The same thing can happen for you and your content if you follow the same steps.

Young Bamboo Shoots

  1. Plant new unique and original content in places where it can thrive.
  2. Let it grow. Watch over it, but don’t get in it’s way.
  3. Tell your network about it. While you might think you know your audience, don’t limit your thinking or assume that somebody might not be interested.
  4. Share it. When people are interested, be gracious and share. And thank them. Even when they block you in your own driveway.

Making your product and content, you might have an intended purpose. Your audience, intended or not, might discover it and take it in a whole new direction. You can learn and grow with it.

This entry was posted in Content Marketing, High Bar Marketing on November 4, 2013 by Devin Meister.

Don’t Call Me Francis

“Stripes” movie image from:

Names stick. A classic scene from the movie Stripes is the introduction. One character introduces himself and says, “My name is Francis Soyer … but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill you.” After the rest of his rant, the drill sergeant quips, “Lighten up Francis.”

Anyone that has ever had a name or nickname that they didn’t like can relate. But whether you like it or not, name association can be powerful. That’s what Chrysler is experiencing with their truck line, and it doesn’t look like it is going to change anytime soon.

Read more about the challenges Chrysler and other top brands have faced in rebranding their companies and products here:


What Would the ‘Mad Men’ Say Now?


Every fan of Mad Men knows that the ’60s brought unprecedented transformation to the marketing world. 

Today, we’re experiencing a nearly identical marketing revolution driven by a plethora of maturing digital and social platforms, mobile, and changing habits.

The one thing that hasn’t changed for marketers is the need to grab the attention of the audience at the right time and place.

In 1965, Dennis Higgins interviewed five stalwarts of the marketing industry and compiled his findings in, The Art of Writing Advertising.  Check out  some excerpts that are relevant to the challenges marketers face today in the original post, Insights from the Real ‘Mad Men’, published Aug. 4, 2017 on