self improvement

How to Use Improv to Network Like a Pro

I wrote an article for Improve It! Chicago recently! It's called How to Use Improv to Network Like a Pro. Go check it out here and read below! improv blog pic

There is a very small subset of people who get excited when they look at a meeting agenda and see the dreaded “Network and Cocktails” time slot. Before beginning improv, excited was the last word that came to mind when I thought about networking. My initial response was usually, “I hope I can find a group of people I know to go with” or “I hope something good is happening on Twitter so I can spend the next hour playing on my phone.” Neither of these options helps to make any new connections.

There is a better way to make it through a networking event, and a way that can actually lead to making some new friends or identifying business opportunities. What if networking events could actually be fun? Well, they can be if you embrace some of these general improv techniques that will help you get rid of the anxiety, make new friends, and most importantly, have FUN at your next event!

Enter the Networking Scene:

This is the hardest part, especially when you don’t know anyone at the event, or there is someone in particular you really want to meet. You need to make the first move. Start by engaging someone new with a statement or feeling that can take any direction. Improv is about joining a scene in a way that adds value; no one is going to cue you up for your entrance.

  • Point of View: By having a point of view, you add value to the conversation. Enter a conversation by making a statement that will allow you explore a subject. For example, I could enter a conversation and state
    • Me: “Wow, this guacamole is actually really good! It almost tastes fresh!
    • New friend: “I thought so too.”
    • Me: “I think the best guacamole I ever had was at a little taco place in San Diego called Oscars. Have you ever been to San Diego?”
    • New Friend: “I have! Actually I grew up in Orange County."
    • Me: “How cool! What was your favorite part about California?

Choose a Character to Play:

To be clear, you need to be yourself in order for the networking to be effective. But if you’re simply too uncomfortable to walk up to a group of people, or even a single individual, choose a character! Chose different (real) assets that you want to highlight about yourself to be your focus.

  • Body Language: When we take on a new character we also channel their unique and identifiable body language. For example, if I’m in a scene where I’m playing a sad old man, I’ll bow my head, shuffle my feet, and look at the ground. Note, this would NOT be a character I’d recommend embodying when trying to meet new people. Choose a character that is strong, friendly, and approachable! Think of yourself as a celebrity – someone that other people want to talk to and approach. Remember to smile, uncross your arms, and turn your body to face each new person. Remember, never turn your back to your audience!
  • Take on a Persona: Let’s say you’re an investment banker. Imagine instead, that you’re the “best investment banker in the Loop”. This might be true, but you need to bring that confidence and carry yourself like you ARE the “best investment banker in the Loop”. This confidence will create all types of new introductions!

Add Value with the Call Back:

Now that you’ve entered into a conversation, here is a great tip to take it even further. In improv, a “call back” is when a character refers to something funny that happened in a previous scene. In networking, a “call back” is anything that helps make a mutually beneficial connection for two people. It’s a great way to add value!

Let’s say you are speaking with someone whose specialty is digital marketing and they are in need of someone in graphic design to help with their website. Turns out, you were chatting with someone earlier at the event who is a graphic designer! This is a perfect opportunity for you to make an introduction. In the end, both will be grateful to you for making the “call back”, and perhaps they’ll return the favor!

Evoke Emotion:

If you aren’t able to add value with an immediate “call back,” another improv technique that will help fuel the conversation is to make statements that elicit an emotional reaction. Asking good questions can work in the same way if what you ask the other person allows them to respond passionately and with full emotion. For example, if the person you’re speaking with mentions they have kids, dig into that a bit! Chances are they will be delighted to talk about their kids!

Listen to Understand:

The most common question asked at networking events is “what do you do?” But how many times have you asked that question without actually listening to hear what the other person has said? Most of the time, you’re too busy planning on how you’re going to describe your answer when they ask you the same question.

In improv, there is a skill called listening to understand, rather than our innate habit of listening to respond. The next time someone tells you what he or she does, ask follow-up questions that show you are interested and give the other person an opportunity to share. For example:

  • Listen to Understand: “Wow, a microbiologist, how interesting! What part of your job is the most fun?”
  • Evoke Emotion: “Tell me about the moment you decided microbiology was a field you wanted to pursue.”
  • Listen to Understand & Evoke Emotion: “What is the most exciting project you are working on right now?”

Exit Stage Left

As you can see, networking can be made easier by embracing a few tried and true improv tactics. If you enter each conversation with purpose, add value by making connections, and truly listen to understand, you will be able to work a room like the best of ‘em! We guarantee that if you employ these techniques over time, you’ll gain confidence and see your network, and your business grow!

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chuckfeerick

Chuck Feerick is a graduate of the Second City Improv Program. He performs around Chicago with his Improv group, Roger Bob, as well as in other shows. Professionally, Chuck is a healthcare consultant as well as a certified personal trainer. You can find out more about him at his website or contact him on Twitter!

"Yes, and..." My Journey Into Imrprov - And Why You Should Do It

Moving to Chicago in the middle of a bitter winter makes the process of making new friends very difficult. Everyone is bundled head-to-toe until about March, and it seems no one really does any outdoor activities, such as softball or flag football. So with finding a cycling group or joining a rec sports league out of the question, I decided to start taking Improv classes at Second City. Second City is where a lot of names you may know started their careers, such as Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, or Stephen Colbert. It is a cool feeling knowing that I was taking classes at the same place so many of these successful actors and comedians had. Second City offers a plethora of classes, but Improv (improvisational comedy) was the one I knew would give me the best chance to really connect with my classmates and make new friends. Plus, I didn’t really have any interest in taking a sketch writing class or a voice-over class, as cool as that would be someday.

So over the past 10 months, I’ve taken levels A-E at Second City. Each level added a new element to the craft, for example in Level A it’s all about learning to “yes, and…” and support your classmates. In Level C, we worked a lot on character development, and in Level E you really work on bringing it all together and learning your style. What hooked me were my first couple classes; for the first time in what felt like forever, I was able to be out of my own head, mindful, and fully present to the environment I was in. When you’re forced to remember a bunch of new names, throw multiple objects in a specified pattern, and remember everyone’s favorite hobby all at the same time, there leaves no room to think about the minutia that take up so much of our brain space.

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A few of us got together in Level C and opened for a late night show at one of Second City’s stages. Once I got the chance to perform and make an audience laugh, I was hooked.

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I had an amazing group that I went through the program with. While we lost a few and gained a few along the way, a core of us went all the way through Levels A – E and I’m now in a group that is going to start performing around the city!

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During Level D, I also auditioned for and got a part in a coached ensemble team. For 4 weeks, a group of 8 or 9 of us had a running performing on the Second City stage. We had a coach who gave us guidance and feedback and we were able to perform a mix of scenes based off a random idea we pulled from the audience.

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The essence of Improv is simple, but so much of it can be applied to everyday life. The main rule of Improv is always say, “Yes, and…” You never disagree or shoot someone’s idea down, instead, you accept their idea and build upon it.

For example, if someone enters a scene as yells “Ow, I broke my leg!”, instead of responding with “no you didn’t”, I would say instead, “Yes, and your crutches match your shirt perfectly!” Every scene requires energy and commitment and you are always looking to heighten in some fashion—How could I make this scene more fun? And remember, “If you’re not having fun, you’re an asshole.”

Here are a list of the benefits and lessons I’ve taken from Improv:

  • To learn to listen; hearing what my are my scene-mates are saying in order to understand and respond appropriately
  • To say “yes”—“Yes, and I will do this __________"
    • Never “yes, but” or “no"
  • To live in the moment
  • Don’t talk about getting ready to jump out of a plane, instead, have already jumped and then start the scene
  • Play with people who have your back
  • Make big choices
    • Make them often
    • Make them early
  • Take risks:
    • If you’re scared, look in your partners eyes and know they will support you
      • "I got your back"
    • Work with others and allow them to be in the spotlight with you
  • There’s nothing more unattractive than a selfish “actor"
    • The compelling actor is one who is going after what they want. But there are roadblocks or other actors trying to prevent the actor from getting what they want
    • They act on their wants and goals
  • Rather than being devil’s advocate, say instead “Yes, that’s an interesting idea and I have another!"
    • Don’t crush the energy that is moving the group forward
    • “Yes, and”, but without being a “Yes-man"
  • Mistakes are gifts—own them, don’t correct them but keep going, keep the flow and acknowledge it without apology
  • Heighten, Explore, Transform
  • Approach the scene with an attitude of “today’s the day!"
    • Be confident! Like a pilot walking through an airport
  • Can enter a scene as if the scene is already occurring
  • Don’t have a planned end
  • "Yes, and”—accept and build upon
  • Listen to understand, not to respond

Improv summed to one statement: “Yes, and…”, love, and have fun!

These lessons have helped me so much, not only do I think differently about approaching problems at work and with others, but also in every way that I interact with people on a day-to-day basis. I’m more inquisitive and try to find how I can connect with them so that we quickly form a better relationship. Actually listening to what people have to say shows them that you’re actually paying attention and care about them and not just biding time to say what you are thinking. And being able to think quickly and be witty is great… especially when talking to girls...

Now that I’ve finished the program, I’m exploring some options of what to do next. As I mentioned, I’m in a group with a coach who will be performing around the city. I’ve taken a few other classes (like Yes, Yes Y’all: An Improv Rap Workshop) and just finished class on Auditioning For The Screen. I finally got some headshots done (needed them my business life as well, so win-win) and am planning to take an acting class and start auditioning for more shows and creating some of my own stuff.

I’m lucky in that my approach is to try it all and see what sticks and find out what I love doing.

If you’ve never done Improv but it’s something you’ve thought about trying, or just want to have fun and meet some new people, I can’t recommend it enough!

And with that: Yes, and you are all amazing!

Life Lessons I learned From a Dog Named “Bolt”

Let’s be honest, I don’t usually watch a lot animated Disney movies. Oh wait, I said “let’s be honest”--Ok, so maybe I do (and don’t try to tell me Toy Story isn’t one of the greatest movies of all time.) But a few weeks ago, I was riding my bike on the trainer in my apartment looking for something to watch.  For the most part, I have the TV on, but I don’t really watch it, as I’m rocking out to some Seether or 2000’s rap, like some old school Nelly. Since ESPN was showing women’s basketball, I was looking for something to watch while I rode. Disney channel was showing the movie Bolt, which I’d heard of, so I figured I’d watch. Plus, I had my jams on and was watching with subtitles, so I didn’t have to listen to John Travolta’s voice come out of a dog’s mouth anyway. The plot is about a small white dog named Bolt who, having spent his entire life on the set of a television series, thinks that he has super powers. Under the false pretense of the TV studio, he believes that his human, Penny, has been kidnapped, he sets out on a cross-country journey to "rescue" her.

Bolt

Halfway through the movie, this dog had me rapt (no, not rapped). Not only was the movie pretty good, there were some great life lessons that one can pull out of it, no matter who you are:

Believe in yourself, even when others don’t

Sometimes, if you tell people you can shoot lasers from your eyes or have a super-sonic bark, they won’t believe you--blasphemous, I know. But if I told you 6 months ago that I would be stronger now than I ever been in my life, you probably wouldn’t believe me either. Early in his adventure Bolt comes across a cat whom, convinced by a pack of conniving pigeons, he deems to be in plotting with an evildoer who stole his human.

The cat mocks Bolt and tell him that none of his powers are real. But the difference between us and Bolt? Bolt never doubt’s himself for a minute. He knows he has special powers (he doesn’t actually), and if he doesn’t believe in himself, who will? The first guy to break 4 minutes in the mile probably didn’t have anyone who believed he could do it, yet he did. Most people don’t think anyone will ever break 2 hours in a marathon, but there’s some crazy kid running around out there who thinks he can... And I guarantee they will.

Even if you want to do something unfathomable, never begin to doubt yourself--if you do, then you’ll never even try.

Always protect and be there for the ones you love

When Bolt’s person gets taken away from him, he has one mission--save her. He never once thinks about where he will sleep, when he will eat, if it will be dangerous, or if he could get hurt. All Bolt knows is that someone he loves needs his help and he’ll risk life and limb to save her.

As I’m writing, I can’t think of any stipulations for this rule. No “but” or “except when”, nothing. If you love someone, be there.

Turn your enemies into friends

Tricked by a flock of conniving pigeons, Bolt is sure that the cat he encounters knows where Penny has been taken and how is responsible (another lesson--stay away from haters).  His initial response is to hurl the cat headlong into rush hour traffic on the highway from the edge of a bridge. But he doesn’t.  Bolt recognizes that the cat may prove useful in his journey and he takes the cat along with him on his mission.

Bolt and the "evil" Cat

You won’t get along with everyone.  You should try, but it just won’t always be the case (caveat--PLEASE don’t hate on people for trivial things like how they look or how they workout.  We’re not a bunch high school girls here). But I am not talking about the guy who parks across 2 parking spots, I mean your true competition.

Instead of resenting someone who vies for success in the same industry as you, try looking at them with curiosity--what do they do that has helped them be successful? Did someone get a promotion over you? What skills are on his or her resume and what work experience do they have that you don’t? Now, what are you going to do to ensure that the next time someone is being looked at for a promotion that you get it?

Lastly, as Bolt learns, sometimes our enemies are those who are most similar to us, and that’s what breeds the competition and dislike.  Set these aside for a minute and try to get to know. The things you couldn’t stand about a person might be what make for a great relationship.

Create your own luck

There’s a point where Bolt realizes that he doesn’t actually have any powers. On his journey, the cat is captured and Bolt has to make a covert rescue operation to bust her out. In doing so, he takes out an animal-catcher, thwarts a group of hungry canines, then proceeds to blow a gas station to smithereens.

But wasn’t he useless without his powers? The saying goes, “the harder you practice, the luckier you get.” Luck is relative. Sometimes the cards just fall right for you, but you have to be willing to play those cards in the right order.  Now this is just my opinion, but I believe our lives are filled with luck and opportunity. For me, I believe that comes from God, but wherever it comes from, the key is acting in that moment.  If a beautiful girl (or guy) walks into a coffee shop and you don’t introduce yourself, are you unlucky that you’re not dating anyone? If you don’t lift weights heavy and push yourself to get better, are you unlucky that you can’t build muscle?

Hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle hard (closed mouths don’t get fed on this boulevard)

Bolt didn’t sit around and wait for someone else to bring him to Penny. As soon as he saw the problem, it was game on, do work, solve the problem. What we can learn is that  you can’t wait on anyone else to make things happen for you and, like I said above, you’ve got to put in the work to expect good things to happen.

Additionally, find ways to be awesome and to not be like everyone else.

Hustle

Learn new skills

So learning how to eat and drink out of a bowl on the floor is not the most glamorous of skills to learn, but Bolt allowed the cat to teach him how to do so. The point? Another tool in his toolbox.  Right now, I am trying to learn to code websites.  Does my job require this? No, but someday it might, or someday I may want to build a site and I’ll have the skill to do so.  Not only that, but there are all the skills that come along with learning something new--like how to study and how to partition your time in order to have the hours you need to learn.

Learn everything you can.  C.S Lewis said “Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” (Mere Christianity, 88). If you don’t know about the other side, how can you actively choose to behave in a certain way?

Never stop learning, asking questions, and challenging what is already given. If you don’t ask questions, then you can’t grow.  I’ve always found this in my Faith. By asking questions, I am able to arrive at the deeper understandings behind the “whys” of what I believe.

Face your weaknesses

Be brave.  Bolt never backed down. As a superhero, the evildoers didn’t scare him, but even as he realized his mortality, he stayed true to his mission... and he succeeded.

Why don’t we like to confront our weaknesses? I can think of 2 reasons--the first is that we don’t like to revel in what we’re not good at. A good friend spent some time trying to teach me to juggle... And I’m awful at it.  Throw a football, drain 3-pointers, do fancy footwork on agility ladders, I’m golden... But juggle 3 little batons and I’m useless.  My sticking point is I don’t like failing. And I don’t like failing over and over. But if I really want to learn to juggle, and I’m going to have to fail, fail, and fail again... And maybe one day I will nail it!

The second reason, which stems from the first, is that it makes us uncomfortable. Everybody else in the gym squats more than you and runs faster? Its more comfortable to not go.  But if you ever want to run fast... You’ve got to run fast. If you ever want to squat 300 pounds, you’ve got to start moving some pretty uncomfortable weights in order to get there. The joy comes from being successful and eventually learning how to turn these weaknesses into strengths.

I hope you can relate to some of these lessons.  Tell me, what lessons have you found from surprising places?

N = 1

An experiment of one.  What works for one person may not work for another.  People are different and thus respond differently to different stimuli.  Some may be incredibly healthy on a vegan diet and some may thrive on a paleo style diet.  It’s all about what makes you look, feel, and perform better. So beginning last week, I have been seriously trying to be better about my eating plan the my nutritionist has helped me design.  Yes, Chuck, embracing eating a little more and seeing what my performance does.  Now, granted, I’ve only been doing this for about a week, and my sleep hasn’t been on point, but I have felt good, especially amid a big training week.  I have been focusing on workout recovery, even when it comes to the times when I know dinner will be coming soon after the workout, I am still eating.  And it’s good, because it always turns out the dinner never actually occurs soon after the workout, ha!  Why does it take me so long to prepare it every night?  Damn squash fries…

The  biggest changes are just working on being more consistent, even on lower volume days, knowing that I’ve created a deficit during the big days.  I’ve been reading a lot from some of the top pro athletes who have experimented with optimizing recovery and eating more, better, quality foods.  We’re not talking Snickers bars that I’m shoving down, but sweet potatoes, coconut milk and oil, grass-fed meat, chicken, etc…. even all natural, organic bacon! (Yes, me!)

As Robb Wolf says, “try it for 30 days” and if I don’t like it better, I can go back to the way I was before… but we all know that wasn’t getting me anywhere.  I’m RACING this weekend!!

And I’m determined to focus on eating appropriate calories during this race so that I perform optimally.  I usually just try and eat “just enough to get me through” so that I can “save up” calories for my post-race dinner.  This is moronic.  If I want to be great, I need to fuel that, plus that deficit is going to be so big all of it will be used (including that dinner) to fuel me and help me recover.

Speaking of previous race, I’m realizing that I’m good, but I’m not great.  I’m stuck maintain habits that have kept me “good” as well.  I have a world champion coach with 16 years of experience who is asking me to change a few things.  If I want to be great, wouldn’t listening make sense? Clearly, my way is adequate, but not ideal.  So embracing this, I am ready to move forward.

We had a great training day at Fort DeSoto this weekend and it was a lot of fun to just hang out and enjoy the beach afterward.  Can’t complain about having this in my backyard:

And speaking of good food—here were some delicious, however, not very appetizing (and I’ll admit to that) meals from the past weeks!

So I can’t wait for the half ironman Sunday!  Wish me luck!

  1. Have you made any big changes in your life lately?
  2. What’s your n=1 for 30 days?
  3. Anyone racing this week??