I expected Tina Fey’s Bossypants to be funny, and it is. Honestly, I don’t know when I’ve laughed out loud so often while reading a book. What I didn’t expect is that it would also be one of the best business books I’ve read in a long time. Bossypants is full of great stories about what Fey has discovered about collaborating with others and how she’s learned to manage people through trial and error. Of course the errors are the funny parts….
But what really jumped out at me were the Rules for Improvisation she lays out and how well they can be applied to so many things we do– especially how well they apply to presenting. Fey’s “Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat” include:
Agree and Say Yes, which she explains doesn’t just mean following blindly, but finding a way to keep an open mind:
Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a Yes and see where that takes you.
As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?
Yes, And, which tells you to find a way to contribute:
Always make sure that you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
Make Statements, which tells us to offer our own opinions and suggestions:
This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.”…. In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag.
There are no mistakes, only opportunities, which doesn’t mean that things can’t go wrong, but that it’s your job to make the best of the situation you find yourself in.
If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike…. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.
“Wait a second,” you may be telling yourself. “Presentations aren’t improvisational. There are topics, agendas, outlines, even scripts and visual aids involved in most of our presentations. That’s hardly improv!”
True. But there also has to be an improvisational element to any presentation you deliver. None of us are capable of anticipating everything that can happen and therefore every presenter must be capable of thinking on their feet. It would be crazy to keep trying to give your talk without changing gears if the projector dies or a major earthquake strikes. But it’s also misguided to keep giving the presentation you’ve planned if it’s obvious that it’s not going over well with your audience. As the presenter you need to keep an eye on your audience so you can gauge their reactions and, well, improvise.
Presentations, like life, require some flexibility.