Improv Rules for the Workplace. #INBOUND13


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improv principles for getting over the fear that stands in the way of brilliant content for inbound marketing

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  • I spent a few years taking classes from Amy Poehler et al at the Upright Citizens Brigade, which led to freelance writing/acting gigs on SNL, Conan O’Brien and The Onion. BUT, I was only seconds away from walking out of my very first class because I was terrified of looking foolish when I had to sing on stage.
  • The Harold. A long form improv format where a troupe performs a nine act show based on a single audience suggestion. The first few times you walk onto the stage with absolutely nothing, it’s scary. After you learn a few basic improv principles that enable the team to create an authentic supportive and judgment-free environment, it becomes pretty easy to create brilliant show from nothing.
  • The corporate world is another place where fear can crush creative ideas. In this environment, fear holds people back from risk-taking. It can breed mediocrity and complexity. This is evident in most PowerPoint decks. Instead of telling a simple, compelling story that will move our audience emotionally, we often play it safe and toss in every slide we have. See
  • The law of corporate physics. Inverse correlation with the number of slides in your deck and pretty much anything that’s positive
  • The most important principle is agreement, and moving the conversation forward. Making a positive contribution. It nurtures a trusting, supportive environment. This is not always the case in the corporate world.
  • There are some folks who will put their career advancement ahead of creating good content for the company. That spirit can stop the collaboration in a committee meeting, and make them become more about reducing risk, taking credit or placing blame. Even one person like this can shut down the productivity of the meeting
  • If this is the case, consider meeting with each person individually. Be transparent about it. You’ll avoid group think, and people will feel free to share bold ideas without the threat of being ridiculed.
  • Anotherimprov principle is “support your partner.” If you find yourself in a confrontational relationship at work, take the time to learn how “your partner” is measured on success. Think of a way that your work can help him or her be successful. It will transform an adversary into an ally.
  • For the first YouTube comedy I wrote at IBM, I pitched it only to one VP who had influence and appreciated new ideas. I knew the script would never make it through the committee, so we did it outside of the committee. When it was finished, we worked it through the approval process. It earned press in Slate, Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and was a “Staff Favorite” in Comedy Central’s “Test Pilot” contest. However, if we had 71 marketing people offering edits, that likely wouldn’t have happened.
  • PBS Studios launched in 2012. GM Jason Seikenencouraged bold risks taking by adding a “failure” metric to the employees performance review. He made it safe to fail.
  • And the first year results were unprecedented.
  • How Stephen King’s failure of his 3rd novel led to The Shining.
  • Another UCB founder, Ali Farahnakian, opened The People’s Improv Theater (PIT). It’s a wonderful, encouraging place to perform. Del Close, the father of long-form improv, told his students that when they are responding, several options will pop into their mind in a split second, and one option will scare the heck out of them. THAT path to run down! Ali painted Del’s sermon so that improvisers would always see it on stage.
  • In content marketing and social media, Fear often keeps us from producing compelling stories, and temps us to repeat the marketing message in every video we produce. If we force a call-to-action in everything we create, our audience will leave. That is the antithesis of Inbound Marketing.
  • We produced a documentary that didn’t mention Cisco at all, or any of our products. It only told stories about the invention of the telecom network, and how it changes people’s lives. It was broadcasts on Shorts TV over 30 times, and is an official 2013 Webby Honoree.
  • Improv Rules for the Workplace. #INBOUND13

    1. 1. IMPROV RULES FOR THE WORKPLACE Tim Washer @timwasher
    2. 2. Knowledge of Topic PPTslides @timwasher
    3. 3. 1 YES, AND…
    4. 4. #1 barrier to creative teamwork? Q:
    5. 5. #1 barrier to creative teamwork? Q: Committee MeetingA:
    6. 6. The 1 on 1 “Yes, And…”
    7. 7. The Preemptive “Yes, And…”
    8. 8. “How can I help my partner be successful?”
    9. 9.
    11. 11. #1 TV network site #1 kids video site 15 YouTube series 7 Webbies Views/Mo: 2M to
    12. 12.
    13. 13. 3 FOLLOW THE FEAR
    14. 14. @thePIT
    15. 15. Story trumps messaging
    16. 16. Documentary
    17. 17.