What can you do as a leader and manager if your meetings or workshops lack the sparkle they need? For some reason, it just doesn’t happen the way you want, and your participants are stifling yawns, getting bored and restless.

Was it The Stranglers who said, “Something had better change”?

Well you can take a couple of simple steps to make a difference.

Step one: Give everyone the opportunity to speak in the first few minutes of your meeting. That keeps them on their toes, as they are invited to make a contribution and all eyes are on them. And it will focus them on the topic of the event, as you ask them what they want from the session, or what their first thoughts may be about the issue at hand.

You are using the improvisation principle of ‘Here and Now’, getting people present and making it less likely that they continue thinking of whatever was on their mind from their previous engagement or what they may be looking forward to for dinner. The research shows that if they speak early in a meeting, they are more likely to speak again later – which is good news, as presumably you don’t want a round table of deadly silence.

Once everyone has spoken, your next step can be to keep the sense of alertness by bringing in another improvisation technique, called ‘Yes… And..’. This is the classic technique that improvisers on stage use to build a scene with their fellow players. The basic idea is to accept what is offered (‘Yes’), then to add something to it (‘And’). In your meeting, try inviting people to build on one another’s contributions, by asking questions along the lines of ‘Who has something that builds on that?’ or ‘What are the main merits of that idea?’

I’ve been teaching these skills to facilitators and leaders for several years, most recently in the new Improvisation Academy, working alongside The Comedy Store Players. Now you don’t have to be as entertaining as Paul Merton or Josie Lawrence to keep a meeting lively, but you can certainly use your own on-your-feet skills to respond to colleagues, keep up the pace and purpose of your workshops, and transform the communication patterns of any session.

Paul Z Jackson is a workshop leader, coach and trainer of trainers and facilitators (http://www.impro.org.uk). Co-founder and President of the Applied Improvisation Network (http://www.appliedimprov.com), he draws on his experiences in journalism, comedy production and the BBC.
Together with The Comedy Store Players, Paul has founded the Improvisation Academy (http://www.improvisationacademy.co.uk) which aims to develop and promote improvisation in the UK and beyond. The skills and principles of improvisation build life skills,such as confidence and creativity, enhance teamwork and innovation and foster communications in organisations and communities. A graduate of Oxford University, he is co-author of the ground-breaking book, The Solutions Focus – Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE, rated as one of the Top 30 business books of the year in the USA and the new study guide Positively Speaking – the art of constructive conversations with a solutions focus. His other books include Impro Learning, 58½ Ways To Improvise In Training and The Inspirational Trainer.