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As a speaker and facilitator, I need to be able to think on my feet. You just never know when a question or comment or situation will pop up out of the blue and require a speedy response. Some years ago, I took an Improv class for the purpose of honing that skill. And just recently, I took another one - at BATS Improv (Bay Area Theater Sports) in San Francisco – to refresh it. Not only was it a lot of fun and personally rewarding, it got me thinking. The principles of improv can benefit everyone. In business and in life.

And guess what? I’m apparently not the only one who thinks this! Some top tier business schools are now teaching improv classes in their MBA programs, including Duke, MIT, UCLA, and Stanford. A Fast Company article explained why:

“The underlying axiom is that curveballs don’t just happen on stage at improv classes; they also happen in the ever-changing business world. When you’re on stage, unsure of what will happen, and are forced to go along with whatever suggestion your fellow actors offer with a “yes, and…” response that means you’re always accepting–and building upon–whatever others are doing or saying as part of your own storyline. This kind of cooperation is said to inspire adaptability, which becomes a particularly useful skill to have in the current global business landscape.”

Here are some improv principles that we can all apply.

Yes, and… Saying “yes, and…” as opposed to “yes, but…” can make a big difference in one-on-one conversations, brainstorming sessions, performance reviews, talks with your teenager, self-talk, you name it. Think about it. When someone is speaking to you and says “but” in the middle of the sentence, do you remember anything before the “but”? No matter how sweetly the sentence begins, a “but” in the middle signals negative territory ahead.

Listen. In improv, listening effectively is essential. Other actors may be setting a scene or giving you characteristics (addressing you as “your highness” for example) that you’ll miss if you’re talking or not paying attention. Listen so you can respond appropriately. Same goes for meetings, relationships, etc.

Make your partner look good. Improv is a team sport. It’s not about upstaging others so you can shine. It’s about working together to create a scene that entertains the audience. Most of our work today is done in teams or in collaboration with another. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman

Embrace mistakes. One of the refreshing and fear-fighting things about being on stage in improv is that mistakes are OK. In fact, often it’s the mistakes that get the biggest laughs from the audience. You fall, you dust yourself off, and you keep going. Just as we need to in life.

Give it 100%. Improv is less about being a good actor and more about jumping 100% into whatever role or situation you’re given.  If you believe, the audience will believe. How much better would we all be if we gave 100% to every endeavor, every assignment, every relationship?

Do something. Here’s where the thinking-on-your-feet comes in. Someone knocks on the (imaginary) door, answer it. Someone throws you a line, respond to it. Think how this applies to life. Every day we have opportunities and possibilities. Don’t just stand there, do something!

Till next time,


Communication, Life, Personal development


Year of Possibilities: Let’s Check In

July 12th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

Earlier this year I declared 2017 the “Year of Possibilities” and I challenged you, dear readers, to keep your eyes, ears, and heart open for wonderful possibilities that might be in store. And if you’ll recall, I also challenged you to set a goal around a possibility that you wanted to turn into reality. By June 30, 2017.

So. June 30, 2017 has come and gone. How are we doing on that goal? Did you achieve it? Did you forget about it? Did another wonderful possibility you weren’t expecting overtake it?

If you forgot about it, I suggest that you set aside a couple of hours to think about something you want to achieve (a possibility that you want to turn into reality) and use this template to create an effective goal:

Step 1: Create a SMART Goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely.

Step 2: Create action steps to achieve the goal, each with a due date.

Step 3: Keep your goal visible. Write the goal and action steps down. Check your progress every day.

If you’ve allowed yourself to just be too busy to see possibilities, then let’s review what the Year of Possibilities is all about. And I encourage you to get on board. You’ll be so glad you did!

Do at least one thing this year that will stretch your being…your thinking…your heart…your soul… Think about it. What will that be?

Here are 5 tips to get you started.
1. Just DO IT already. How often have you said over the past few years – “I can’t do that now, it’s not the right time”? Well, if not now, when? Go on that vacation, learn a new language, or how to play an instrument (air guitar does not count). Read that book you’ve been meaning to read for years. Or just do nothing for an entire weekend!
2. Stop multi-tasking. How many studies do we need to read to be convinced that multi-tasking is nothing more than getting nothing done well? Besides, it is very disrespectful. And how are you going to see the possibilities if you are busy doing 3 things at once?
3. Pay attention to what’s around you. Do you ever get home from a day at the office and wonder, “how the heck did I get here?” Commuting can be stressful – by planes, trains or automobiles – and often we just tune out. Open your eyes and allow yourself to see things you miss when you’re just going through the motions.
4. Listen…really listen. What I’m talking about is listening to the signals all around you – what is this wonderful, crazy universe trying to tell you? I can promise you, it ain’t telling you to work more!
5. Dream Big. If you don’t dream for yourself, no one else will. You don’t want a “regret list,” you want a “possibility list.” Say what you want out loud. Tell your friends, family and partner. The more you say it, the more real it becomes.

Don’t let another day go by without embracing the possibilities!

Till next time, Karen

Goal setting, Life, Personal development, Possibilities