For nearly five decades the Not Ready for Prime Time Players have been taking viewers on a wild and crazy ride, much of which is fueled by the deft improvisational skills of the performers. To be a master at improv you’ve got to think on your feet, keep your mind open and internalize a number of techniques for responding to whatever situations present themselves.
In recent years, business consultants and sales trainers have been applying improv’s underlying principles in a number of successful ways. When we take a look at the styles of top sales producers it’s easy to see these principles in action.
Waiting and Listening
All great improv rests on the ground of unbiased attention. Since you never know for sure what the other person will do or say, it’s essential to keep your mind open so you can respond skillfully and quickly as the conversation unfolds.
The trouble is that we’re often busy thinking of our next move, judging our performance, or commenting mentally on what’s being said. We can hardly stop thoughts from arising, but we can train ourselves to keep our attention where it really matters – on what’s happening in front of us – whether it’s in the room or on the phone.
People are always sending us signals, but we often miss them because we’re paying attention to something else — our own internal thoughts and moods. Improv pros train to let go of those preoccupations and open to the flow of immediate experience. These days we call that “being in the moment.”
When our thinking does not distract us, as soon as the other person picks up the phone we can sense their mood – and relate accordingly.
This principle represents the essence of improv — “go with the flow”. Great producers work this way all the time – contradictions and corrections disrupt the conversation, annoy and frustrate other participants and slow the exchange of ideas. Acceptance lubricates the conversation and keeps things fluid.
You don’t have to use the phrase, “Yes, and…” , but you want to maintain that accepting view. Responding positively in this way isn’t about being a solicitous ‘yes man.’ The idea is to consistently recognize, appreciate and acknowledge where the other person is coming from – then you can build on that and move the conversation in the direction you want.
Accept every offer
This idea builds on the “yes, and” principle, and opens the door to seeing more possibilities in any situation.
When a prospect says they’re “not interested right now,” they may be telling you that they might be interested at another time. Similarly, prospects’ seemingly negative comments about costs, timing, support, etc. can be regarded as invitations to explore different possibilities.
- “This safety program seems like it will take a long time to put in place” might be a request for a less time-consuming solution.
- “I don’t want to spend time reviewing our coverage situation so far in advance of the next renewal” offers the opportunity to reconnect at a later date.
- “I don’t really see the advantages of having you provide a competitive risk review” invites you to show the prospect why it really is worth their while.
In life as in improv, keeping an open mind, staying positive and seeing fresh possibilities instead of dead ends, allows insight and skillful responses to arise naturally. Top producers make this work for them constantly.