The Improv Is No Joke Podcast

Welcome to the Improv Is No Joke podcast hosted by Peter Margaritis, AKA The Accidental Accountant and author of the book 'Improve Is No Joke, Using Improvization to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life'. This podcast series is also available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Brain Science Tips to Engage Any Audience

Attracting — and retaining — an audience when you’re a speaker can be a challenge. People get distracted by phones, sometimes aren’t interested in your topic, or, worst of all, you feel like they don’t like you.

But there are pieces of brain science speakers can use to get the most of their time in front of an audience.

Dr. John Molidor, a professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University and past president of the National Speakers Association board of directors, visited the “Change Your Mindset” podcast. And he was full of brain-science tips for speakers to incorporate into their presentations:

Mix story and emotion with data and facts

We’ve heard plenty about “left-sided” and “right-sided” brains (brains that are more analytical and data-driven vs brains that are more emotion-driven). But as a speaker, you have to learn to touch both sides. Our brains crave an integration of both pieces.

Some presentations and keynotes are naturally more numbers-driven or more story-driven. But if you find yourself leaning too far to one side, try targeting the other side of the brain.

“Talk to both hemispheres,” John said. “Tell the story. Show the emotion. Give the data. Give the numbers. Both of them the brain processes, and it actually would like to have both.”

Be consistent

It may feel natural to want to switch up aspects of your presentation sometimes — font, headers, symbols. But our brains naturally gravitate towards patterns. Once the brain is able to find that comfort in a pattern, it’s better able to pay attention to other things (like your presentation). If there’s no consistency to your presentation or slide show elements, your brain is going to inherently be too distracted trying to find a pattern that it doesn’t retain the actual information as well.

Use an F-pattern on your slides

No, this has nothing to do with using salty language.

Eye pattern studies have shown the ways in which our eyes naturally move when looking at something new. So presenters could benefit from using that science. Typically, our eyes move in a pattern that looks like an F: up and down, then left over the top, and then in the middle. When creating slides for a presentation, it can be helpful to keep that pattern in mind and keep the important text higher up.

Incorporate brain breaks for your audience

Naps to increase learning potential? That’s just one brain tip John shared. To put it simply, the human brain is not meant to be a machine when it comes to retaining information. We have to give it a break every now and then if we want it to actually perform optimally. One of the best ways to help your brain learn something, John says, is to give it time to rest directly after.

Of course, you don’t want your audience napping during your presentation. But you can still incorporate pre-planned breaks into your time on stage.

Cater to the brain’s need for visual elements

Use pictures to break up all the text you want to get across. “The visual cortex in the back of your brain is a huge amount of real estate,” John says — so take advantage of it.

“Death by bullet points” is not the way to go: So be sure to include pictures that will help illustrate all your main points.

Eliminate unnecessary words

Did you know that your brain sometimes naturally fills in words and letters that are missing? Even if two letters of a word are switched, your brain will naturally unscramble the letters and read the word as the correct word (like if “please” was spelled “plaese,” your brain would still read the word the same).

So how to translate that knowledge as a speaker? Take out unnecessary words — your presentation doesn’t need every “a” or “an.” John has even been experimenting himself with taking some verbs out, in an effort to pull audience members in and have them actively participating in the presentation.

Remember that your audience’s brains need oxygen

Much like the human brain needs frequent breaks to keep up its productivity, it also needs oxygen. John incorporates “fact or crap” sessions, where he invites audience members to yell out whether they think a particular sentence is true or not. Telling a joke (laughter brings in oxygen) also works, or encouraging everyone to get up and stretch.

Get out of your own head

This tip is the simplest at its core, yet often the hardest for speakers to do. If you focus in on the one person in the audience not paying attention — or not exhibiting overtly positive body language — instead of the 50 other people who are engaged, your brain will take notice. John equated this to your cells eavesdropping on what you’re sending your brain: “If you’re sending your brain sort of this negative information or positive information, your cells tend to pay attention to that,” he said, “which then can cause a chemical reaction.”

So staying out of your head (and all the worries and scenarios your brain has cooked up) will help in any speaking scenario. A particularly helpful mantra to remember is the one John uses before his speaking engagements: “I will tell myself all I can really do here is share what I know. That’s so much easier for me to go, ‘I’m just going to share,’ versus ‘I hope they like it,’ or ‘Are they getting it?’ or ‘Oh, you know I’m not getting the reaction I wanted.’ In the end, am I sharing it and am I doing it in a way that’s real? I’m not judging myself as I do it.”

To listen to the entire interview with Dr. John Molidor, you can click this link and download it from my website or you can download the episode on C-Suite Radio, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play. Just search Change Your Mindset with Peter Margaritis.

 

Facilitated Collaboration Key to Surviving the Evolving Corporate Landscape

 

Today’s business buzzword? Collaboration. But how do you do less talking about collaboration and more… well, collaboration?

“We think the secret sauce is that it should be facilitated,” said Eddie Turner, who joined me for the Change Your Mindset podcast. “Facilitated collaboration is what accelerates performance and drives impact.”

Eddie is a C-suite network advisor, international certified coach, a professional speaker, and President of the Association for Talent Development’s Houston chapter. In short, he knows facilitated collaboration better than most.

Facilitation can be the way through a myriad of issues: process mapping, conflict resolution, and strategy planning, to name a few.

The key to that facilitation? Having a dialogue — not a monologue — and asking engaging questions that allow leaders to come to their own conclusions, without being told what to think. Through that facilitated approach, where they’re being asked probing questions, leaders learn more. And now — with sweeping changes affecting nearly every industry in the world — is not the time to forget the importance of continued education.

“Some people never take a class after leaving a university. I know some people who don’t even pick up a book after leaving university,” Turner said. “So if we’re not continuing to educate ourselves, we’re leaving ourselves vulnerable to the disruption that technology will introduce.”

The best way to think about the constantly-changing landscape that requires constant education? Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.

To stay ready — no matter what changing industry you’re a part of — you could stand to benefit from facilitated collaboration.

Whether you’re lower on the totem pole and need to stay up on the latest trends, or you’re a leader looking to inspire the masses, you have to be facilitating. Because “collaboration” runs the risk of being just a word without facilitation.

And without facilitation? You risk being left behind.

“We need to be continuous learners,” Turner said, “scanning the horizon looking to see where we can improve ourselves as individuals and staying ahead of the curve.”

 

To listen to the entire interview with Eddie Turner, you can click this link and download it from my website or you can download the episode on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play. Just search Change Your Mindset with Peter Margaritis.

 

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 4: Ed Mendlowitz Show Notes

Ed Mendlowitz is a long-time CPA and a partner of prestigious Withum Smith+Brown. He’s also a member of many CPA societies and has taught financial and accounting courses for 11 years. He’s a firm believer in CPE and uses his CPE training opportunities to network with other CPA’s from around the world. He’s full of wisdom and insights and he shares many great nuggets with us today. If you would like to listen to the entire episode, you can click here, or you can download the episode on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play.

Ed considers himself the last of the “expert generalists.” He started his firm a long time ago and the only way he could grow was to never say “no” and to do anything that came his way. He grew his first practice from two people to fifty before finally merging with WSB years ago.

WSB does something that many other accounting firms don’t do; they create unique, fun and fresh videos that they use to promote their brand on the Withum1 YouTube page. The videos started as a way to chronicle their yearly ‘state of the firm’ meetings and to excite the staff. This has also had an added benefit of being a recruiting tool for new talent just emerging from their accounting education.

WSB does a lot to wine and dine great prospective employees, just like how many companies wine and dine prospective clients. Where many companies fall short though, is they start by doing anything they can to land the client, then once they’re on board, they eventually forget about these existing clients.

“If they paid attention to existing clients with the same effort and interest that they do to get a new client, they’d get a lot more business from existing clients and the firm would grow and their clients would do all their recommending and referrals for them.”

Through his love of CPE, Ed attains over 100 credits per year. Most of this is through going to LIVE CPE events. He prefers these over online CPE because of the human interactions that come from these events. He meets about 40-50 new people at each event, often times inviting the lone person to join him for lunch or dinner. His networking skills have earned him referrals from all over the world.

Personal connections have always been a part of Ed’s business, but many other accounting firms just don’t do a good job with it. They often think that doing the client’s taxes and meeting commitments is developing a relationship. It’s not. It’s when you reach out with a personal touch that really matters. When you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and say “hi.” This creates availability and clients love when their CPA is available.

Ed recommends returning phone calls promptly, and if there’s a problem you need to let them know ASAP. You should precipitate phone calls with questions and suggestions for the client. These build your client relationship and will often lead to referrals. “The referrals you get from existing clients are the way you can tell if you’re doing a good job or not.”

Creating a comfortable environment for your employees is another relational aspect to accounting that every company needs to work on. Within committees or groups, create an atmosphere where people can spitball ideas that can turn into something great. “Bad ideas lead to good ideas, no ideas lead to nothing.” Innovation and crazy ideas have led to many successes in every aspect of life, so don’t miss out on this opportunity within your own company.

Ed truly delivered with some great nuggets of knowledge and insights into networking within the CPA community. You’ll hear from Ed again in the near future on the podcast, so stay tuned.

Are We Clear? Roger, Roger.

Watch any good screwball/slap-stick comedy and confusion is most likely at the heart of the plot.  Take the classic film, “What’s Up Doc” – based on an even older comedic film, Bringing Up Baby – where a socially inept, yet intelligent, man encounters a strange woman who has devoted her life to confusing and embarrassing him and everyone around them.  After a number of ridiculous events, the entire cast of characters ends up in front of a judge where they try to explain the mess of events.  Watch the hilarious scene here.

Or take this absurd exchange from the movie, Airplane:

Flight Control: Flight 209 you’re clear for takeoff.

Clarence Oveur: Roger.

Roger Murdock: Huh?

FC: LA departure frequency 123.9.

Clarence Oveur: Roger.

Roger Murdock: Huh?

Victor Basta: Request vector, over.

Clarence Oveur: What?

FC: Flight 209 clear for vector 324.

Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.

Clarence Oveur: Roger, Roger, what’s our vector, victor?

FC: Now we’re in radio clearance, over.

Clarence Oveur: That’s Clarence Oveur, over.

Victor Basta: Roger.

Roger Murdock: Huh?

FC: Roger, over.

Clarence Oveur: What?

Roger Murdock: Huh?

Victor Basta: Who?

All of these films portray some of the greatest comedic sequences based around confusion.  And while it’s definitely exaggerated, this overwhelming feeling of frustration felt by the characters is not an uncommon feeling in the workplace.

There’s an activity I engage my audiences in that demonstrates this concept. I start by asking everyone in my audience to pull out a blank sheet of paper.  I tell them that they are to listen carefully and follow my instructions to the “T.”  However, they cannot ask any questions. “Fold the paper in half,” I say, and I give them a moment to comply. Then: “Tear off the bottom right corner. Fold the paper in half again. Tear off the bottom right corner. Fold it in half one more time, and this time chew off the bottom left corner.”

At that point, I ask everyone to unfold their sheet of paper, and I walk around the room examining them. Whether I have a crowd of 20 or 100, I rarely find any two alike. Like real snowflakes, each is unique.

“Help me understand something,” I’ll ask. “I gave you instructions for each step. So why isn’t every snowflake exactly the same?”

They couldn’t possibly be the same, my directions were general and not specific enough – I didn’t explain which direction to fold or how much to tear off or how big a bite to chew, so those “directions” were up for interpretation.

This is such a common experience in the workplace.  Perhaps you’ve had employees that have done something that bore little resemblance to what you expected. What they heard wasn’t what you had requested—and that might well have been because you didn’t take the extra minute or two to give them detailed instructions and make sure they completely understood. You didn’t explain yourself, and you didn’t let them question you.

Confusion is often the result of a lack of clear direction.  This can leave everyone involved feeling frustrated or upset – with the employees not understanding what they did wrong. Stress levels increase. You wonder whether the employees have a clue, and the employees see you as ineffective. Office morale plummets.

That’s the root of a lot of workplace tension – it happens all the time. Poor communication leads to increased stress. It comes from not understanding what someone is saying, from not knowing what they want, and from not giving sufficient directions.

The solution?  Better communication.  How?

  • Make sure everyone is using the same terminology and understands what those terms really mean.  Cut out buzzwords that don’t clearly state what you really want to say.
  • Have an open rapport with your employees where people are comfortable asking questions and making comments about projects.
  • Do your best to practice the listening skills that I’ve touched on before here.  Doing so will allow you to not only respond to your team’s concerns and questions, but you’ll be able to listen by seeing through their body language whether they’re confident or confused.

Being an effective professional takes effective communication skills.  Learn more tips by visiting www.improvisnojoke.com where you can download a free chapter of my book, Improv is No Joke.

Book Review: Look: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Observational Skills

Reading is one of the ways I expand my understanding, increase my knowledge and, frankly, relax. So when an author I admire releases a new book, I usually get it right away. James H. GIlmore is one of those writers.  I had previously read his book The Experience Economy, and I liked his writing style and the content of his book, so I ordered Look: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Observational Skills, his latest book. It’s a great read and, I think, very useful.

Based on the title, I hoped this book would offer tools to help increase my observational skills, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As an improviser and a humorist, I know the more I heighten my observational skills the more adaptable and funnier I can become.  There is so much in front of all of us that we don’t observe because we are going a thousand miles an hour – days filled with meetings, deadlines, conference calls, problem-solving, kids, family, Facebook. The list keeps getting longer.

This book is inspired by Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” method but Gilmore uses the metaphor of “six looking glasses,” and each looking glass represents a particular skill.  The six looking glasses are: binoculars, bifocals, magnifying glass, microscope, rose-colored glasses, and blindfold.  Here is a summary of each, as laid out in the book:

  • Binoculars are used to look across and survey at a distance. Use when visiting someplace for the first time, when entering or exiting any place, when feeling crowded or overwhelmed with details.  
  • Bifocals are used to alternatingly look between two contrasting views or directions. Use when you are familiar with some place or thing, when everything seems the same (in the moment), when everything seems the same (as before) or when you are bored.
  • Magnifying glasses are used to look closely at one main spot. You can use when in a hurry, when overwhelmed with details, or when you know what you want to find but can’t
  • Microscopes are used to look around for more and greater details. Use when fascinated by something, when baffled by something, when faced with some difficulty or when there is time to kill.
  • Rose-colored glasses are used to look at something better than it actually is. Use when all goes awry, when nothing seems positive, when some place or thing is not to your taste, or when interrupted, disturbed, or offended.  
  • Blindfolds are used to look back and recall. Use when transitioning from one place to another, after completing some task, at the end of any visit, at the end of the day or the start of a day.

Throughout the book, there are different exercises to help you understand the proper way to wear these glasses and when to switch to a different pair.  By wearing these different glasses, I could slow down a bit and see more clearly.  You can wear one set of glasses or even all of them to analyze any situation.

If I were to put on a blindfold now and look back at what I read, I would see that there is clear congruence between improving your observational skills and my book, Improv Is No Joke: Using Improvisation to Create Positive Results in Leadership and in Life.  The six glasses method is in alignment with the improv principles of listening and focus.  Listening to understand and being present at the moment allow us to decide which pair of glasses we should use to bring to assess the situation and develop a strategy to handle it based on what we hear, say and see.