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.

Controlling Feelings of Anxiety

I’ve been constantly reminded of the need to understand our limits. As a diabetic, for example, I have to listen to what my body is telling me all the time. If my blood sugar is calling for me to tweak my schedule, I must listen and adapt. When you are aware of the signals, no matter your specific situation, you will know what to do—and that’s true whether you’re trying to pick up on the messages that your body is sending you or on the messages that an audience is sending you. It is the awareness itself that plays a major role in reducing stress.

Improvisation and awareness has helped me manage stress so that I can take better care of myself – allowing me to better respond and plan my next step. The skills of improv clearly are a strength in times of crisis. As you listen, assess, and adapt to each scenario presented to you, you can more effectively overcome anything. And, as you do it more and more, you become confident that you are indeed able to deal with a situation. As a result, your confidence increases…while your stress decreases.

If you understand that you can control how your body reacts to a medical condition, then you should also be able to understand that you can control feelings of anxiety when confronted with a new and uncomfortable situation. We all have found ourselves facing appearances we might prefer to avoid, whether we’re called into the office or hauled into court or going on a job interview or delivering a speech. Again, you have the power to silence that inner critic’s prognostications of impending failure. Tell yourself, “Yes, this feels difficult for me, and I can do it.”

We must do a lot of things that we don’t want to tackle. Those tasks become much harder if we cop a bad attitude. “I hate talking to people and networking” will defeat any chance of doing well at such activities. There is a huge difference between “I will do the best I can” and “This is going to fail.” If you adopt a better attitude, one that doesn’t broadcast defeat, you might actually find that you are doing pretty well. You can feel good about your accomplishment.

Whether your stress results from a physical condition or something else, so much depends on your ability to perceive things positively. Either you win, or you let the stress win. Your choice.

Learn more about how improv principles can improve your career by taking the Yes, And Challenge. Sign-up at www.petermargaritis.com and share your experience on Twitter and Facebook using #YesAndChallenge.

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.

Manage Stress With By Incorporating Improv Into Your Daily Routine

Stress is a part of our everyday lives – it can come from so many sources, some of them the daily frustrations of life including our jobs, others from unexpected challenges, such as major health issues.

The thing is, stress isn’t always bad – it can motivate us into action. And even in those situations that might initially seem like the negative kind of stress, you have the power to turn it into something positive.  With this perspective, stress can have value in your life if you deal with it in the right way.

I have found that when you incorporate improvisation to your daily routine will help you take on the stress that comes with your job, family, and just the day-to-day responsibilities of life.  Here are six examples:

  1. Communication – Communication skills go far in reducing stress. When people feel disrespected or discounted, stress intensifies. When they feel unheard, they shut down, or they respond with cynicism, distrust, or anger—and the situation becomes exponentially worse.  Effective communication however, can validate and motivate.  You can read about the importance of listening with both your eyes and ears – since listening is a critical part of successful communication.
  2. Awareness –  Being aware of your environment can help you take control of your involvement in whatever situation you are in.  When you assess your surroundings – those around you, the actual location, yourself – that awareness will help you be able to deal with a situation, which will develop confidence and help you overcome the stress.
  3. Adaptability – Adaptability is a HUGE part of improv – it IS improv.  A lot of things in life can be stressful, but we have the ability to “go with the flow.” Adapting is simply the ability to readjust as you experience things – whether that be readjust your sales pitch, or the time in the morning you give a presentation or having to select a different menu item when your first choice is sold out.  No matter the situation, it takes flexibility and confidence to address change head-on – and let’s face it, things are always changing, things rarely go as planned.  Learning to adapt dramatically reduces stress. Read more about the game I give audiences to exercise adaptability, here.
  4. Calm in Chaos – “Don’t panic.” If you ever hear someone say that, it’s almost a trigger to go again and start panicking.  You don’t have to though – it certainly won’t help you.  When you’re staring chaos in the face, you must refuse to tell yourself that you can’t do it/overcome it/face it. The fact is, you can – and awareness, adaptability, communication, all the improvisational techniques, help you operate clearly without panicking. You’ll always know you can figure a way out.
  5. Attitude – There is a huge difference between “I will do the best I can” and “This is going to fail.” If you adopt a better attitude, one that doesn’t broadcast defeat, you might actually find that you are doing pretty well – this is the same with doing improv. No matter the source of your stress, your success to overcome depends on your ability to perceive things positively. You either can see your situation as a challenge and make the most of it, or you can succumb to it and let the stress win.
  6. Humor – A regular dose of laughter reduces stress – it’s proven! Laughter really is the best medicine. It loosens us up, it bolsters the immune system. On the other hand, being stressed can get us sick; as a result, we make others sick and productivity plummets. Laughter is the proven antidote, and it comes naturally when the company culture is conducive to it. A bit of levity can go a long way in the welfare of the individual and the business.

Learn more about how to leverage this improve principles to improve your career by visiting www.improvisnojoke.com.  While you’re there, download a free chapter of my book, Improv is No Joke.

YES, AND…

“Yes, and…”

We live in a “yes, but…” society. In a restaurant, you might hear the wait staff say, “Yes, but this is not my section,” or “Yes, but I’m getting ready to go on break.” Those two words are far from inspiring. In fact, they deflate and kill creativity.

I think we should say Yes, and and say it more often.  Here’s why.

Continue the Conversation

When I decided to attend an improvisation workshop many years ago, I had no idea the life altering concept I would encounter; the concept of not denying the other person’s reality.  In improv, you have to go with whatever the other person says.  You can add to it, but you can’t undo it.  Once you deny it, you kill the scene.  I probably got on quite a few actors’ nerves until it finally clicked one session.  Until I got the hang of the “Yes, and” concept, I wasn’t able to continue the conversation.  This applies to the business world as well.

Turn Negativity into Positive Results

“Yes, and…” is all about finding a point of agreement and moving forward from there.  It creates an environment of possibility instead of rejection.  When you hear, “Yes, but…” it is deflating.  Is it really a yes or is it a “No” in disguise?  A “Yes, but…” will change the direction of a conversation by placing a big do not enter sign in the room.  Too many of those and you’re left with nowhere to go.  

An Example:

“I propose adding updated technology to all our employees to improve productivity.”

There are two ways to respond…

“Yes, that is a nice idea, but it’s not in the budget.”

OR…

“Yes, and we should explore the logistics of this in the next meeting.”

Which response continues the conversation by acknowledging the value others have on the team?  

Want to know more about continuing the conversation in your workplace?

Remember to sign up for the YES AND Challenge by visiting my website www.petermargaritis.com and scrolling down to the YES AND Challenge call to action box and click to sign up.