A Night at the Improv

By Lain Ehmann

No matter how thoroughly you prepare for a sales call or a negotiation, there’s always the possibility of being hit with the question, comment, or request you didn’t anticipate. Sales is just not a scripted event, and the professionals who learn how to think on their feet are often the most successful ones.

Who better to understand the skills involved in responding to off-the-cuff scenarios than an improvisational actor? Layton Payne, improv artist and principal with Novalign in Houston, helps his clients harness the power of improv to help deal with today’s ever-changing, ever-evolving business world. Employees, says Payne, “have to adapt. You have to stay in motion.” This need to adapt and remain flexible comes into play on project teams and in internal meetings, as well as with the customer.

Improvisation doesn’t mean flying by the seat of your pants; it does mean using your resources – creativity, knowledge, support system – to deal effectively with whatever may arise. Here are some hints for creating an atmosphere conducive to creativity:

  • Lighten up. “Inject a little light-heartedness,” recommends Payne. By not taking yourself too seriously, you allow yourself – and your employees – room to explore, to make mistakes, and to create new ways of doing things. Not only does it make people feel safer, it’s also a key element in building camaraderie, he says.
  • Don’t confuse creativity with goofiness. Creativity doesn’t mean dancing on the tables or playing practical jokes on your co-workers. It does mean removing the boundaries around your thinking to allow you and your sales team to come up with novel approaches to business problems. You can be creative and professional at the same time.
  • Acknowledge your own mistakes. To be creative, salespeople need to call off their internal censors. When you, the boss, show your own vulnerabilities, you give your team members room to come up with ideas outside the norm.
  • Build on the ideas of others. When someone comes up with an idea, think of a way to add to it or meld it with your own idea instead of immediately discounting what they’ve suggested. When people feel their ideas are valued, they’re more inclined to come up with more.
  • Celebrate failure. “When you have failures, at some point it would be best to celebrate that failure,” says Payne. “Now you know exactly what not to do.”
  • Develop trust. Trust among your team members is critical to creative thinking. When you feel supported by each other, you feel free to take greater risks. “Until you have that trust, everything else will be for naught,” reminds Payne.

    For more information, please click on www.novalign.com.