Improv Techniques To Make You A More Effective Coach

Comedians Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Poehler all perfected their comedy doing improv in Chicago. Recently, I went to JetCity Improv in Seattle to practice with the pros. What I learned helped me to be a more effective coach.

Improvisation is theater without a script. Kind of like coaching, leadership and well, life. I want to share 3 techniques to improve your coaching. By applying these techniques you will have an easier time with releasing control of the conversation, listening, and staying present with clients.

Coaching can feel out of control. There is no script. Each conversation is different. Coaches do not advise clients, so ready-made solutions are out.

Some coaches try to regain control by asking a series of questions that will lead the client to an answer. This is a mistake for one big reason: By not listening deeply and responding in the moment, you may miss the uniqueness of the client’s challenges and solutions.

The most difficult task for a coach is being 100% present in the moment with a client. You can’t think ahead, because you don’t know what’s coming next. Not only is this ok, it’s what makes masterful coaching so powerful!

3 Improv Techniques to Improve Your Coaching

  1. Listen Purely. Improv is completely unscripted with no memorized lines. You create your line by listening carefully to the previous line. You can not plan ahead. You can’t thinking ahead. In order to be able to create a response, you must listen carefully. While practicing improv, it was easy to hear who listened well and who didn’t. In coaching, we must stop thinking ahead and instead listen purely. Forming questions in our minds while the client is still talking will cause us to miss what they are saying – or not saying.
  2. Follow Together. No one leads an improv scene. Neither actor knows where the scene is going. They are following together. Each simultaneously follows and leads the other. This requires presence in the moment. Actors give up control and are organic. In improv, actors listen and respond with “yes, and…” building on what was said. Coaches can practice following together by using “Yes, and…” with their questions. Ask questions that flow from what the client just said. Each question organically builds the conversation.
  3. Explore Deeply. When I practiced improv I wanted to be funny. Looking for opportunities to be funny distracted me from being present and listening. In improv the actors set the scene by following together. As they do so, they explore the scene to discover what is funny. The “funny” moment comes from the dialogue. They let it flow, not make it happen. Coaches want to be helpful, to solve the client’s problem. The first problem they hear, they are off and running to solutions. Effective coaches take time to explore deeply the client’s “scene.” They discover an opening and together continue exploring until a solution presents itself.

I found improv so powerful in helping people learn to listen, follow together, and explore deeply that I am incorporating it into the coaching training that I lead. If you want to explore improv further look for a local improv theater or check out The Comedy Improvisation Manual.

Question: Which of these techniques would be most helpful to you in coaching? Leadership? Life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is an author, speaker and Professional Certified Coach. He helps on-the-go leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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