Inspire Improv & Coaching

Uncovering the potential in everyone.

Inspire Improv & Coaching

Circumventing the Ego - The Improv Shortcut to Inner Brilliance

Practicing improvisation allows us to bypass the ego, allowing us to access our inner wisdom and creativity. The #1 rule of improvisation is that we always say, “Yes, and,” actively listening to, accepting and adding on to our partner’s idea. A scene using this framework may look something like this:

Ann: Hey Steve, that is an interesting red t-shirt you’re wearing today.

Steve: Yes, this is an interesting red t-shirt and I bought one for you as well!

Ann: Yes, you bought one for me and we will look very well coordinated as we present our strategic plan for the Board this afternoon.

In reference to the ego, the “Yes, and” framework:

  1. Forces us to suspend judgement of our partner. Due to the rule of saying “Yes, and,” we have no choice but to put our energy into supporting our partner’s idea, regardless of what we may think of it, going against our natural tendency to immediately say, “No” to unconventional or outside the box ideas.
  2. Because of the pace, encourages us to go with the first thought that comes to our mind, instead of allowing the ego to come in and tell us that our idea is not good enough.
  3. Allows us to become comfortable sharing outside of the box ideas because, within the confines of “Yes, and,” we know that our partner is required to support us as we support them.
  4. Renders powerless, the part of our ego that wants to be in control and have everything figured out. Scenes are build line by line. Not knowing what our partner is going to contribute until it comes out of their mouth, enables us to be in the moment, instead of thinking about and planning what we are going to say next while they are talking.
  5. Creates an even playing field. No one can be “in charge” in an improv scene, as we’re building it together. No one person is better than, or more important than another.

When we are able to circumvent the ego, our best ideas emerge and we are much better equipped to be a fantastic teammate.

Too Afraid to Fail - How I nearly got kicked out of college

Have you ever lost an opportunity or even a job because you were too afraid to fail? I nearly lost my college education because of it.

I was an acting major at SUNY Fredonia. In addition to the traditional academic acceptance, we also had to audition to be accepted into the program. At the end of every semester, we had “Juries”, where we had to perform a monologue for the faculty and they would decide if we had improved enough to stay in the program. A little back-story on me, I entered into college as a traditionally “good student”. I graduated third in my class and was always on the high honor roll. In my mind, if I studied hard enough and could get the answers “right”, I would get a good grade. The same was not true when it came to these acting Juries.

In acting, there are no right or wrong answers, it's all subjective. Think of how two actors can portray the same character in completely different and fascinating ways. Your performance either speaks to the audience, or it doesn’t. At the end of my freshman year, I was put on probation because of my performance. I had been so stuck on doing it “right”, that my performance was too safe. It was not compelling, it was boring. One faculty member put it this way; I was “acting in a bubble”.

Coming back my second year, I was in a situation where, if I did not improve, I would be kicked out of the acting program. Talk about needing to perform under pressure.

My turning point came during a voice and movement class. I was still stuck in my safety bubble, even physically. My teacher helped me to realize how terrified of failing I was, and how it was getting in the way of my passion and creativity, the reasons I was accepted in the first place. He asked me a simple question, “Are you willing to fall on your face in order to improve?” I had no other choice, the answer was an obvious, “Yes.” From there the floodgates opened. I took risks, I made choices, I fell on my face several times and at the end of the semester I got the following feedback after my jury performance, “I don’t recognize you. You are a completely different actor.” and “Um, keep...doing what you’re doing.”

Now, I understand that in an organization or in your life, the stakes may be higher than being kicked out of an acting program. Risking failure is never an easy option, but ask yourself what will happen if you don’t do anything? Sometimes if we really look at it, doing nothing is even more risky.

You were chosen because of your talents and skills. What are you keeping from your organization, family or more importantly, the world, if you allow a crippling fear of failure to hold you back from at least trying?

More recently, I designed and facilitated my first group-coaching program, “Leap - Make your next step a bold step.” Of course there was fear in putting myself out there in that capacity. What if no one signs up? I’m not ready, I need to know more about this! What if no one finds value in it?

In the face of these thoughts that clearly came from my ego, which tries so hard to keep me in that same safety bubble, I went for it and oh, how glad I am that I did! Not only was it a stretch for me professionally, it was some of the most rewarding work that I’ve done yet. I was able to provide a space for women to think, to define who it is that they want to be and how they want to move forward in their lives and most importantly, have a community of women to walk with. I’m so glad that I did not let the ever-present threat of failure get in the way.

How will you face your fear and bestow your gifts and talents to the world?

The Face-First Approach

I have a busy two year old at home. The other day I observed the way he climbs up on the couch… face first. It makes sense. The head is a heavy part of his body, so it provides a good anchor while he works on pulling up the rest of his body. It made me think about how I attack challenges and take risks and what I can learn from his approach. Here’s what stuck out.

1. The Quickest way to get where you want may seem awkward, but it does the job.

How often do we over-prepare, getting stuck at 90% readiness thinking that we have to get to 100% before taking a risk or putting something out there, whether it’s a project, career choice or simply an idea for a solution to a challenge in a team meeting. There are certain things we’ll never be fully ready for, so let’s not get stuck in the present simply because the plan for the future isn’t perfect.

2. Vulnerability is the key to breakthroughs.

I’d say the face is a pretty vulnerable part of the body right? Does it keep my son from risking a smashed nose in order to get where he wants to be? Nope!

That voice in our head that says, “Don’t do that, everyone will laugh at you.” may guard us from embarrassment, but it also keeps us from stepping out of our comfort zone and into personal growth. What if you put that message aside? What would it look like to dive into life with the most vulnerable part of you leading the way?

3. Follow through.

Yes, making the leap is exciting, but what follows is equally as important, otherwise you’re just stuck with your face in a couch.

4. You can do it!

A toddler does not question whether or not they can do something, if they really want it. They have a wealth of courage and simply go for it. This is not to say that we should all throw caution to the wind and quit our jobs to go write blogs from a tropical island. I’m simply suggesting that you give yourself the benefit of the doubt every now and then.

It is my firm belief that we are much stronger, wiser and more creative and capable than we give ourselves credit for. Remember, you were once that kid.

How I Got Hired By Making Someone Else Look Good

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 with a BFA in Acting and very little entertainment industry or business experience.

I went to an open audition for an improvised character within the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. At this point, most of my training was around scripted material. But when it came to improv (unscripted theatre), I had very little experience, besides a workshop here or there. What I did know, was that you were supposed to say, “Yes, and”. This means you always listen to and accept your partner’s idea and then add onto it, so that the two of you can effectively create something together without the security of a script.

As I was watching another pair of actors go before me, one of the actors threw their partner under the bus, in order to make themselves look clever and funny. One of the other actors sitting in the audience called out, “Make each other look good!” It made a lot of sense. If we strive to make one another look good in the scene, instead of only looking out for ourselves, then we both look brilliant!

Before I knew it, it was my turn. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I’m a rule follower and went in with the goal of following those two simple rules; say “Yes, and” and “make each other look good.” My partner started the scene (thank goodness!) and I simply agreed with her idea and helped to move the scene forward by adding my own ideas to further support and develop the initial premise. We looked out for each other, and found ways to set the one another up for a laugh. At the end, we had created something together that we would not have created on our own.

A few days later, I got the call that I was hired!

Putting my focus on supporting my partner had not only reduced the pressure that I tend to put on myself, it showed that I could listen, collaborate well and set aside my own ego for the good of the company.

When you’re in a stressful or unexpected situation yourself, possibly feeling out of your element or that you’ve been given more than you can handle, try following these rules yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised at the effect that simply saying “Yes, and” and striving to “make each other look good” can have.

Here are three tips to get you started:

  • When an unexpected situation arises, start with “Yes”. Instead of reasoning why something won’t work, first give it some space and consideration, explore how it could work.
  • Actively listen to your co-workers and clients. Instead of thinking about what you're going to say, be present with them. After all, you can’t say “Yes” and add on to, or effectively respond to something you didn’t hear.
  • Turn your silo into a spider web. Actively look for ways to reach out and support your teammates to make them look amazing.

Break a leg!

Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Interview?

Have you ever felt nervous about a job interview? Me too, here’s what helps me to shift to a more positive and confident mindset.

I spent most of my 20s living in Los Angeles, pursuing an acting career. An actor’s version of an interview is an audition, equally nerve racking. The actor typically auditions for the casting director. Their job, is to sit through, sometimes hundreds of auditions to find the right person for the part. The writer relies on them to help bring their characters to life and the director relies on them to bring in, not only great actors but great people to work with.

When battling our own nerves, my acting teacher, Doug Warhit, always encouraged us to put ourselves in their shoes. Instead of worrying about messing up or fearing that we’re not good enough, realize that the casting director isn’t sitting in the audition room, with their arms crossed, saying to themselves, “Gee, I can’t wait to watch this person fall on their face!” On the contrary, they are hoping and praying that you will be the right person for the part because then, their job is done; they get to go home and hopefully the director will hire them again!

So often, we approach interviews with the less productive view and forget that the person interviewing us is also hoping that we are the right person for the job and chances are they are just as nervous about pleasing those higher up. They are rooting for you! How thankful will their boss and team be when they bring on the best person for the job?!

The next time you have an interview, remember that you are on the same team and they want to see you succeed. Now get out there and play the role you’ve always dreamed of!

Not What You Expected

Squeezing a workout in while raising a family and running a business is a challenge to say the least. I recently decided that for my own health and sanity, I needed to make it a priority again and was thrilled to find that a yoga studio had opened up just a mile from my house! I went to my first class, ready to be challenged, to sweat and get the most out of this one hour of “me time”. When we were still laying on the floor and breathing 15 minutes in, I became frustrated. All I could think about was how much “more” I could have done on my own in 15 minutes. Ugh, I should have just done a workout video at home, I should have gone somewhere else, when are we going to pick up the pace and get moving?!

These thoughts occupied my mind for a good 40 minutes until, finally, I realized that I could have used the quiet time to think, relax, meditate and honor my body by giving it a much needed stretch, had I simply let go of my previous expectations. In practice, yoga is much more about meditation than it is “working out”. I was expecting the class to be something that I wanted it to be.

Improvisation, as an art form, is based completely on the unexpected. Because two or more people are creating something from nothing, no one knows exactly what will happen. This means that the actors have an opportunity to create something together, that they never would have created on their own. This is where the infamous “Yes, and” of improvisation comes into play.

Saying “yes, and” means that, no matter what idea is put forth, the team agrees that they will say “yes” to it and build on that idea together. Even if one person had another idea that, in their mind, was “better”, they choose to let it go and jump on board to support their team member.

In my yoga class, I was doing exactly the opposite. I did not accept what the class was putting forth. It was not meeting my expectations, so I did what many of us do when faced with the unexpected. I resisted, I said “No” and in my mind I spent 40 minutes reasoning why this class was a waste of time. I bulldozed over its value with thoughts of what I would have considered a better class. I tried to make it what I expected it to be, instead of jumping on board for what could have been a transformational experience.

When we let go of expectations and simply take the next step with an open mind, we open ourselves up to infinitely more possibilities. By letting the frustration of expectations not being met take over your brain space, your own creativity is inevitably elbowed out as well.

I have another class scheduled tomorrow, I’m choosing to let go of my expectations and let the class be what it is. Whether I get my definition of a “workout” or some time to meditate, I’m ready to take it one step at a time and say, “Yes” to reaping the benefits.

La La Land, aka, Confronting my Ex.

I recently saw La La Land and it was a great film. I, myself, spent my early adulthood in Los Angeles, living the life of a struggling actress, much like Emma Stone’s character, Mia. She is shown working on a studio backlot (been there), at a cafe (done that), going on auditions for less than desirable roles, pouring her soul out while casting directors ate lunch and stared at their phones (oooh the memories). All the while, knowing that it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person who sees you for the shining star that you are and gives you your big break (as long as you can tell the difference between someone who is interested in your art and not a date).

Once I signed with my third agent, I thought, this is it! It wasn’t. Then I got a callback for a national Swiffer commercial and I thought, this is it! Nope. After my second audition for Neil Patrick Harris, I was sure, THIS is it! Then I didn’t get the part. However, I did receive a voicemail, informing me that Neil thought I was great, and had it saved on my phone for at least a year.

Seven years in, I decided it was time to move on. It was a process and I had to work through a whole lot of pride. Leaving LA meant I had failed right? I couldn’t say that acting was the only profession I could do for the rest of my life and then go do something else? Right? Well..I was wrong. I was allowed to have different dreams and I didn’t need to know exactly what that new dream would be to make that leap.

Fast forward four years. I discovered my “new dream” and get to do what I am passionate about almost every day. I have a wonderful husband and a silly, curious toddler. I am joyful.

Sitting through La La Land and reliving those experiences, felt like a conversation with an old boyfriend. There was no big drama, no huge blow out. It just didn’t work out. Maybe one of you moved or maybe the timing wasn’t right. So now when you think of them, you can’t help but wonder, what if? What if I’d stuck it out? It wasn’t really all that bad right? What if I had just stayed one more week? Just went to one more audition?

My ego longs for the chance to be an actor, but my intuitive side knows I made the right choice. I recently listened to the “Lively Show” podcast about ego and intuition. It pointed out that when we follow our intuition, we are more likely to make a choice that benefits the most people possible. When I applied that theory to my professional journey I could see the scenarios playing out. When the ego is driving,I become a wildly successful movie actor and impact people through my craft. In reality, my intuition told me to move on. Listening to that voice has been profoundly rewarding. What I do now empowers people to find their own joy and realize their full potential. It was the right move.

A job or relationship does not have to completely disintegrate and destroy you before you are allowed to leave. Sometimes you are in a great position, but something in your gut is pulling you elsewhere. Logistics are important, planning is important, but don’t let it completely drown out what your inner voice is trying to tell you. 

And when that “boyfriend” shows up in the line behind you at the grocery store, smile and appreciate that time in your life for what it was and be thankful it led you to where you are now.


Why am I Doing This?

Have you ever been in the midst of a major life change, whether it was a promotion, a move or going to college and wondered how you got there? Or if it’s really what you still want? So often we allow others, or an outdated version of ourselves,  to inform our “next step” in life, we forget to ask ourselves if it is the right step.

In an episode of comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, he interviewed actor Lauren Lapkus. As an improvisor and actor, she shared in the dream that so many have, of being on Saturday Night Live. However, at the time of her audition, she already had a sitcom under her belt and was doing really well professionally. Should she have been cast on SNL, her 5 day weeks would have turned into 7 and her 12 hour days, to 16. But that prevailing notion that SNL was some kind of huge accomplishment, took over the space to ask the question, do I really still want this? She says, “The idea of getting it, is more important after wanting it your whole life, than doing it.”

Straying from the path is scary, especially when that nicely paved path leads to recognition, security or wealth. I encourage you to take a moment today, look at where you are and where you are headed and ask yourself, “Do I want this? Why do I want this? What do I want?”

Yes, there are “I’s” in each of those questions. Women especially, think much more of their relationships with others first and the effect that they will have on those around them. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a great characteristic to have but if left unchecked, and I say this from personal experience, we can get lost in all that we’re doing for others and forget that our own pursuit of joy is important too.

Here’s to a year full of JOY!

12/19/17 Update:

The response to this blog inspired me to create a group coaching program, "Leap - make your next step a bold step" to give women the space to think about what it is that they do want for themselves and how to take steps toward making that a reality.

Lessons My Toddler Taught Me About Failure

My husband and I recently took Frankie, our 14 month old, to Cape Cod for the first time. He just started walking this summer, so I knew that the sand would be an extra obstacle for his unstable legs. This is what watching him taught me about failure.

1. Celebrate other people’s failures!

When a toddler falls, the last thing you do is gasp and run over to them in a hurried, scared state. Instead, you cheer, so that they will master the skill of walking and not be afraid to fall in the future. Because let’s face it, Mom and Dad are tired of carrying around a 25 lb. person.

What would it be like if we did this for our teams? What if, upon failures, we cheered (figuratively, hey, maybe even literally!) and encouraged one another to fail and learn from those mistakes so that they could become masterful at what they do?

2. Enjoy the fall.

My son laughs when he falls, he thinks it is hilarious. However, it’s much easier to encourage others to fail than it is to be comfortable with it ourselves. How do you see failure? Really? It’s time to reframe. It is an opportunity, not only to learn, but to show others how you deal with failure. If you are hard on yourself, those around you will assume you’ll be just as hard on them, therefore perpetuating the nasty cycle of the fear of failure. Be kind to yourself and find joy in the process.

3. Lead with your gut.

Have you ever noticed the way a toddler walks? They lead with their belly, fully letting it hang out. None of this uncomfortable sucking in, trying to play it safe, appearing like they have it all together. Have you ever seen a baby in spanks? I didn’t think so.

The time when you fail the most epically is going to be when you follow your gut instinct and go for that crazy idea. But you know what? If you learn from it, instead of bailing and sucking it in like it never existed, you may also experience your greatest success.

Frankie spent three days trudging through the most difficult terrain for a toddler to traverse, he must have fallen a hundred times, but do you know what he’s been doing since we got back home? Running!



Wait, I'm Supposed to Say "Yes" to Everything?!

The cultural change that I encourage companies to embrace is the “Yes and” mindset. This comes from the number one rule in improvisation, that you always say “Yes” to your partner’s ideas and then take it one step further, by adding on to it, therefore building something together that you would not have come up with individually. It goes against our natural tendencies to automatically say “No” to uncomfortable or unexpected ideas and opens us up to other possibilities.

The first question I get is, “But what if you KNOW that the idea won’t work?” This usually comes from a leader, someone who has wisdom and experience, someone who perhaps already tried that particular idea years ago and doesn’t want their team member wasting time, letting history repeat itself. This thought makes sense, so how do you keep that “Yes and” mindset in these situations?

Let’s start with some clarification. When performing improvisation on stage, no matter what, we abide by the “Yes and” rule. By practicing it, in a safe and supportive space, leaders and teams learn to put their tendency to say “No” aside, in the most extreme form. When we take this mindset back to the workplace, the intent is not to say “Yes and” to everything. The intent, is to let our minds (and hopefully, more often than not, our mouths) say “Yes” and consider that idea for a moment, instead of jumping straight to, “No, and this is why it won’t work.” I call this a Yes Loop. 

In those situations, where your experience leads you to believe that an idea will not work, my suggestion is this: help them to get there too, in a collaborative way. Go down the road with them, say “Yes” by taking the time to walk through the idea fully. Get curious, ask questions and certainly let them know what occurred the last time you tried that idea. 

You will not only allow them to learn by figuring out the answer with them, you’ve built trust and created a relationship where they will be more likely to continue to come to you with innovative ideas, knowing that you will be there to listen and consider, rather than jumping to “No”.

Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised with a new aspect of the plan that no one thought of last time. It could be the key to making it work!


Improvising Through Change

My son will be one this weekend. He arrived two weeks early and my life changed overnight. It has been an amazing year.

 What would you do if you knew that your life was going to change overnight and that it was all going to be okay? So many of us are terrified of change weather it’s a restructuring within our organization or a new addition to our family. What I do know is that there are two ways things could go. It could all blow up in our face, or it could all be okay. So why do we concentrate so much on the former, completely forgetting the latter?

 In improvisation, nothing is planned ahead. Therefore, it is all an unexpected situation that can change on a dime and we need to be able to respond immediately. What makes it doable is the fact that we are abiding by the rule that everyone will say “Yes” to the new, and possibly scary situation or idea, and jump on board! Then, we take it a step further by adding onto it, allowing the team to create something together that none of us could have created on our own.

 This moves us to a mindset where we know that everything will be okay because we’re all going to support one another. We are not out there struggling alone; we lean on our team and allow our team to lean on us. In improv, we call this, "Making each other look good."

Has your organization gone through a big change recently? Was each person out for themselves, just trying to keep their head above water or were they looking for ways to support one another and find ways to make it work for the whole team?

 The former is a default instinct. The latter takes practice, it means taking a moment in a time of stress and checking in, being fully present and taking stock in not only what people are feeling, but also looking for what they need and how you can support them.

 Today, weather you in the midst of a big change or not, try to do just that, take a moment to check in, be present and look for a way to support someone in your organization. 

Four Ways to Become More Visible

I was recently working with a group, when one of the participants referenced an exercise that we did at the program kick off a few months prior. The comment began with, “I don’t know if you were there, but …” I’ll stop right there, I was indeed there. I was one of just three facilitators who worked with the group for two hours that day. Hearing this statement made me ask myself, “What did I do, or not do that day, that caused me to become invisible?” After some reflection, I realized that the more impactful question to ask was, “When have I felt the most visible and what do I need to remind myself to continue doing?” This is what I came up with:

1. Sit at the table: This is a great concept from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. It’s easy to sit yourself at the back of the room and blend into the wall. Instead, assume that your position is at the front, with the other big players. Assume that you belong there as much as anyone else. You’ll give off a different energy, an energy that people will notice and remember.
If your mind is getting in the way of embracing that concept, there is a great Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, about how your physical positioning can affect how confident and calm you feel in a given situation. Start there.

2. Speak up: Have you ever been in a meeting where you have an idea, but you’re afraid to voice it, and then someone else says exactly what you were thinking? Intuition isn’t just some warm, fuzzy concept, it is a gift and a tool. If your gut gives you a great idea, share it!

3. Ask questions: Chances are, like that great idea, someone else is wondering the same thing, but is also too afraid to ask. Let’s reframe how we think about questions. Rather than assuming that it indicates that we have no idea what is going on, remember that it can also mean that we are listening, engaged and are invested in having a complete understanding of the situation, all of which characteristics that set us apart. 

4. Stand out: Here’s a simple one that I got from my theatre teachers as we were entering the world of auditions. When you go to a networking event, a big meeting or an interview, wear something that makes you feel great. In a sea of black suits, don’t be afraid to pop out!

In short, allow yourself to confidently take up space, mentally, physically and vocally.