Improv to the Rescue! How Improv Can Save You in a Meeting When You're Unprepared

By Guest Blogger: Chuck Feerick

After back-to-back client meetings, my boss hung up the phone, looked at me, and said, “let’s eat.” It had been a productive, albeit very tiring morning full of meetings and negotiations and we both needed to get some lunch before continuing on with the day.  What I forgot was that I blocked off my lunch hour in order to prepare for an operations meeting that was occurring in the afternoon.

Instead of checking in with my team and seeing where the progress on a project stood, I was enjoying a bowl of chicken chili, a green smoothie, and talking with my boss about the NHL Playoffs. 

How many times has this happened to us? Where a meeting runs over and we don’t have time to prepare? Or, let’s be honest, we simply forget that we had a meeting? It’s happened to me more than a few times.

Rather than letting our unpreparedness set us up for failure, here are a holster of improv tactics that will not only make you look completely ready, but also allow you to effectively participate, stay present, and add value in any business meeting:

1. Play to the top of your intelligence. This is a phrase used in improv, that means “use what you already know.”  What are you an expert in that only you can speak to? What information do you already have in your memory? This information can come from what you know about the project or what your industry knowledge allows you to speak about overall.

2. Next, align your point of view. An improv scene in which each character on stage does not have a point of view can never find its legs. But when the improvisers form two distinct points of view, a scene can develop. These don’t have to necessarily be opposing points of view so that there is conflict, but merely different.

In your meeting, decide what your stance on an issue is and support it! This shows engagement and wins the favor of whichever perspective you take on a matter. By demonstrating engagement, participation, and support, you will set yourself up to add value instead of being passive or inert.

3. Yes, And! You’ve thought about what you know, you’ve actively participated somehow and supported other ideas throughout the meeting, but now it’s your turn to provide an update - what do you do? This is where improv training can be extraordinarily useful!

If you’re stuck, recap what has already been shared—reiterate the most important parts of the meeting that may be relevant to your area. Agree and build upon, (what us improvisers like to call “yes, and”) what has already been laid and figure out what components of other projects encompass part of your project and allow you to “yes, and”on top of it.

4. Give gifts.  In improv, we say giving someone a “gift” on stage is setting up your ensemble-mate to be successful. For example, I could walk into a scene with a teammate and instead of waiting for him to introduce himself to the ongoing scene; I can say “I want you all to meet my fiancé’s father, Mr. Dufrane. Mr. Dufrane is from Paris and speaks only French!”

I have just set my teammate up with a whole context to try and pretend to speak French and also allow the possibility of my “fiancé” to enter the scene later.

In your meeting, give these semantic gifts to your team! If you know there are certain areas that people on your team know really well, give them the gift of gab. Not only does this show that you have a handle on the project and your team, but more importantly allows others on your team to shine and share their knowledge!

So whenever you find yourself thrown-off in a meeting, remember that playing to the top of your intelligence, establishing a point of view, yes-“anding” your teammates, and giving gifts can get you through even the toughest of business interactions. Try it in your next meeting, and make sure to let us know how it goes!



Chuck Feerick is a graduate of the Second City Improv Program. He performs around Chicago with his Improv group, Roger Bob, as well as in other shows. Professionally, Chuck is a healthcare consultant as well as a certified personal trainer. You can find out more about him at his website or contact him on Twitter!