Improv works in a clutch. Every time.

I'll begin this post with a disclaimer: I prepare for every facilitation assignment for several hours, time-blocking the session, checking the animation in the slides, and practicing. I'm a firm believer in being prepared so that I can more easily flex the content and timing of the session and its parts to meet the needs of the group. 

Yesterday was an exception and not by design. 

To make a long story short I arrived at the training site at 7:30am to find that the session that was scheduled to start at 8:30am was completely different than the session I prepared for. Nothing looked familiar.

At first I thought the client had made an error, sending along the jump drive for the wrong session. Then I opened the packet with the handouts and exercise sheets and I realized that I was, indeed, in a tough spot with no safety net. It was just me, the PowerPoint (which had few notes to give me any hints about the flow of the day or the timing of each segment), a stack of handouts, and a steady stream of arriving participants!


Holy Amygdala Hijack, Batman! Deep breaths were in order. I made a quick call to the office to verify that I was indeed in the right church, wrong pew. Yup. Gulp. And then I shifted gears and figured it out. 

I am a student of Improv and my ConnectAnd Improv partner and I use these techniques to teach business principles such as being present, trusting your scene partners, and enjoying the ride at all times. Yesterday morning I fully engaged my Improv skills and moved this group of students through unknown territory, getting us to the end of the 8 hour day with all the material (except one strange handout with no instructions) covered and a new appreciation for trusting myself in this facilitation work.

Granted, all of the skills I was teaching were well within my wheelhouse; assertive vs aggressive communication, listening skills, will versus skill challenges with employees, and techniques for changing how to communicate performance issues are all topics I know how to facilitate. We began and ended the day with high energy Improv exercises, laughed a lot, covered the materials and increased knowledge.

The thrill of victory (surviving) yesterday was a true confidence booster. I give all the glory to a lot of experience facilitating these subjects AND especially to Improv. My "Toss me in there, Coach" muscles have grown through play and scene work in Improv, turning a potentially disastrous day turned into a rewarding one.  

I'll see this class again next week for Part II. I have the correct materials for that session to review over the weekend.

-Ellen Feldman Ornato