The Insight Improv Sessions

picture of an improv theater classI sat in a folding chair in a high-ceilinged room in an old building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I signed up for my first improvisation theater class (many years ago), I didn’t know what to expect.

As I waited for the “leader” to arrive I felt more than a little apprehensive. The room was spare, with a wood floor and 20 chairs, most of them filled with a motley group of people, ranging in age from 18 to 65. It was very quiet. A few people were talking in low voices. I was still, staring at a point on the floor about 10 feet in front of me. I didn’t know anyone in the class. What had I gotten myself into?, I wondered. Could I sneak out before the leader arrived?

Then the door opened and a bright confident woman of about 35 swept in, looked us all over while smiling, asked us to stand up, and led us through a rapid-fire series of  “theatre exercises”. We scrunched up our faces to relieve tension, and played an unusual version of follow the leader to experience the relationship between how we hold our bodies and how we feel. We listened to people have a conversation in “gibberish” and learned how much communication happens with tone of voice, pitch, and gestures rather than the words we speak. We played out various scenes with team members to learn to listen, think, speak, and react in the moment.

The 2-hour class was over before we knew it, and we left talking and laughing together. For those two hours I had been in a “flow state”. All the cares of my day-to- day life had vanished and in their place I had experienced being in the present, and creating with others.

As I walked to the bus stop I felt buoyant, hopeful, and elated. In just 2 hours time I had learned skills that would stay with me for a lifetime, and had a lot of fun in the process. I had learned how to watch and listen to other people, how to “read” a situation intuitively, how to make decisions quickly, and communicate my ideas clearly in words and in actions. I had learned when to be a leader and when to be a follower, and how to pull a team together.

Now it is many, many years later. With knowledge about research in psychology, 30 years of teaching and leading seminars and workshops, and several years of theatre “under my belt”, I am very excited to be re-creating that experience I had all those years ago for others. I’m now offering the Insight Improv workshop: Take proven improv theatre exercises, mix them with research on psychology, a group of people (you or you and your team) and a workshop leader (me), and you have fun and insights at the same time.

People ask me what the insights are that I learned back in Cambridge, and what the insights are that they will learn when they come to a workshop. And of course I have to answer “It depends!” After each improv exercise we stop to talk about what the psychology research has to say on the topic, for example, when we do the exercise called “follow the leader” I share the recent research that shows that when you move your muscles in a certain way it can trigger a release of hormones which then affects your mood. Recent research shows that when men puff out their chests more testosterone is released and when men cave in their chests the testosterone is lessened. When you frown chemicals are released in the brain that lower your mood. Conversely, if you smile then endorphins are released that make you feel better. This is just one example of the psychology research that we talk about after each improv exercise.

In addition to talking about the research, different people share some of the insights that they have. Everyone reacts differently to each exercise, so this is where your personal insights come in. For example, one person talked about an “a-ha” moment she had in one of the exercises – she tends to feel the need to be the leader, and she always thought that being a leader took more skill than following. But in one of the improv exercises she realized it could be hard work to be a follower. She had a choice about following without caring, or following well, and that it was not necessarily easy to follow well. For her, following had meant not caring, or being weak, and now she was going to have to re-evaluate that in her day-to-day work.

What did I learn those many years ago in Cambridge? Here are just a few of my learnings and insights:

  • How to think quickly on my feet; how to make quick decisions when I need to
  • How to listen to what people are really saying by watching what they do with their body
  • How to listen to what people are really saying by hearing their pitch and the emotional tone
  • When I should be a follower and when I should be a leader
  • How to get a team or group to bond quickly
  • My interaction styles that are effective and those that are not
  • And how to have fun with a group of people I don’t know at all!

I’m excited to be offering these workshops. What do you think? Any questions or comments?

And if you are interested in sponsoring, hosting, or attending, send an email to

100 Things You Should Know About People: #15 — If You Use Social Media Without Laughter You Aren't Being Social

Laughing At Work
Photo Credit: Jacob Bøtter,

If you engage in social media are you being social? You email, you text, you twitter, you leave voicemails for people, so you are plugged in, right? Well, actually not. In all of these means of communication you are not actually physically interacting with another person. True social bonding requires a physical reaction to the presence of other people. Do you tend to work alone a lot? At your desk on your computer? Then maybe you aren’t being as social as you think. And this lack of physical contact may actually affect the quality of the work that you and your team does.

The Neuro Science of Social Bonding — People are social animals. In order to work together they have to have social interactions. There are complicated hormonal and chemical changes that occur in your brain and throughout your body when you bond with others. In this post I’ll focus on just one mechanism of social bonding — laughter.

Research on Laughter —
Considering how universal laughter is and how much of it we do, there is, relatively, not a lot of research on laughter. One of the main researchers is Robert Provine from University of Maryland. Here is a summary of some of the research he has done… some of these findings may surprise you: Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #15 — If You Use Social Media Without Laughter You Aren't Being Social”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #13 — Want To Change a Habit? Use Fun, Surprise, and a Crowd

Have a habit that you want to change? Or maybe you are trying to change the behavior of people at work? Or you want to change the behavior of people coming to your blog or website? If you read any of the research on habits you will find that habits are hard to change. (I’ll do a separate post on that shortly). You can change habits, but it takes a lot of work. Or maybe not?

Have you seen the video on the musical stairs? Many of you probably have. If so, watch it again before reading on, and if you haven’t then you’ll enjoy it. I believe that there are some lessons about habit change in the video:

Shortcuts to changing habits — I’ve been thinking about that video and I am thinking that there might be ways to shortcut all the work it takes to change a habit, or at least jump start the process. Based on the video here are 3 ideas I’ve come up with: Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #13 — Want To Change a Habit? Use Fun, Surprise, and a Crowd”

The Secret Ingredient to Web Site Loyalty

Here’s the Answer: I’ll state right up front — The Secret Ingredient is …. FUN!

The Scenario: Recently I was researching a trip for my son. He’s in Cairo for a semester abroad, but rather than coming straight home from there for the Christmas holidays, he’s decided he wants to go to London for two weeks (ok, I can’t blame him). But he’s a poor college student, so he has to do this as cheaply as possible. I was on video chat with him, and we’re discussing possible dates, itineraries, etc. I had to be able to search all these different options quickly. First I used Expedia, and then I used Travelocity. They were so slow, and ponderous, and had numerous usability issues. Why is it so hard to choose one-way or multi-destination? Why are the date pickers so hard to use? I was getting more and more frustrated and then somehow (I don’t even remember how or why), I ended up at

Is it Usability or is it Fun?: Now Kayak is much more USABLE than the other sites. And that was wonderful, but that’s not what made me stay at Kayak for the rest of the research. And that’s not what made me go to Kayak since then to look up all other kinds of travel. Kayak is FUN. If you don’t know Kayak, then go try it out right now and then come back and finish reading the blog. Really. Go now and then come back.

So What’s So Fun?: When you enter your search criteria into Kayak and press the Search button things happen… you don’t just go to a screen with a progress bar, or an hourglass, or a funny picture of William Shatner… you stay on the same screen, but there are things happening… there is some kind of word unscrambler that is scrolling through word combinations. I don’t even know what that thing is, but I swear I can feel excitement mounting as it is cycling through until a word or phrase appears. And the results! The results of your search, with cities, and prices starts populating right away. It starts at the bottom of the screen and works up. So first you see a bunch of flights for $775, and then the price dips and you see a bunch of entries scrolling by of $585, then $356, and WOW, it stops at $272… I WON! Now I’m not a gambler, I don’t play slot machines, or even the lottery, but I”m telling you, this gets me every time. I find this website fun. Instead of dreading checking out flights I look forward to it. After I find the flight I want I am just one click away from Expedia or Travelocity or whomever else I want to use to actually BUY the flight. It will come up immediately with my flight info right there and I can purchase right away. This is great.

Fun + Usable = Trust?: There’s another subtle psychological shift: I trust the info at this site. I used to go to Northwest or Travelocity or Priceline, or all of those, because I didn’t trust that I was getting ALL the flights. But because is EASY and it’s FUN… I trust it.

The secret ingredient: FUN.