It’s Izzy Improv at WEC10

Practiced Spontaneity: Cultivating the Leader Within Through Improv Theater Skills

Izzy Gesell

Speaker: Izzy Gesell

About Izzy: Izzy Gesell, MS Ed, CSP is an “organizational alchemist.” As a keynote speaker, workshop leader, professional facilitator and presentation coach his skill is in transforming something commonplace into something special. His humorously serious and seriously humorous programs help people thrive and prosper during these changing times as they become more confident, spontaneous and effective. As Author of Playing Along: Group Learning Activities Borrowed from Improvisation Theater. Izzy was one of the first to bring the concepts of Improv Theater into the business world. He has also contributed to the International Association of Facilitator’s Handbook and Humor Me, a compilation by America’s most prominent humorists.

Learner Outcomes

  • Become a more effective leader by understanding how to be more responsible to self and more accountable to others.
  • Define and discuss the concept of self-talk and how it impacts both inter-personal and intra-personal communication.
  • Know how and when to use a technique to disagree without being disagreeable.

Three qualities of agile leadership and improv

  1. Presence – stay in moment
  2. Acceptance – what is rather than what should be
  3. Trust – suspend judgment and let process unfold

Why I picked this session

The name of this session alone grabbed my attention.  But what really won me over was the possibility that I might have to stand up and speak in front of a group of people I didn’t know. It was the possibility that I might be asked to step outside of my comfort zone.  I’m not an introvert by any means, but it IS a little intimidating to be asked to stand up at the drop of a hat – and not have a single idea what might be asked of you.  Scary and thrilling at the same time!  Truth be told, I did not volunteer to stand up in the crowd, but here’s where we learned leadership lesson #1.  The room was packed, and we had our first volunteer.  I don’t precisely remember what she volunteered FOR at the time, but I do remember that it broke the ice in the room.  It changed the entire attitude climate of the room, suddenly people were more relaxed.   Lesson?  Your actions have impacts on others.

Izzy let us know great leaders step up for their own reasons and fail with their own truth.  People are always watching you, what you do has an impact on others and how they feel.  A few thoughts:

  • Leaders make others feel safe – their actions make others want to participate
  • Leaders need to engage and participate in order to get others to feel the same way
  • Use humor to relax others – Humor is engaging, but can be dangerous (shield, weapon or bridge)
  • The very thing that keeps up stepping into the unknown – actually brings us together once we take that leap.

Three Qualities of an Agile Leader

Consciousness & Presence

Consciousness: According to Izzy, effective leaders have a lively awareness of possibilities and a strong belief in their own abilities and the abilities of others. We all know that volunteering for something is scary, we don’t want to set ourselves up for failure.  This fear actually causes us to fail.  If we would just take the leap and step up, then failure is not an option.  Those who step up actually receive a surprisingly high amount of support from others to succeed.  One of the best qualities of leaders is that they show up and they speak the truth without shame or blame.

Presence: is a power leadership quality! Be in the here and now – focus your wandering mind.  Consider your
Point of Concentration.  What is the smallest bit of information YOU need to focus on in order to move forward toward YOUR goal.  Izzy suggested that as leaders, we need to let go of the things we cannot control.  There are times that even with the best of intention, we inject our thoughts/ideas into others, even if they don’t need our help. It’s time to go with the flow!

It’s important to remember, that although we want to go with the flow, that leaders must also be focused.  Ever tried to talk to your boss when he/she is texting, emailing, surfing the web, making a phone call…etc.?  We cannot be effectively present when we are multi-tasking.  According to Izzy, multi-tasking is not the solution it is claimed to be, people become impatient and make mistakes. I find this true in my own life – we are so busy, and so impatient – that waiting five or ten minutes to get an answer via email feels likes a lifetime.  When not too long ago, I used to have to wait until the end of day for an answer.  Now my boss/clients are emailing me after work hours AND expecting an immediate answer.  It’s really time for us to take a step back and reflect on this – and if we are effective leaders in this capacity.


As leaders, Izzy stressed the importance of dealing with reality as it is, rather than as we’d like it to be.  We explored a very thought provoking “game” where session attendees (at their tables) made a statement (a concept) and the others at the table had to build upon that concept using the word AND.

For example, someone would say: 

  • I could really go for some sushi.
  • The next person would repeat: You could really go for some sushi AND I could really use a drink.
  • Third person: You could really use a drink AND I need to send an email. (And so on).

The purpose of this activity was to stress the importance (and difference) of AND versus YES, But.

The second activity used Yes, But to combine concepts.  The results were much more negative.

For example:

  • I would love to have some sushi.
  • 2nd person: Yes, you would love to have some sushi, BUT I would prefer to go home early.
  • 3rd person: Yes, you would prefer to go home early, BUT I would like to have a drink.  (and so on)

The concept AND provides a means to build upon, a positive atmosphere and acceptance of what the other person has to say.  The concept Yes, But becomes defeat, negativity – a zero sum game. This brought us back to the point that people are watching (and listening to) you, and will respond according to how you make them feel.

During a dinner event after this session, I tested the AND and Yes, But concepts out.  AND it was very true. I’m trying to make it a point to use AND more often, and less Yes, But.  It definitely makes people more comfortable and a part of your conversation.  Stating Yes, But all the time, causes people to feel less than.  For instance, a conversation with your employer about all the good things you have accomplished on a recent project could be instantly negated when he/she uses says Yes, you did all that hard work – BUT… What do you remember?  Everything AFTER the word But.


Another great leadership quality?  Suspending judgment while allowing the process to unfold.  Effective leaders remain open to unforeseen outcomes.  According to Izzy, the process that leads to trust in itself will lead to high levels of self-confidence.

Izzy’s session was one of my favorites, and I plan  (will try my best) to integrate Izzy’s concepts into my daily life (personal and professional).  I think it’s important that we work hard to make others feel important on the job, as well as when we get home.  

So I leave you with this! What is the smallest bit of information YOU need to focus on in order to move forward toward YOUR goal?  (Point of Concentration) How will you focus your wandering mind?


4 thoughts on “It’s Izzy Improv at WEC10

  1. This is a great recap of the presentation. The “point of concentration” is a gem worth remembering. Letting go of things is always hard to do, especially as meeting professionals who are concered with the details and logistics!

    Thanks for sharing this!.

      • That’s right – MPI CLC 2009 (now called Chapter Business Summit to be held in September) you spoke on Social Media. I’m hoping to get back to Smart Brief Insights now that my guest blogging for Engage365 is over. My final Guru blog will be posted on their site on Monday I believe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s