I went to my first Applied Improv Network conference back in 2009. I can honestly say it was one of the most important conferences of my speaking career.
The AIN is a collection of applied improv practitioners, and attending that conference introduced me to my tribe, people from around the world who had discovered what I had: improvisation is for more than just a comedic performance.
I attended the AIN conference again in 2012, and then again this year in Montreal. While I took away far too many great ideas to share in one post, I managed to narrow down my insights from the conference into these 7 great quotations from AIN 2015.
NOTE: The pictures below were all shot by Alex Tran who is a phenomenal photographer and all around great guy. Check out his work at Alex Tran Photography.
“You don’t know what it is until you get it right.”
—Paul Z Jackson
In the opening session of the conference, Paul explored some of the cliches we’ve come to accept as truths which can in fact be quite dangerous: “The customer is always right;” “There are no bad ideas;” and from improv, “Celebrate mistakes and embrace failure.”
There is truth to these statements but only in specific contexts, they are not universal. We should not celebrate the mistakes that lead to death and there are such things as bad ideas (like letting M Night Shyamalan direct The Last Airbender).
Along those lines, Paul shared that there is limited learning in failure. You learn resilience, which is incredibly important, but that’s it. Failing doesn’t teach you what to do, only what not to do. You learn what to do when you get it right. Then you can repeat it.
“Our basic message to people is ‘You are enough, go shine.’ We say this in a world where most people say ‘You are not enough so buy this.'”
In the first AINx talk of the conference, Belina shared her personal journey with improvisation and the great work she has done all around the world.
One of the traits of a good improviser is confidence. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t focus on learning or improving, but that in the moment, be confident in what you do have and the work you’ve already put in.
“Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment on purpose.”
In another AINx talk, Ted shared his perspective on improvisation as a spiritual practice. Admittedly, as an engineer, I was a little resistant to what he had to say.
However Ted did a great job of broadening the definition of seemingly “touchy-feely” words like spirituality, inspiration, and, as in the quotation above, mindfulness.
“If we teach in such a way that we can be replaced by a video, then we will be replaced.”
In a very hands-on and practical breakout session, Doug shared the program he uses for training other professors on how to improve their teaching skills.
When speaking to the value of applied improv in teaching, Doug shared the biggest reason professors are starting to pay more attention to things like improv is that they are scared of being replaced by videos.
The value in improvisation is that it’s experiential, meaning the participants learn through the experience that they have. This is something that’s not possible to replicate (at least in the same way) through video, meaning professors who use it will keep on professoring.
“Organizations are just ‘systems of human relationships.'”
In a breakout session on facilitation, Izzy shared some incredible practical advice on how to be an expert facilitator. In addition to sharing the exercises he uses and his 3-question process for debriefing, he also dropped some knowledge on organizations.
At first glance, his quotation seems almost obvious, but at the same time it was a great insight for me. At the end of the day, an organization is defined by the people who are a part of it. And until the day we work for robots, we have to understand how human relationships work.
As I’ve learned myself, and as Izzy reiterated, improvisation happens to be great training for helping us build and maintain those human relationships.
“How blue does your pixel need to be before you invest in flood preparation?”
In another AINx talk, Pablo shared how he was using improvisation in the work he does with the Red Cross. And while it was fascinating to see how improv is playing a vital role in improving their humanitarian work, I was struck with Pablo’s ability to explain climate risk management in such an accessible way.
Rather than dive into the deep details of their analytical models, he simplified the message in a way we could all understand: “How blue does it need to be?”
“Good presentations follow the sinusoidal curve of Western storytelling.”
In a great breakout session on presentation skills, Anthony and his co-presenter, Laine Forman, shared some very practical tips on how they help people of all experience levels get better at presenting.
While sharing what makes for a good story, Anthony shared what has to be one of my favorite tips I’ve ever heard about storytelling, and yes that is largely driven by the fact that the tip includes the phrase “sinusoidal curve.”
But the reality is, it’s also an apt description of what should be happening. Good stories include an up-and-down experience for the main character and the audience, which happens to follow the sine wave.
Applied Improv Network
As has been my experience at all of the AIN conferences I’ve attended, I left the conference feeling inspired, re-energized, and prepared to use some of the new things I learned with the groups I work with.
To learn more about AIN, check out the Applied Improv website.