Running Insight

MAY 01, 2018

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12 © 2018 Formula4media LLC. RUNNING INSIGHT N ot too long ago I went to an improvisational comedy show in Los Angeles. Had I not known one of the actors, I probably wouldn't have gotten in - the line for tickets snaked around the block. But, as you do in LA, I dropped my friend's name and was allowed in before the crowd. I bypassed the cocktail cart in the lobby and headed straight for the entrance. I pushed aside a heavy, felt curtain and stepped into the theater. It was smaller than I expected. A soft light shone on a dozen rows of fold-down seats. There was a hint of mid-century cigarettes. The dark stage was devoid of props. It seemed to be waiting for direction. Though it was my first live improv show, I had an idea of what to expect. After all, I grew up watching Whose Line is it Anyway? and Saturday Night Live. Still, I was excited to be at an exclusive performance featuring up-and-coming comedians. When the lights over the crowd went dark and six actors entered the stage, I shared an anxious smile with the stranger next to me. The actors asked the audience for prompts: a person, an era of time, an animal, a machine, a color. The next hour was a blur. Top-level, frenzied entertain- ment. The audience roared. I stuck around afterwards to chat with my actor friend. I told him I was fascinated by how such mundane things can be so hilarious. That's when he shared with me the ageless secret of good improv. "You got to be in yes mode at all times," he said. "Because if you start thinking or saying no during a sketch, the piece dies quickly." The best improvisational actors either think, or explicitly say, "Yes, and..." when it's their turn to speak. For example: Actor 1: Hey Tom, looks like there's another squirrel on the front lawn. Actor 2: Yeah, no kidding, and it's wear- ing a tuxedo. Actor 3: Which means it must be a man- squirrel. Actor 4: Yeah, a man-squirrel. In fact, it sort of reminds me of my dad. Actor 5: I was just about to say the same thing—I think it's the tie that's familiar. Actor 6: Yep. It's definitely the tie. In fact it's the same tie your got dad for Father's Day last year. (and so on, and so on) My friend flat-out told me that an improv show's transcript is often not funny. Not one bit. "The art of improv comedy comes from momentum," he said. "Things get more and more ridiculous as the bit progresses." He said improv isn't necessarily about comedy at all. It's more about making sure actors never say or think the word no. Since then, I've been applying this rule to specialty retail. What if retailers eliminated no from their vocabulary? Sure, everyone knows the cliché adage—always ask open-ended questions—but do retailers strategically use the energetic word, yes, to their advantage? Here's an example: Let's say someone comes into your shop looking to buy a pair of volleyball shorts. Maybe you know the owner of the volleyball shop and can send customers there for a 20% discount. But what if you instead said, "Why yes, we do carry a bunch of shorts. What kind are you looking for, exactly?" OK, sure, the customer might say, "Duh! I want volleyball shorts." But maybe, just maybe, the customer will say they are looking for a short that eliminates chafing. Fact is, they don't want volleyball shorts at all. Had you sent them to the shop up the road, you'd have missed an opportunity. If you think (or say) "yes…and," to every question, you earn a chance to do two things: Determine the customer's actual need, and briefly explain what you do. Because if they are coming to your shop for volleyball shorts, odds are they have no idea what you're up to. A flood of yesses sets the stage for real connection. It breaks down walls and offers a better chance to share stories. It works on the stage, and it'll work in your store, too. Keep the flow. Never say no. n YES, AND... COMEDY IMPROV CAN IMPROVE YOUR UPTs Tom Griffen is a storyteller. He's also a coach and trainer for specialty retailers. For the next six months he'll be walking across America. His planned route started in Los Angeles, headed to Phoenix, and will continue onto El Paso, Austin, Shreveport, Little Rock, Nashville, Asheville, and eventually to the Atlantic seaboard. He plans to stop at run shops within range of his eastward movement. There he'll stock up on needed items, but also include the visit in a Running Insight article that celebrates your paths crossing. Follow him at www.mywalking-, on Instagram @tomswalkacrossamerica, or listen to his podcast, My Walking Life, on iTunes (or wherever you podcast).

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