You Can – and Must – Improvise

2 coffee cups on porch

As our computers and telephones have merged and landed in our hands instead of on a desk, an unintended consequence has surfaced. We are tapping and scrolling and writing and reading more than we are talking.

This means there’s a lot of “communication” happening but it doesn’t necessarily result in understanding. And it isn’t able to extend to discovery, which is the true joy and magic of conversation.

Discovery is where we learn more about each other. And there is always more to learn. Whether we are in conversation with our sister, our best friend, a long-time client or a new customer … there’s always more to learn.

The path to discovery is storyfinding. And at the core of storyfinding is improvisation – our ability to, in the moment, without preparation or notes, respond to what we hear and build on it.

Yikes! Based on the requests I receive for training and coaching, this need to improvise has become a bit of a terror for a lot of people. It doesn’t need to be.

What is improvisation? And how does it expand our conversations?

When I moved to Halifax from Toronto in 1997, I promised a dear friend I’d do my best to return for a visit every summer. And for over a decade I was able to keep that promise. Arriving at her house in Caledon was like coming home. There was good food, long hikes and, always, great conversation. Early one summer morning, we sat outside surrounded by forest, sipping lattes and enjoying an extended breakfast. We talked, and talked, and talked.

Suddenly, strangers appeared. I think they were Seventh-Day Adventists. We briefly talked to them as well. Both of us noticed that they gave us strange looks. Why? Well, it was noon and we were still in our pajamas. We’d been immersed in conversation for over four hours!

Both of us carry this memory. I doubt if either of us can recall what we talked about. But the experience of sharing, laughing and discovering strengthened our friendship, and our trust and respect for each other.

While conversations of over four hours aren’t the goal with prospects and clients, the aim is definitely – and always – discovery.  This brings to mind a quote from Eric Ries: “We must learn what customers really want. Not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

The only way to discover what customers really really want is … to have a great conversation.

No questionnaire, survey or series of emails will uncover what can be discovered in one excellent conversation.

And excellent conversations rely on our ability to ask great questions, listen to the answer, and then “riff” or improvise based on what we’ve just heard. (The word ‘improvise’ comes to us from the 1808 Latin word improviso, meaning “unforeseen, not studied or prepared beforehand”.) While this may sound simple, it isn’t. Especially if you’ve been seduced by technology to tap more than talk.

It’s a skill to ask great questions. It’s a skill to listen fully to the answer. And it’s a skill to translate what you hear into another great question.

Fortunately acquiring this skill is easy. All it involves is having more real-time conversations. That’s it. Whether you choose phone, video or in-person, start talking instead of tapping. You may be rusty or awkward at first but know that, in the words of famous American jazz composer, keyboardist and bandleader, Chick Corea: “You can’t improvise without practice.”

You can learn the skills of creating meaningful conversations with your prospects or customers through coaching. Curious? Book a discovery call with me here. 


Explore more articles about storyfinding here.

Are you ready to uncover your own storyfinding skills? Regardless of your business, product or service, storyfinding is the key to creating consistent revenue and exceeding your sales goals. Click here to book a call so we can discuss how I might support you.

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  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
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