Episode 22: Coffee With Claire with Susan Hamilton

About the Show with Guest Susan Hamilton

Episode 21: Higher Percentage Choices

In life, there are rules that we follow.  Sometime we do follow them; sometimes we don’t.  I have to admit I sometime go over the speed limit, but I blame my car.  What we do really boils down to choice, isn’t it?  I chose to leave ten minutes later that I originally planned and now I have to speed to get to my appointment on time.  I also chose to create stress and risk.  It’s a choice. Is it the best choice?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Maybe I had a deadline I had to make for an article, and I had to get it done before I left.  Maybe I got on Facebook and forgot about the time.  Choices, choices, choices!

In improv we have what are called higher and lower percentage choices.  All choices are accepted (remember the Yes, and rule we have discussed before?) Any rule of improv can be broken and not tank the scene.  However, it’s always a higher percentage choice to follow the rules.  We already have quite a bit of risk when we just get on stage for improv; why make it even harder by breaking the rules?  When you make a choice to break a rule, you are increasing the number of risks in the scene.

In the short form of improv that we do, we typically have 3 – 4 minutes to create the scene for the audience.  This means we need to work together to build the who, what, where and hopefully the why of the scene, make it move forward and have a beginning, middle and end; create our characters and have them interact in a believable situation, while taking care that we are making sure everyone in the scene looks brilliant.  Oh yeah, and making the audience laugh!  All of this while having no idea what the suggestion from the audience will be – so no pre planning can take place!

It’s easier to make the higher percentage choice for everyone in the group.  Those are the choices that have the higher percentage of a bigger payoff (Laugh quotient).   Even by making the higher percentage choices there is still a risk that the scene is missing something else and falls somewhat flat.  We never know until the Director calls the scene.  However, making the higher percentage choice is ways to somewhat hedge your bet.

We are always talking about giving each other “gifts” in improv – even “mistakes” are considered gifts.  Maybe I start talking in a German accent, and then suddenly in mid-scene I drop my accent.  If my stage mate is paying attention, he/she might make note of the dropped accent, and swipe to a scene where I got dropped into a capsule that erases all accents or something like that!  Now THAT makes for an interesting scene!

Maybe its ok with you that the rules are broken…especially if it makes you look better.  But for how long?  For the quick laugh?  Could this same scenario present itself at work?  At that point, your co-worker is going to mistrust you and not particularly like performing or working with you.  Plus, you made their job harder than it already is.

Set up rules in your organization that are consistent, and that everyone follows…including you.  You live in a fishbowl; people are watching you all the time. Make sure they see what good looks like!

So, your homework for this week is work on higher percentage choices.  When given choices this week, think about what choice gives you the highest payoff while maintaining trust.  That’s where the gold is!  Share your experiences with us on our Coffee with Claire Facebook page, and let us know what choices you had and the payoff!