S2E1: Bring A Brick, Not A Cathedral: Using Applied Improvisation To Improve The Communication At Your Company With Dr. Krista Longtin, PhD

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This is a podcast episode titled, S2E1: Bring A Brick, Not A Cathedral: Using Applied Improvisation To Improve The Communication At Your Company With Dr. Krista Longtin, PhD. The summary for this episode is: <p>In the kickoff episode of SEASON 2, we talk with Dr. Krista Longtin, Associate Professor of Communication Studies &amp; Assistant Dean of Faculty Affairs and Professional Development at IUPUI in Indianapolis, about using Applied Improvisation to improve communication and become a more interesting and engaging presenter. </p>

Angel Leon: Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of ASCII Anything presented by Moser Consulting. I'm your host Angel Leon, Moser's HR advisor. We are back ladies and gentlemen, after a little bit of a break ASCII Anything is back for season two. And to start us off, we have a great first episode. In this week's episode, we're bringing in Dr. Krista Longtin with whom we'll talk about improving communication through improvisation. Dr. Longtin is an associate professor of communication studies in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, and an assistant dean for faculty affairs and professional development in the Indiana University School of Medicine. She researches communication education and faculty development in the sciences and health professions. Krista, it's a pleasure to have you with us here in ASCII Anything to talk about such an interesting topic. How are you?

Dr. Krista Longtin: I'm good. Thanks. Thanks so much for having me.

Angel Leon: Pleasure is our stresses, yesterday we had that all to set us up for this, and I can tell you, we were all very excited about having this conversation. So let me start by asking you first, I want to know how this idea of improv and communication paint together. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, absolutely. So, I'll give you a little bit of history of improv as a sort of theater art, and that'll I think get us into this conversation about communication and improv and why they work so well together. So improv in the United States was really developed by Viola Spolin, who is a theater artist, she was based in Chicago. And one of the things that I think interesting about her work is that she worked really closely with Jane Addams Hull- House, which if you're familiar was really a community development effort. So it was about bringing together communities of immigrants, as well as folks who lived in Chicago for many years and building relationships between those groups. So Spolin really saw improv and theater as a tool to build connections between people. And that I think became the basis for seeing improv not just as a way to make people laugh or as a theater art, but to see improv as a tool to help us connect with one another. So you can see kind of from that history that easily moves us into thinking about, how can the concepts behind improvisation help us build relationships and communicate more effectively with one another? More recently, we've seen folks use improv as a tool to do lots of different kinds of organizational development or professional development or human resources kinds of activities. So the work that I do is sort of subset of improvisation called applied improvisation, and we can talk a little bit more about that if you'd like.

Angel Leon: Sure. So that actually leads in perfectly into my next question, because I was going to ask you, what is applied improvisation? And maybe just as importantly, what is it not?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, great question. So when folks think about improvisation or think about improvisational theater, usually they think about comedy like the show Whose Line Is It Anyway, which was a really popular show in the United States a few years ago, or even maybe some of the work on Saturday Night Live or Second City in Chicago. And so we tend to associate it with comedy, but improvisation and applied improvisation is really a theater art that lots of different actors use as a tool to connect with other theater artists. And so applied improvisation in particular is using some of the games and activities that are associated with improv outside of the theater to foster growth, to develop new and flexible mindsets, and to really help folks communicate more effectively in today's sort of volatile and uncertain world and work environment.

Angel Leon: Interesting. So I do want to touch on a little bit about what you said about games and activities that are done for that. So I had a question here about explaining the concept and I think this kind of ties into it. Can you explain the concept of getting out of your own way and talk through some of those exercises that you use to help people develop this trait?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, absolutely. So the concept of getting out of your own way is kind of one of the tenants of improv, and there are a bunch of them they're sort of principles or mindsets that we use when we talk about improv, that help us to connect with other people. And so the way that improv artists, the way that improv practitioners often do this is through improv games. And so some of you have probably even played some of these games like at camp, or if you were a scout, many of these games kind of show up in those spaces. But they're really designed to ask you to get out of your head and get connecting with other people. So, as an example, we play a game at the beginning of many of our workshops that we do or trainings that we do where we used improv, where we ask folks to have an entire conversation where one individual makes a proposition like, " This is what I'm going to do this weekend." And the other individual in the pair responds with, " Yes, but." And then the conversation moves back and forth with every sentence starting with yes, but. And obviously it shuts the conversation down pretty quickly. You run out of things to say, and then we ask folks to have the conversation again, switch places, and start each sentence with yes, and. And really encourage folks to say that, " Okay, how could you keep the conversation going?" So what if your goal that you have in that conversation is to keep the conversation moving instead of your goal being to just answer the question and move on. And so those kinds of experiential activities are really central to the improv experience. And for me, I think, and some of my research actually supports, this are a critical part of improving people's communication skills, having these experiential activities as a part of the education environment.

Angel Leon: That's an interesting exercise because as you mentioned, I mean, if I say I'm going skiing this weekend and we're doing this exercise, you say yes, but. And then this goes down a road that maybe, I don't want to... It's interesting because it can bring positive negatives into question, into play while we're having this conversation. And so, as you said, it develops our communication skills because we're looking for ways to maybe outwit or outsmart the next answer. Am I right? Is that something...

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, you're on the right track. Actually, what might be helpful is to try it for just three or four sentences. So do you want to try it for just a minute?

Angel Leon: Sure, why not?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Sure, okay. So this weekend I plan to mow my lawn. Now, start a sentence. Yeah, go ahead.

Angel Leon: Yes, but it's going to rain.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yes, but I really need to get the lawn mowed because my neighbor has mentioned that to me.

Angel Leon: Yes, but while you're mowing the lawn you're going to get wet, the grass is going to be wet, so there's really no rhyme or reason as to why you would do that.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yes, but maybe there'll be able break in the rain and I can find a time to get it done because it's really important to me. This is hard, right?

Angel Leon: Yeah.

Dr. Krista Longtin: It feels like it's hard.

Angel Leon: Because I feel like I've used my inaudible I don't know where to go.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Right, so this is what folks tend to find. And it's interesting because I will share with you that I play this game with physicians a lot. And physicians often find the yes, but, to actually be really comforting, it's their job to give feedback, it's their job to look for ways to find what a problem is and solve that problem. So for physicians that feels very comfortable and they can go on for a long time. But sometimes for other folks that yes, but it feels really uncomfortable like you did, you run out of things to say. So let's try it with yes, and, and Angel why don't you start? So tell me what you're going to do this weekend.

Angel Leon: Okay. This weekend, I'm going to go running outside.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yes, and I love to run outside in the summer and work up a good sweat, one of my favorite things to do.

Angel Leon: Yes, and you get so much great exercise during the summer because it's hot so you start sweating a lot more. So in my mind, I always think I'm going to lose more weight during the summer than say winter.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yes, and one of the things I love about running in the summer is that there's sort of a community of runners around you, I like to run on the canal, so lots of people around and it makes it more fun and interesting.

Angel Leon: Yes, and you get to listen to all the sounds of the city, if you're in the city, or if you're in the suburbs, you get to listen to the birds and maybe a dog barking from a neighbor's home, et cetera.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yes, and that's one of the things I love about running outside, it really helps me get out of my head and connect with what's happening around me.

Angel Leon: Yes, and it kind of soothes your soul basically because since you're connecting to everything else, it just helps you center yourself, right?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, that's perfect. So I'll pause us there and just talk about like, one of the things I love about that is that you can easily see the juxtaposition with yes, and well I'll ask you, Angel, as you're thinking about that, what was different for you about that second round than the first round?

Angel Leon: I think this one had a more positive tone to it than the first round. The first round, I felt like because of the yes, but you might be thinking of negative ways to impact that first statement.

Dr. Krista Longtin: I think that that's true, I think that in a lot of ways you're really with yes, but, it can feel not always but it can feel a little bit like you're trying to pick a fight versus yes. And where it feels like your job is to keep the conversation going. And that's one of the principles that we like to bring into our conversations about public speaking. If we're giving these activities and asking folks to think about a relationship with an audience, what if your job as a public speaker is not just to share facts? What if your job is to keep the conversation going? Even though that person in the audience is not actually responding out loud to you, they're taking notes, they're thinking, but if you see your role as co- creating, as building something new without audience and keeping the conversation going, then it really changes the way that you approach sharing information with the audience.

Angel Leon: Yeah. That is obviously very key when you're building... I mean, when you're speaking in general, when you're communicating, it's key to just build that relationship. And so I want to take that and follow it with this question, because it ties into how can you build empathy with audiences when explaining complex information?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, this is actually one of the things that I think is the most important part of the research that I do and the trainings that we do at Indiana University using improv, is the idea that folks sometimes forget that when you go to hear a speaker or see a speaker. If you think about things like really popular TED Talks, for example. The reason why you connect with those speakers, the reason why you connect with somebody like Brené Brown, for example, who's a great public speaker is because they display trust and credibility. And trust and credibility are primarily built non- verbally, they're actually not built with words, we have good research to support that. So as a speaker, part of what we encourage our presenters to think about, again, when we're talking about sharing complicated information, that it's not just the information itself that helps your audience to get on board with a topic, but it's the way you share that information. Because if a person doesn't believe you, if they don't think you're credible, if they don't trust you, it doesn't matter how good the information is that you're presenting because they don't believe it. And so seeing the delivery of the information as just as important as the quality of the information itself can actually help you accomplish your goals. So we spend a lot of time thinking about doing activities that are focused on building non- verbal credibility and trust with audiences. And so that can be everything from, for example, one of the ways that we train our speakers to get ready to speak to an audience, particularly if you're giving a more traditional kind of public talks. So you've got an audience and pre- COVID, you've got an audience of people standing in a room. You can come into a room and mess around with the tech at the podium and make sure everything's working okay, and then just sort of stand behind the podium and drink your water until the session starts. Or you can walk up to the first row, introduce yourself and ask the audience members questions, like what brought you here today? What are you most excited to hear? Those really small shifts are shifts that illustrates that you are credible and trustworthy to an audience. So very small behaviors can change the way an audience perceives a speaker.

Angel Leon: Well, and in that regard, I should say, I mean, I've never been want to go out and do a speech in public, do something in an auditory. This medium is probably the first time that I've actually just gone out and spoken as much as I do here. But it does provide maybe also a calming effect to the individual, to the speaker, because now you're sharing some little bit of insight with the audience members with those that are right there in front of you who... If history serves us right, they might get picked on if you will, by the speaker at some point during the speech, if that present itself, because a lot of times very engaging speakers will just say, " Hey, you out there," and they will probably point out to the first person on the first row. And so that sets up that report if you will right away. And then a question I had while we were talking about this, is how can a speaker say what type of body language do they represent? Because they could probably do that, but then what makes them be trustworthy when it comes of body language? Because people might come in and I know you can't see us for the folks that are listening, but they can come in and have their arms all wrapped around their chest and that might not be a welcoming posture. So what kind of body language do you see in people who are successful in being that trustworthy individual to an audience?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, that's a really good question. One of the things that we try to encourage folks to do and why we use these improv techniques as tools to teach you really smart folks to communicate more effectively to non- experts is the idea that scripting your body language is a sure- fire way to disconnect from an audience. That actually being overly scripted as one of the things that we know reduces credibility. So for those of you that may be think, "Oh, this talk is really important, I'm going to write it all out." Unfortunately, that actually will not serve your final purpose well. So instead, what we recommend to folks is a different approach to practicing both the verbal and non- verbal message together. So when I work with folks who are, whether you're giving a talk or you're trying to connect with a client across the table, let's say you have a series of points that you need to get across. What we recommend is that you practice each of your kind of main points or practice each of your sections of the information that you're sharing in discreet chunks. For example, if you were to practice the speech all the way through from beginning to end, usually what will happen is you'll mess up somewhere in the middle. So the beginning of your speech gets super well- practiced, and the end of your speech falls apart, because you never quite make it to the end when you're practicing. So instead practicing your talk in modular sections, so practice this chunk and then practice this chunk, and practicing them out of order is one of the strategies that we use to help, again, our physicians, our scientists, our tech folks, to communicate more effectively. And then asking, always practicing with a person so you never want to just practice by yourself but practicing with a person. And then asking that individual with whom you're practicing a set of questions that are maybe different than what you might think. So I don't know about you, but whenever I have to give a talk, I usually find a colleague or a family member to practice with. And when I do it, I used to sort of ask them, " So what did you think?" And I love my family members and my colleagues, but they usually respond with, " Oh yeah, it was good, or maybe move your hands a little less, or maybe it could be louder here." And those are fine, those are helpful things. But it really doesn't give you tangible advice for what to do next. So we have a series of questions that we use that I can share with your team that asked more specific questions to help refine your message. So questions, like, what do you remember most about what I just said is a great idea of what you should keep doing? Or a question like, what still don't you understand? After I'd given this talk to you, what still don't you understand? Those kinds of questions give you really tangible things to improve on that will help you to by proxy build that trust and credibility that you're most interested in.

Angel Leon: Yeah, those are great tips on how to prepare yourself to give that speech. But I want to move on to the effect of the speech. So the information that's being passed on to the listeners let's say. And one of the things that we try to do here in our ASCII Anything space is bring down a chosen topic to a level where anybody who listens to this podcast can understand it. A lot of the stuff that we talk here is very technical, we're very techie oriented, obviously we're an IT consulting company so we strive to be the best at what we do, but sometimes that translation from the very high tech topics it bring it down, it kind of gets lost. So what do you think like important for scientists or any other tech- minded folks who translate expertise to the public? Basically to bring it down so that anybody who can pick up say this episode or any TED Talk or things of that nature can understand what's being said?

Dr. Krista Longtin: That's a great question. And one of the things that we've studied in a lot in terms of how we can use these experiential activities to help folks who are tech- minded or science- minded communicate really complicated information with folks who are non- experts. And the first thing I think that it's important to remember is that everyone is an expert in something. So even if your audience member is not an expert or the person with whom you're speaking, your client, whomever, is not an expert in your topic, they do have expertise. It's just not in the same area as yours. So making sure that you're not necessarily thinking about dumbing down a concept, but maybe distilling a concept might be a useful framework to put on that. I always think about it, like when you put a pot of soup on the stove and you let it simmer kind of all day, it gets thicker and thicker and it's that like really thick, rich stuff at the end that you want to communicate to an audience. So think of it like distilling a message down instead of dumbing a message down, so I think that's the first step is shifting your frame. The second thing I think that you can do is keep in mind the idea of concept that's actually been studied in marketing quite a bit, but that we use a lot in communication when we're talking about communicating expertise and it's a cognitive bias called the Curse of Knowledge. And the Curse of Knowledge basically is a theory that says that when you become an expert in something, it's really hard to communicate that expertise to a non- expert because you have developed a sort of muscle memory around that expertise. And the best way to explain the Curse of Knowledge is to offer the metaphor of the example of teaching someone to drive. So if you drive all the time, you've developed an expertise in driving, and that expertise comes in such a way that you don't have to think about the idea that when you get into the car, you have to adjust your seat before you put your seatbelt on. That's something that now you do without even thinking, you look and feel where the seat is and decide that it's in the right spot or not in the right spot, and that doing through feel is expertise. And so when you think about the way that, that helps us to approach communicating with non- experts is to actually find someone who you trust, who is a non- expert, and try to explain a concept. So the way that we do this in our workshops is we actually usually use a section of the sports pages from a newspaper. So we often use a particular quote from the Indianapolis Star, that is during a time when the Colts were playing the Patriots and Tom Brady is part of the story. And for those that are not sports fans, Tom Brady is considered an arch enemy of the Colts, if you will. And that concept in and of itself that Tom Brady is kind of an arch enemy of the Colts is really important context that is in the water for sports fans, they know that already. But if you would know nothing about football and you just read that section of the sports page, you're going to get bogged down in the jargon of sports. What's a pick six, what's a safety, what's a down? So you get bogged down in that jargon. And so simply asking folks to go back and say, " Rather than defining jargon, go back and think about what is the story that you want to tell that person who is listening. Who is the villain, who is the hero? What is the arc of that story?" And starting from that place of telling a story, as opposed to just defining jargon can really get you to that distilled message of what you want to accomplish. So we spend a lot of time really focusing on thinking about how much information someone needs to know to actually get on board with a particular concept, and it's often less than an expert would think.

Angel Leon: Well, I think both examples are perfect because I'm currently living in one of those examples right now, I'm teaching my son how to drive. And needless to say, everything you mentioned is correct and it really is all part of the system that we live in, right? Because as you mentioned, when you get in your car, most cars nowadays have a setting that you just push a button and the seat pushes you to the right position, your mirrors on the outside are perfect. All you have to do is basically just touch that mirror in the middle of the car and that's it, that's all you do. How do you explain that to a teenager who's never driven a car, who's getting in for the first time who the only concept of getting in a car is just getting in the car, putting the seatbelt on and then, okay, dad, mom drive. So it is very hard, I agree, it's very hard to sit down and at a school parking lot and say, " Okay, have you checked your mirrors?" He's looking around, he's looking around, and I don't see any movement from his hand, checking the mirrors, you know, moving the mirrors around, because the mirrors are high, I left them. So it's very hard for you to sit there and just go, " Okay, just push the button, push it so you can check the mirror on the left, make sure you get this much space on this side, and then this much space on the other side," it's very hard. So I do agree, I think you said, I'm sorry. Let me get off my little tangent here.

Dr. Krista Longtin: But Angel, you make a good point there and I think that that's important when we're thinking about communicating a complicated concept to someone who maybe doesn't have that expertise again. One of the things, most important things that you can do is to ask an audience what they know already about a topic, or the person with whom you're speaking. We talk about this a lot when we're talking with physicians and helping them to think about how to communicate expertise with patients. I have a friend who a few years ago was adopting a child from the foster system. And lots of foster kids have disrupted sleep, that's a very common thing that happens to foster kids. And so she met with this sleep specialist who was going to be like the key to everything, to help her kids sleep through the night. And as you know, you're exhausted, you're like, but your kid's not sleeping, you're going through this really stressful process. She sat down with the sleep specialist who had a list of like 26 things to do, and he essentially read the list of 26 things to her and then handed her the sheet of paper and she had already tried like 12 of those. And she felt so discouraged at the end of that conversation where instead, he could have started by saying, " Tell me what you've done already." And asking that question, like, " Tell me what you've done already, tell me what you know already about this topic," allows it to be much more of a conversation and much less about I am the expert, and I am telling you what to do. And in that space that we're able to build that sense of credibility and trust, and I think that that's a really important part of this shift in seeing communication, not just as message transmission but seeing communication as developing relationships and developing shared meaning, which is really what we want from our communication with others.

Angel Leon: Yeah, I will certainly take you up on that because I've seen a lot of YouTube watching lately from him, just watching YouTube on how to drive things like that. So I will sit down and we will have this conversation this way about it. What have you learned from your YouTube experience so far?

Brian: Hi Angel, this is producer Brian. I just want to ask real quick. Is your car okay?

Angel Leon: It is okay, it is fine. It's fine.

Brian: It seems like it might not be at some point, I just wanted to check. Okay.

Angel Leon: It's fine. I make sure we go drive in very big open spaces where there's nothing around, so we're fine. I'm going to switch gears here a little bit, Krista. I want to ask you about culture, because one thing that's very important for us here at Moser Consulting is our culture. And one of the things that a lot of businesses and companies struggle with is the whole culture versus climate conundrum, where the culture of a business is the result of the separate climates that exist within a company structure. Every group, department, or team might have their own climates, even their own culture. What do you think is easier to influence the climate or the culture?

Dr. Krista Longtin: So climate is certainly easier to influence in my experience, because it is smaller, it's in sort of the realm of your influence. And culture is harder, it's in the water. I have a great mentor who used to say that you can have culture by design or culture by default, which do you want? And I love that because it helps you to think about what are the little tiny behaviors that make up that organizational culture, that larger culture? So sometimes we use the term organizational micro- practices that it's these little tiny behaviors that make up a climate of a team and then as a result, the larger culture of an organization. And it's in that space to me that the principles of improv actually become super valuable. So one of the things that improv theater artists and applied improv practitioners often talk about is the idea that we build climate and culture together through conversation. It's through talk, through discourse, fancy words, but just through talk that we build our organizational climate and our organizational culture. So knowing that that's the case, part of what your responsibility is as a leader, and even if you're leading from the middle, you don't have to have title of supervisor or whatever to be a leader. But leading from the middle, one of the things that you can do is encourage conversations about climate and culture. And I think that the way that you do that is through an improv principle that I love and that is, " Bring a brick, not a cathedral." And what that essentially means is that every conversation that you have is an opportunity to build something new with the person with whom you're speaking, every conversation is about building something new. And if you come with the blueprint for your cathedral, the blueprint for Notre Dame, then that other person is probably coming with the cathedral as well and you're going to clash. You're going to argue because you've already got a plan in your head, but if, instead you come with a pile of bricks and you try to build something together, you're going to have something that might look even more beautiful than what you originally thought, because you're working together in conversation to build that new thing. And I think that that's part of what makes climate such an important part of building a culture, is that idea that each of us, each of our little behaviors help to inform the way that we approach our work and the way that we approach working together as a team.

Angel Leon: Well, and I think you bring up an interesting point in that climate, it really feed that culture because that's the beauty of diversity, the beauty of having difference of opinions is that you used your metaphor about bringing a brick. When you're building a cathedral is every little climate, every little group and put their own brick into that culture, and then that just flourishes into the cathedral in the end, which then turns into that culture of the overall of the company of the organization. And so that's one of the things that I know that we reach you at Moser. I mean, we have a lot of different groups, a lot of different teams, with a lot of different personalities, a lot of different backgrounds, but each one of those groups, each one of those individuals provides us with ideas with themes, with things that we can build up as a company, but we need those grass roots ideas, we need those reaching out for information. And I mean the folks that are listening to this podcast have heard this in the past. I mean, our CEO takes, for example, our climate survey, our best places to work survey every year. They take that to heart and they read each and every one of those comments. And even throughout the year when that's not going on, when somebody has an idea or a brick that they'd like to start laying down, they bring it up to them directly and it starts happening. If it's a good idea that we can definitely produce, we will take on it, and we've learned from mistakes in the past, we've learned from missteps. But at the end of the day, what counts is that we're giving everybody a voice for letting everybody come in with that brick and letting them put it on the floor and put that cement around it, so that somebody else can then lay a brick on top of it and build up that cathedral.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, one of the things that you said here, I'll put my organizational development hat on for a minute, which is some of the work that I do with IU School of Medicine and this is at the bounds of my expertise. So I'll share some information here and then maybe producer Brian can fact check me a little bit. So it's my understanding that there's this researcher John Gottman, who has studied couples, married couples for years and years like 500 couples for over 25 years to look for the things that make marriages stick. And he argues that there's this golden ratio of positive to negative interactions that you need within a marriage to make the marriage work. And that golden ratio is five to one. So you need five positive interactions to one negative interaction in order to make the marriage stick. And they've replicated some of that work within organizations and found that it's slightly less so, three to one is the golden ratio. So you need three positive interactions to one negative interaction at work to make the culture or the climate of your team, a positive one. I mentioned that in part, because there's no way that the CEO of Moser or that even the C- Suite, the folks that are in leadership positions can be all of those three to one interactions that you need, it's got to be the individuals within the organization. And for me, that's again, where we can go back to one of the principles of improv, which is make your partner look good, make your scene partner look good. So as you think about the climate of your team, what are you doing to make sure that those around you are meeting that three to one golden ratio of positive to negative interactions? And it doesn't need to be big things, it could be little things like, see seeing somebody's boss on a job well done email. Something really small but that sort of public acknowledgement of like, " Hey, you're really rocking it this week," I think can make a huge difference in terms of feeling connected, both as the sender of that email and the receiver of that email.

Angel Leon: Yeah, absolutely, I agree. And that's something that I know we here at Moser do a lot of the times, a lot of people within leadership and not even leadership, just folks, the Gerald book. I mean, we invite everybody to do what we call shout outs for each other. So again, it's something that you build in through that climate, but then it permeates into the whole culture. And so people know that that is, I don't want to say expected, but that is something that's already ingrained into the fabric of the folks that work here. So people, when they get that shout out, like you said, it's a moment of pride but it's also a moment of pride for the people who sharing their knowledge. So that's very key in developing that climate and that culture.

Dr. Krista Longtin: That's one of the reasons why, like I said, I like using the principles of improv to talk about these things, because it really does dovetail well with the way that we know we want our organizations to function. So thinking about even small things like, starting meetings with a check- in or even playing a little game can be a great way of just reminding folks that we often spend more time at work than we do with our families. And so the more that we can make that climate a positive one, the more likely folks are going to have a good time at work and want to stay.

Angel Leon: Absolutely, this has been fun I have to say, this has been one of the best conversations I've had in this podcast history. But before we go, I do have a couple of questions that I like to ask you that we'd like to ask some of our guests. So I'll start with this one. What's a commonly held belief about your expertise that you passionately disagree with?

Dr. Krista Longtin: I know, I really fundamentally discourage people from picturing audiences in their underwear when they're speaking in public. I don't know where that came from, but it is a terrible idea. And look, even just me talking about it, I'm turning red, it is a recipe to make me more nervous. I instead much prefer just chat with your audience ahead of time, they are all regular people. And I always remind folks like, think about when you have seen someone like bomb a talk, never are you sitting in the audience like, " Ha ha sucker, you should've practiced more." No, you're like dying inside for them, you want them to get it out. Remember your audience is pulling for you, they want you to be successful when you're speaking. So yeah, please don't picture your audience in their underwear, it's not going to help you any.

Angel Leon: Okay, right along those same lines, what's something that everyone in your industry space should start or stop doing?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Everyone should stop scripting out their speeches. Please don't write your speech out, type it out long- hand, and then get up in front of a group of people and read. Reading information is useful and certainly all of us read information, we're all on our phones, we're all consuming incredible amounts of information. But people come to hear you speak to connect with you. It's more efficient to give folks something to read, but that's not why people come to listen to a talk. They come because they want to connect with you. So rather than scripting, try to do what you can to provide chunks of information that you think would be most valuable to your audience members.

Angel Leon: Interesting. Okay, last one. When you first started in your expertise, what was harder than you expected?

Dr. Krista Longtin: It was harder than I expected to get out of my own way, which is one of my favorite principles of improv. And some of that comes from imposter syndrome that I think that all of us feel, I think for me, especially a woman serving in the space that I served in medicine and in healthcare, and science, and not being a scientist. So I'm going into a space that's not really my space. It was really hard to trust in these principles and just be willing to be open and be willing to make mistakes. And I think the more that I can remind myself that I do have expertise that I have developed research in these areas, and that I am a credible speaker. The more I think that my audience is on board with me and connects with me.

Angel Leon: I think we've been all agreed, you are a very credible speaker.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Thanks.

Angel Leon: Krista, before we go, could you share a little bit about what you're currently working on?

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, absolutely. So during the pandemic here in Indiana, one of the ways that we distributed the COVID- 19 vaccine was through an existing call center, 211. So here in Indianapolis and Marion County and throughout the state, actually, if you need any kind of social service, you can call 211, and it'll connect you to the social services that you need. Very early on the secretary of FSSA, the Family and Social Services Organization, repurposed the 211 line to be a vaccine hotline. So I spent from right around Christmas time through June 1st, training a group of call center employees using improv techniques to communicate about the vaccine. And it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire career, that people that I worked with, these call center employees who... I have not a ton of scientific expertise, we're troopers getting on board, learning about the background of the vaccine, learning how to talk about that in a way that could help dispel myths. And so the research that I'm working on right now looks at how improv techniques were particularly helpful, getting a group of non- experts on board and able to share that information with the public. And I think I feel really proud that I have been a part of that really important work during the pandemic. So it's been great.

Angel Leon: Oh, that's a great topic. I know you mentioned a little bit how they were troopers, but how do you think it brought them from being just, you're running the call centers to just now learning about all of these new topics, like you said scientific terms, things of that, and then just talking to the general public about it. How does that turn out?

Dr. Krista Longtin: So one of the things that we found in the process of training our call center employees is that most of them had the same questions that many of their callers had. And so if we could start from this place of what questions do you have, and then what metaphors were helpful to you and explaining, or understanding the vaccine itself or the process of rolling out the vaccine? What myths did they believe in that we could dispel? That if we saw them as representative of our audience and saw opportunities to connect with them through improv, that they were much more likely to be able to share that information with the public. And in fact, we're more credible with the people who called, I think that traditionally in call center spaces, they work from a very strict script. And what we found out was that scripting actually diminished credibility rather than increased it. And when you think about it, that's true, I don't know about you, but when I've called the call center in the past and I get someone who's clearly reading to me, I'm over it pretty quickly. But if I could give them very flexible, accurate bits of information that they could then put in to their own words, they were much more likely to be supportive of those folks that were calling in maybe had questions.

Angel Leon: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. I know the feeling of calling somewhere and getting somebody to just read from a script and just be, so yeah this is... Go ahead.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Yeah, I was just going to say, it's discouraging. You have a question and it's clear to that person just reading from a script likely not understanding your question, not hearing your question. So that's one of the places where from an improv standpoint mirroring that comes really helpful. Just sharing back, I want to make sure I got your question right before jumping into an answer. I think that your experience is spot on.

Angel Leon: Well, I just got to say that's great, great work. Thank you very much once again for joining us today on ASCII Anything. Dr. Krista Longtin, thank you.

Dr. Krista Longtin: Thank you so much. This is a blast.

Angel Leon: Thank you for listening in to this week's edition of ASCII Anything presented by Moser Consulting. We hope you enjoyed listening to our conversation with Dr. Krista Longtin about improving communication through improvisation. Season two is just getting started and we have a great deal of content coming your way. We'd love it if you would join us next week when we continue to dive deeper with our resident experts and what they're currently working on. If you have an idea or a topic you'd like us to explore, please reach out to us to our social media channels. In the meantime, please remember to give us a rating and subscribe to our feed where we get your podcast. Until then, so long everybody.


For Additional Information, Please Visit:

Social Media:

Additional resources:

  • Academic articles and chapters.


  • Power of Public Speaking podcast episode:

https://www.powerofpublicspeaking.com/podcast/episode/8ffabfdf/pops podcast-s2e8-don-waisanen-krista-hoffmann-longtin-caitlin-mcclure-and-gary-ware

  • How improv can help us communicate during the pandemic:


Today's Host

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Angel Leon

|Director of Personnel

Today's Guests

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Dr. Krista Longtin, PhD

|Associate Professor of Communication Studies & Assistant Dean of Faculty Affairs and Professional Development