Tell Me What To Do!

Often clients will ask me how to handle circumstances that might take them “off-script” during a presentation. After all, even with extensive preparation and a polished delivery, the conversation can take an unexpected turn. Here’s my best advice:


Actors demonstrate this skill beautifully during improvisational comedy sketches. If you’ve seen the show Whose Line is It Anyway, hosted by Drew Carey, you’ll know what I mean.

But how do they do it? It’s not as hard as it looks. They are using an improv technique called “Yes, and….”

Here’s how it works.

As an actor you understand that no matter what a fellow actor presents to you, instead of negating it, belittling it, or disagreeing with it, your job is to say, “Yes, and…” As a rule, you must accept the scenario as it’s presented to you (regardless of where you wanted it to go), and then add to it.

Saying “Yes, and…” is basic tenet of improvisation because saying “No, you’ve got it all wrong” is the fastest way to kill a scene.

The “Yes, and…” technique helps my clients improve their ability to handle challenging situations, and it will help you too.

Instead of fighting or resisting an idea, find a way to say yes to some aspect of it, and then build upon or add to the idea in some way.

Yes, (I agree that fill in the blank), And (add to the idea)

Here are some examples:

THEM: “We have to cut costs. Should we consider layoffs?” YOU:Yes, it’s important that we reduce expenses, And I’d like to explore every option before making a recommendation.”

THEM: “Can we count on you to volunteer for us?” YOU:Yes, I’m willing to volunteer, And the springtime works best for me.”

THEM: “Look, I don’t trust this data so I’m not convinced that this trend is real.” YOU: Yes, to validate any trend requires looking at multiple sources of data….And I’m happy to provide additional sources to support our findings …”

What do people normally do? They say, “No, you’ve got it all wrong. Let me enlighten you.” This takes the conversation in a defensive or argumentative direction.

I know what you are thinking. These examples make sense, but some ideas are impossible to agree with! (There are exceptions to this, of course. Hateful language is not what I’m talking about here.)

Most of the time “Yes, and…” will help you adapt and find common ground. You won’t need me, or anyone else to tell you what to do when things take an unexpected turn.

You’ll know just what to do.

Best, Cheryl

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