The art of improvising - Part A

Staying at home and dealing with technical issues while working with customers or other daily-work issues, reminded me how crucial it is to stay resilient and why the skill of improvising is one of the best skills I’ve honed. It is also one of the important skills of entrepreneurs, as unexpected surprises always arise.

About 10 years ago, I was invited to DJ at a local bar in Tel Aviv. I was already an experienced DJ and knew this place well, but I came the night before to check out the place and the equipment, just to make sure they have everything I need. If there was any missing equipment – I usually brought it with me.

The night I was DJing, I arrived early — I have been always arriving early to my lectures, DJing, training sessions, and work presentations in order to make the required preparations calmly.

However, when I arrived, one cable was missing and I couldn’t connect to the bar’s mixer. I felt so stressed out because people were already sitting at their tables, and the team was waiting for me to start. Additionally, I felt as if I had a big stone on my shoulders and everyone was looking at me, waiting for me to get set up to move.

Improvising and adapting
The more improvising experiences we have where we need to improvise or adapt, the better we become at it | Photo: Startaê Team

I immediately called friends who were living around and asked them whether they had the specific cable. Lucky me, I quickly found someone and 20 minutes later, the cable was there! I started DJing and an hour after I started I forgot all about that cable. I was the sole creator of whatever stress I felt but once I started, everyone was having fun and it was one of my most successful nights.

In my career I have organized many events; I’ve delivered numerous training sessions and lectures, both in person and online. I have tackled so many challenges and last minute problems that I no longer overstress beforehand. That’s why I know I can always deal with them if they appear.

It’s not comfortable or fun, and actually for an organized person like me, it’s a lot of stress. But dealing with these types of issues is part of being a professional, and a crucial part of being an entrepreneur.

That’s the art of improvising. The more experiences we have where we need to improvise or adapt, the better we become at it.

So what can you do if you have an unexpected circumstance?

The first step: Eliminate the problem before it even starts

Plan for the unexpected. The solution for 90% of the unexpected problems is to be prepared and plan in advance. But as I learned the hard way, there is always a chance of a surprise, and not always a pleasant one. But once you are aware of this possibility, it’s easier to deal with it. 

If you ever had a flight canceled or postponed, you know what I’m talking about. Booking a refundable hotel is exactly as using a spare cable or other necessary assistance. You’ve ensured a back-up plan.

The pause

Keep calm. If you stay relaxed and confident, your audience or the people around you will be supportive. If you show anxiety, it won’t look good and will make others feel as if you don’t know what you’re doing. When delivering a lecture, it’s ok to take a second and express it to the audience: “Thank you for understanding. I’ll be ready in a minute.” It’s also ok to ask for help. Just remember to react calmly and professionally.

Once, while watching a performance of The Klaxons at the Berlin Festival, the stage’s electricity went dark. Instead of stopping while waiting for the problem to be solved by the tech crew, the band took advantage of it, and started to engage the audience by playing and singing songs. It turned out to be an amusing moment that I still remember, and it seemed like the band itself was having a lot of fun. A few minutes later, the problem solved, the electricity was back and the show went on.

Be in the moment
Photo: When something unexpected happens, take a breath and “be in the moment” | Photo: Bethany Legg

The moment

I can tell you from personal experience, it IS stressful to deal with unexpected circumstances, especially in the last minute. But that’s life, and the more responsibility you have, the more surprises you’ll have. Also, more people will come to you for finding solutions: colleagues, customers, employees, and vendors.

When something unexpected happens, take a breath and “be in the moment.” Breath. Think. What is the best approach to help you? Can you solve this alone? Who else can take care of it? What are the possible solutions?

In most cases, someone has dealt with the situation once before. Take customer success for example. When a customer is not satisfied and cancels the service, demanding a refund, it’s not a “first” for the customer service representative. But if you have a cancelation policy, and your customer service center’s representatives are trained in advance how to deal with such cases, most of the time it’s just a matter of following procedures.

The reaction

Once you’ve figured out what’s the best solution, it’s easier to take action. The best solution could be the quickest, the most useful, or the cheapest one, depending on how much time, energy, your resources, and how crucial the case is.

The last secret

The secret of the art of improvising is to identify what’s the primary, most important thing at the moment. Stay focused and find the right solution. Most of the time, what looks like the end of the world, doesn’t even matter to the other people in the situation.

Improvising is what makes us flexible, resilient to changes. Instead of panicking, improvising lets us deal with the situation in a sensible way, while taking in account all the possible solutions. It’s an art, because it takes time, experience, and creativity to do it, and do it quickly. That’s what entrepreneurship is about, right?
My recommendation: Take advantage of the moment. It will help you in many aspects of your life.

Read the next part: The beginner’s guide to professional’s day-to-day improvising

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