“Inevitably, momentum and energy don’t lie,” said Hailey. “So you can create a space in your teams or your companies where you’re using these ‘Yes, and’ principles to brainstorm effectively, and then you implement the boundaries and the ‘No’ in the editing process. But there’s sacred time for brainstorming.”

Lyndsay Hailey closes out Day 1 of the Multifamily Women’s Summit. She makes a grand entrance, walking out to the song “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers and draping her legs over the back of an interviewee chair as she tips herself over it upside down. 

“It’s so nice to finally be back on stage!” she shouts, legs flung up in the air, head hanging near the floor.

“I’m here to offer you a different perspective today,” she says, laughing at the very intentional pun that went along with her positioning in her chair. “The improv perspective.” 

Hailey says improvisation is just making things up on the spot without preparation. “It’s synonymous with comedy,” she says, though she says it started out as a theatre game invented by a woman named Viola Spolin. It was meant to help actors get more deeply into character, but shifted in the 70s. 

Yes, and….

The format for improv comedy is that each exchange starts with, “Yes, and…”

“What does ‘Yes, and’ mean? It means not only am I going to agree to something, I’m going to agree to it instantly, and I’m going to add specifics, emotional value, weight, support, in whichever way I can to make you feel like a genius instantaneously,” said Hailey. “An improviser knows that instantaneous agreement can elicit a laugh, so that’s kind of exactly what we’re going for all the time.”  

Hailey flips back around in the chair and starts jokingly listing her accolades and what makes her qualified to speak on the subject of improvisational comedy. She brings up that she’s worked with Channing Tatum and toured with Second City, an improv comedy troupe, as well as touring the nation teaching improv.

Finally standing upright, Hailey says this is her first time back on stage for three years because of hiccups caused by the pandemic. 

“I wanted to share what I believe in passionately and what has helped me gain any success in my field,” said Hailey. She says improv is taught outside of comedians, “Because our underlying philosophy of ‘Yes, and’ and rules of agreement enhance productivity, innovation, creativity. We create a universal language of support for companies.”

In the “Yes, and” format, the response comes instantly. You don’t have time to judge the choice of the ensemble, you just immediately support them.

“There’s lots of ways to ‘And’ a ‘Yes.’ Some is through emotion, verbal specifics, through creating or committing to a character or a choice that your ensemble members made,” explained Hailey. “But we know that if we do that right away, the very nature of instantaneous agreement will evoke a response from the audience. Why? Because it’s atypical in our society to agree to something right away.”

She provides an example, setting the scene of her driving a car with her improv partner next to her. She’d say, “Hey, Sheila, I’m going to drive this car right off a cliff!” 

“In real life, Sheila would be like, ‘No, no, no, what are you doing, you can’t do that! Please stop the car!’ Improv Sheila is going to be like, ‘Ooooh boy, I can’t wait! Let’s roll down the windows so everybody can hear me scream!’ That instant agreement to something that’s absolutely wild is what we can draw on.”

She leads into an exercise based around the idea of immediately giving up judgement. She asks people to reflect on what they thought when they saw her upside down in the chair, and consider their inner critic. Then she tells people to picture their favorite cartoon animal. Next, she says to fuse their inner critic with the voice of that adorable animal. She instructs everyone to find the closest exit, say hello to the cute version of the inner critic, talk to it, shake hands with it, thank it, and escort it out the exit. 

“We have to train ourselves to see everyone in front of us in our improv ensemble as an artist, a genius, and a poet. We never second-guess this. We make the assumption that our scene partners are geniuses from the moment they open their mouths. I want you to think about how, if you made that assumption day-to-day with people who talk to you or make suggestions to you, how much differently you would listen to what they were supposing.” 

She says that would lead you to listen with more conviction and make more space for their ideas. People spend too much time in their heads pre-planning their responses and don’t fully listen. We should all be more active listeners.

Remembering not to pass judgment comes in two forms: you have to avoid passing judgment on others and on yourself. 

A real-life example is that a couple days ago, when she thought that maybe she would start her keynote speech upside-down, she immediately told herself, “Yes, and” rather than second-guessing herself. 

She did the same thing in her career; when she was 25, she was acting in North Carolina for “One Tree Hill.” Her agent told her that auditioning is an art of itself, and she should go to some auditions for practice. She auditioned with an improv group and after a while, someone from that group told her she should go to Second City in Chicago. She decided then and there to go, and made the move after just one month, which she was spending back home in Richmond for Christmas. While she was home, she called into a radio show that was doing a competition, and after winning, got to do a five-minute comedy set on Last Comic Standing. While she was performing, she started having an allergic reaction that made her seem extremely drunk; she doesn’t remember what happened. 

She bombed. Her dad told her she wasn’t funny. She chose not to listen to her inner critic and moved to Chicago anyway. 

She starts hyping people in the crowd up, blasting the song that the Chicago Bulls rush out onto the court to. She draws some energy from the audience, but says it isn’t enough. 

So she rushes backstage and then comes out in a regal red blazer with gold tassels and a yellow paper hat, urging people to get up and dance to a song that sounds like a techno club version of a ditty from Mario Bros. Then, in a rap-style sing-song, she tells people, “Everybody stand there! Hey, everybody stand there! Stop moving! You can do it if you’re a woman, you can do it if you’re a man. Get up, stand up, but stay as still as you can!” 

After the song, she discards her outfit backstage and tells the crowd, “See, if I ever judged myself a day in my life, Captain Juggles would never have been born. That, my friends, is Captain Juggles.”

Have Fun

The next rule of improv: Have fun.

 “Improv is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so if you walk out on stage and you decide that you’re not going to have a good show, you’re probably not going to have a good show,” explained Hailey. “We get back what we give.”

Because of that, it’s your responsibility to go out with a good attitude. 

Be in the Present Moment 

The next exercise she directs people through starts with them looking directly at the other people at their tables. “While you’re looking at each other, I want you to really think and feel into your hearts about what has happened over the last two years, and these women at these tables and all the mountains they’ve moved to restructure businesses, to work stay-at-home schooling and maintaining their lives, to balance work, life, family, you name it.”  

She tells the crowd to pass the energy they’re feeling onto the people near them and applaud each other, then applaud everyone in the entire room. 

“Take a moment to sincerely realize that you’re one of the women in the room that you’re applauding for,” said Hailey. “It should be the biggest and loudest applause of the night.” 

She’s met with whooping, hollering, table-banging, and uproarious hand-clapping. 

“You feel that? I’ve got goosebumps,” said Hailey. “I have goose bumps because we just shifted the energy in the room. It got real. We are in the present now, we have up-leveled because we feel that, truly. I know it got passed to me in the room because that’s why my arm hairs started standing up. I’m honored to be here before you, truly.”

An improviser knows you have to always remain in the now.

“If we worry about the future, we’re in anxiety; if we worry about the past, we’re in depression.”

The final exercise in the keynote is to take 3 minutes to connect with the table and have present conversation in which each statement begins, “In this moment, I feel.”  

Hailey points out that when people tell a story and end it with, “You had to be there,” she feels that’s a real phenomenon. Sometimes you really did have to be there in order to engage with the story in a present way. You should strive for presence in every moment.

Think of all your favorite celebrities, be they stars or actors. Most tend to be very present, and that tends to make people better human beings overall.

“When you’re trained in presence, often you end up being funny and joyful. That’s the philosophy behind improv fundamentals. A lot of people are intimidated by the word improv, but really it’s just a code of ethics based in agreement and cooperation and innovation.”

How This Can Apply in Your Business

Of course, everyone still has boundaries. Not everyone will “Yes, and” you. Hailey advises to take what serves you and what adds value, and leave the rest. 

You should also consider what constitutes brainstorming and what’s editing. 

“Often, everyone just wants to feel heard and seen. So the way this would work is, perhaps there’s a brainstorming, team-building session. You go around the room and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to hear from every single person in this room for 3 minutes. Then after Amy goes, we’re going to add. We’re going to say, Yes, and – we’re not going to bring in competitive interests or ideas.’” 

That way, you build on ideas, make sure everyone feels heard, and the momentum wins.

“Inevitably, momentum and energy don’t lie,” said Hailey. “So you can create a space in your teams or your companies where you’re using these ‘Yes, and’ principles to brainstorm effectively, and then you implement the boundaries and the ‘No’ in the editing process. But there’s sacred time for brainstorming.” 

There Are No Me-Stakes in Improv

This is the final rule of the night: there are no me-stakes in improv. Hailey mispronounces “mistakes” repeatedly, bringing up that eventually, people would just think it was funny. She points out that it’s happened for everyone where you’re in a meeting, someone makes a mistake, and the meeting gets derailed with someone correcting them, even though everyone knew what the person meant in the first place. 

“Is that really necessary, to stifle that momentum? Or can you just roll with choices and not need to be right all the time?”

Embrace the me-stakes and treat them with love and care. Believe that any idea can be a good idea. 

To close the night, Hailey re-enacts what she expects she must have seemed like on stage for The Last Comic Standing when she was having an allergic reaction that made her seem astoundingly drunk. Then, she again plays Michael Jordan’s walk-out music to close out her performance. 

Additional Information about Lyndsay:

During the past two years Lyndsay Co-Founded Improv International with former Google stud, Abi Goettsch. Improv International teaches improv fundamentals to businesses as a tool for personal and professional development.

Additionally, when presence expands, so does graceful communication, creativity, intuition, and productivity. Presence Practice® is the perfect professional development tool for any team.