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by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet, PresentationsTagged as: ,

Recently I had attended the Montreal Jazz Festival. Over the course of several days, dozens of bands of all styles – blues, big band, dixie, fusion, to name a few – played to thousands of spectators. For those not familiar with the genre, most jazz follows a similar story line: a melody is played, then individual musicians improvise on that melody, then the melody is reprised.

When asked what makes a great improvisation, many musicians will give different answers:

– It is suggestive of the melody.
– It is completely different from the melody.
– It uses the same rhythms.
– It uses differing rhythms.

Despite the seeming contradictions, there is one thing in common to all improvisations. The musicians are out there by themselves (although with the support of the band behind them), creating something that didn’t exist before, and connecting with their audience in an emotionally expressive, impactful way.

Ironically, we don’t think of this metaphor when we do a business presentation, or when we are doing a pitch, or in a tough negotiation with a supplier. But in each of these situations, we need to stand on our feet, think on our feet, and deliver our message – while at the same time “fit” within the framework of our environment.


Musicians don’t magically know all of their scales, nor are they always comfortable with public performance. They build up to it with practice, with warm-ups, and with feedback from their audience. This week, identify a time when you will be called to perform. But instead of doing hoping that your “improv” will be perfect, first rehearse, gain feedback, and only then do your thing.

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