Mr Obama Needs Improvisation Training

In his recent interview with Jon Stewart on the Today Show President Obama scored an unnecessary own goal. The audience and host erupted into laughter as the President added “but” after the “Yes we can” slogan that had come to define his presidential campaign – a campaign built on the theme of hope and new beginnings. With a bit of basic improvisation training in the classic “Yes and…” exercise this moment would have been an opening for a positive message rather than what appeared to be a retraction. In practicing the discipline of “yes and” we develop the habit of being open to possiblities as they arise in the moment while trusting and engaging positively with another person. Every time we say “Yes and” and see what follows we rewire our neural pathways to be open to unexpected options. Automatically saying “Yes but” creates a mixed message and shuts down options. How different the outcome would have been if Mr Obama had begun his reply “Yes we can and ……..”

2 Responses to “Mr Obama Needs Improvisation Training”

  • Yes and … and Yes but … have such different meanings, that they are not interchangeable.

    For example you cannot say, Yes we can and we need to be cautious. It causes a cognitive dissonance.

    If Obama is currently adding a reservation to his campaign promises, he has no option but to add a ‘but’. To say Yes and … when you wish to enter a qualification amounts to casuistry, and is one of the greater sins a speaker can commit.

  • John Cremer’s thesis is correct. By saying “but” Obama walked straight into the trap which Jon Stewart had laid, which is why the audience instantly laughs. Saying “and” would have been incomparably smarter as it would utilise a principle I deploy when showing people how to respond to some tough questions in media interview training. By doing this you can capitalise on the same principle which Judo players use – utilising the force of one’s opponent’s thrust towards you to throw them in the direction they were heading while adjusting their trajectory.
    Philip Khan-Panni raises an interesting point about “casuistry” (“specious, deceptive or oversubtle reasoning”- Dictionary OnLine). Whether it was casuistry or not would depend on what Obama said after the “but” or the “and”. If the president had opted for the “and” he could have quite logically reminded his audience of what he said after his victory in the South Carolina primary on 27 January 2008 when he said: “If there’s anything, though, that we have been reminded of since Iowa, it’s that the kind of change we seek will not come easy.” When doing interviews – even if you’re not the US President – it’s always wise to plan for the worst questions you expect and in this instance Obama, the often-but-not-always-brilliant communicator, would have done better by consulting John Cremer first.

Leave a Reply

John Cremer

Buy John's brand new 'Improv' book today - he lets you in on all the secrets for just 12.50 UKP plus P&P!

" I was amazed at what my people got out of the session. It was great fun, very stimulating and gave people fresh insights into what they were capable of as well as helping to recognize diverse approaches and styles in the group "
David Parry-Jones ,
General Manager
Enterprise Partner Group

"Our practice event was a great success. John created a safe environment that allowed people to feel comfortable with putting themselves forwards. Delegates were surprised at how funny they could be and the more we got it wrong the funnier it became. Throughout the session we related the skills that were being learnt back to our workplace. Overall this was an extremely successful event."
James Yearsley
Partner - Deloitte

"It is rare, perhaps unique, for us to give a standing ovation to any speaker. The session you gave us was outstanding, full of fun and laughter, great for bonding, and will bring learning at many levels."
Brian Chernett,
The Academy For Chief Executives