Book Summary — Do Improvise by Robert Poynton

Scott Broughton
5 min readMar 23, 2021


A short & sweet book summary, for my own use as much as anyone else’s. Limited to 30 minutes.

✅ The Book in 3 Sentences

  • How we can learn from the techniques employed by improvisational actors to help us be more resilient and adaptable in work and life. Improv actors have a set of principles that help them deal with pressure, curveballs and objections — we can apply these same principles to life and business.
  • Improvisation in life and business is often seen in a negative light, seen as though we’re “winging it”. However life is nothing but improvisation — conversations, presentations, creativity, business and leadership are just branching trees of improvisation.
  • We can use the three main improv practices as a framework to shape how we react to any situation: 1) Notice more; 2) Let go; 3) Use everything.

💫 General Impressions

A novel take on how to improve our adaptability and spontaneity in life and work. As with all the Do Company books, it’s the perfect length and very readable. The sections on how improv principles can improve our creativity Is maybe a little tenuous, but the sections on communication and leadership more than make up for it with genuine unique insights and actionable frameworks. The instructions on improv games are unnecessary too — let’s be honest, I’m never going to try those. Luckily these sections are easily skippable. Overall, very enjoyable. I’ll definitely be trying to work some of the less abstract stuff into my daily life!

⭐️ Overall rating

4/5 Stars.

🕵️‍♂️ How I Found It

This book is part of the fantastic Do Company series, which is in turn a spin off of the Do Lectures events. I’ve also read Poynton’s other “Do” book “Do Pause”.

😀 Who Should Read It?

  • I think everybody could benefit in some way or another from the principles outlined in this book.
  • People looking to improve their communication and leadership, or are at least open to a new approach.

💭 Things That Stuck With Me

  • “Everything is an offer”. Accepting that a lot of things in life are outside of your control, and instead learning to practice a framework/mindset that will help you to adapt to anything. In a similar way to improv acting, you can use everything in life and work. Curveballs, setbacks, blockers — all of them can be used as a launchpad for something else. You just have to: 1) Notice More; 2) Let Go; 3) Use Everything.
  • The section on how to manage an audience like an improv actor is an excellent framework for presentations, meetings and any form of public speaking. The idea is that an audience have needs of their own that need to be met before they will be willing to listen to you:
  • 1) Trust the driver; why should they listen to me? Why do you have the authority to speak about this subject? Why should they trust you? Why are you relevant?
  • 2) Who am I, beyond my job title? How do you want to be seen as a person? Are you playing low or high status? Dressing casually or formally? Nickname or full name?
  • 3) What is expected of them; what are they going to have to do? Do you want questions? Is this a conversation? Do you want them to listen and then ask questions at the end?
  • 4) What are they getting as a result of listening? What’s in it for them? Why should they sit and listen?
  • 5) Are they being seen and acknowledged? “Any audience will behave badly or be unresponsive if they don’t feel “seen”. People asking awkward or difficult questions are often just trying to be seen. Acknowledge the audience early on to avoid this.
  • Much of the anxiety that comes from public speaking is the idea of being caught out, or that we are expected to know everything. We should let go of that idea — it’s OK to say “I don’t know”.
  • Leadership isn’t a formal position — “On the improv stage there is no single leader. This is the first thing we can learn from improvisers — that leadership can be something everyone does, whatever their formal position”.
  • A leader doesn’t come up with the ideas, but enables others to contribute them. A leader needs new ideas to lead.
  • Status is independent of position. There is a time and place for both high and low status. “Whatever position you are in, you can play high or low as circumstance and demand shift.”
  • How to really listen to questions. Allow time for your subconscious to provide the answer. “Listening intently gives you pause, and shows the person asking respect. Slowing down brings you into the present and reminds you to let go of expectations. This gives you a little bit of time to be with the question before you launch in to a response. It isn’t enough time to think, plan or analyse consciously, but it is enough to allow your unconscious, which works much faster, to get going. If you really listen, you will find you have more resources to draw on than you might expect.”

✏️ Quotes, Notes & Excerpts

  • The misinterpretation of improvisation. “We generally see [improvisation] as a last resort, or a sign of failure. It is not respectable, particularly for people in positions of power, to improvise. When we catch them at it, […] we say they are ‘winging it’.” It’s actually about “being adept at flexing, adapting and adjusting to what we have, rather than wishing we had something else.”
  • Improv in meetings. “If you look at your meetings through the lens of improv practices, what do you see? What quality of listening is being shown? Are people really present? Who is willing to be changed? Who is being obstructive or ‘blocking’?
  • Awkward questions. “In a business setting an audience will often raise awkward questions or objections purely in order to be seen.”
  • Anxiety in spontaneous public speaking. “The first thing is to let go of knowing everything. Much of the anxiety people feel comes from the sensation that we have to respond to everything and be able to answer every question. Give up the idea that you have to respond perfectly and instantly to everything, it only inhibits you.”
  • Listen to the question, not your answer. “The anxiety of being put on the spot can make the mind race, or go blank. It is all too easy to veer off into your own thoughts, or leap ahead to a prepared response or answer a different question. Instead, make a conscious effort to listen to the actual question you are being asked, by this person, in this moment.”
  • Presence. “Great leaders have presence. They make the people they are leading feel seen and heard. This is vital. People need to feel like they matter.”
  • How to listen. “One specific way to work on this is to make an effort to pay more attention to the person you are with than to what you are going to say next. Notice how you plan ahead, second by second, and let that go. If what you were going to say is important enough it will come back again. Meanwhile, the people you are with will notice and appreciate your full attention. Funnily enough, if you pay attention, ideas and opportunities have a way of presenting themselves to you, without you having to scurry around looking for them.”