To successfully apply improvisation to business, we must rehearse being unprepared. Sound confusing? It is. But internalizing this concept can strengthen both your formal presentations and one-on-one meetings.

Appear Casual When speaking, the way to promote a more informal tone is to use bullet points or general notes, not text.

* Have your bullet points clearly scripted and timed.

* Use images-- like a storyboard--next to the points to make certain you stay on track.

* Rehearse. A simple rule of thumb is to rehearse one hour per bullet point in the outline. The average 20-minute presentation has about 15 points. So make sure to leave time for those 15 hours of practice once you complete your outline.

Manage the Unmanageable To be able to improvise when the unexpected occurs is an invaluable skill. A technical problem, an unanticipated question, or a distracting interruption need not throw you off course if you follow these basic steps:

* Seek to understand what is happening. Get your information quickly and clearly.

* Clarify the situation to the audience as clearly as possible.

* Explain the resolution or action.

* If possible, continue with your presentation. If your PowerPoint display fails, move to another portion of the presentation that depends less on technology, and go back later to pick up the earlier points. Even better, continue without the visual displays.

* If all else fails, give your audience a break until the situation is resolved.

The Case for Comedy Well-crafted comedy is one of the most powerful ways to deliver messages. But inexperienced presenters often crumble when a joke bombs. Professional comics do the opposite--their job is to make a bad joke fly. Johnny Carson is one of the best at making a bad joke work. His response to the flopped joke is more important--and often more entertaining--than the joke itself.

For presentations, creating an atmosphere of interaction, amusement, and unusual associations works better than a string of jokes. Try these methods for loosening up a crowd:

* Have audience members change seats with the person next to them.

* Start the "wrong" speech. Perhaps your acceptance of a party nomination or Academy Award.

* Bring a pot of coffee onstage. Pour a cup as you begin your speech.

* As you begin, pay off a bet with an audience member--he or she didn't think you'd be ready for this speech.

* Tell the audience that you are going to finish 15 minutes early--then make sure you do.