How improv training can help your business

If you haven’t heard, improv training has become quite popular in the corporate world. Thank God. It seems lately every book on business, sales and presentations I pick up has a chapter or two on the power of improv.

Today, when I go into a company or organization to teach improv, most people are not only familiar with it, some even know “yes, and…” If you’re working with a group of 20 to 25 people, it’s not uncommon that at least one or two of them have actually taken an improv class.

So, what is it that makes improv training so beneficial for people who work in organizations or businesses? The benefits are almost endless, but here are four of the best things that businesses can get out of improv training:

  1. Encouraging People to Play
    Play is still a hard sell for corporations. It’s difficult for them to measure the value of play, but I think encouraging people to play is one of the most valuable benefits for any organization on so many different levels.Play is essential to learning. Studies have shown that people can learn more when they are having fun, so encouraging people to play helps them retain more information. Having fun makes learning come easier and lessons stick longer.

    Also, play creates a lasting bond among the participants, something that cannot be achieved through a lecture, a PowerPoint presentation or a high-priced motivational speaker. Improv training occurs through doing, which creates this thing that has been a buzzword for years – team building. Since improv is at its core experiential learning, participants actually experience teambuilding when they playing improv warm up games and exercises.

    That is why companies are so eager to sponsor softball and volleyball teams for their employees. Sports is the perfect analogy for improv, because when you play a sport, you are playing a game with a specific set a rules that everyone has agreed to. The difference between improv and a sport, however, is that everyone can do it – you don’t have to be the best hitter or base runner to feel like you’re part of the group. Yes, some people are naturally better than others at improv, too, but everyone seems to have a moment when they make a contribution.

    I’ve been teaching, directing and doing improv training for more than 25 years, and my personal data supports that nothing will bond a group of people faster and bring out to their best potential better than hours of organized play. It’s like magic, especially in a corporate setting where no one is looking to get hired by Saturday Night Live. I have rarely seen it fail.

  1. Encouraging Listening
    A good salesman listens far more than he talks.A great leader says very little to get so much out of her people.

    An incredible presentation is constantly adapting to the temperature of the room.

    All of this is listening. Not only to the words, but to the body language, to the tone, to the energy of the room. Improv forces you to listen in a totally new way, one that screws with our usually “pre-planned listening” way of being. You know what I am talking about. Sarah goes to Ron cubicle’s with an idea she has and as she explains it to him, Ron thinks he’s listening, he’s even nodding his head, but the truth is he has already planned out what he’s going to say two minutes ago and can hardly wait to interrupt her with his brilliance. He is not in the moment. He cannot understand why he is never on the same page with her.

    This is how most of us listen, especially at our jobs when we are dealing with fear, politics and personalities.

    I really think the bottom line in any field, heck, in life, is we all want to be heard. We all want to be listened to. It makes us feel good. It makes us more productive. It makes us better people to be around. And improv is a great way of teaching how to do just that.

  1. Encouraging People to Say “Yes, and…”
    Here’s the most popular concept of improv, the one that gets all the attention. If you have not heard of it, let me explain.When we are doing improv on stage we want to immediately accept whatever the other actor is saying and then add to it.

    For example, Lauren and I are on stage improvising. We are pretending that we are in the kitchen and it’s breakfast time. If Lauren says, “I could really go for some eggs this morning,” as an improviser, I must say “yes” to that information and then add to it. I can’t say that we’re not in the kitchen and we don’t have eggs. Instead, I accept what she has said and add a specific piece of information. I could say: “Great, I am going to whip you up the best Denver omelette you have ever had.”

    By saying yes, I am acknowledging Lauren’s idea and in the process, building support and trust. My guess is by me accepting her idea, Lauren feels listened to and heard. And most important, we are learning to collaborate. We are learning to build off of the first idea and add something to it instead of saying no.

    No is the killer of creativity. It will crush the soul of innovation. It’s a slow and silent death that is happening in far too many organizations today.

    Jenny has great ideas. She is young, smart and enthusiastic. She is one of those people who have hundreds of ideas and most of them are good. She goes to her manager, Ken, with one of her ideas the first week she is working at the company and he says, “No, it can’t be done,” or “Well, things aren’t done like that here.” There are hundreds of ways to say no.

    Jenny is persistent. Each week she keeps going to Ken’s office with a new and brilliant idea. But Ken keeps finding different ways to say no Jenny’s ideas. Guess what happens next? Jenny gives up. She stops going to Ken with any of her ideas.

    There are only so many times we can hear no before we get the hint and we give up. We say, “What’s the point?” And our ideas die and morale goes down because of it. Why? Because even more than earning money, what people really want out of their job is to feel like they are making a contribution. They want to feel appreciated and have a job that is fulfilling. The fastest way to take that away is continue to say big fat “No’s”. The funny thing about “yes, and…” is that corporations are always looking at the bottom line, and if they started saying yes to more people’s ideas, it may actually lead to an even more productive work environment. Just saying.

    I am realistic about the use of “Yes, and…” in organizations. There are specific situations where it doesn’t apply. I get it. But there are a lot of areas where it can be applied and can significantly change a company’s culture.

    If corporations used “Yes, and…” more in brainstorming sessions or for problem solving or for rehearsing for presentations, I think they would be far more creative and even more successful.

    The challenge is that we have all been wired to say no at such an early age. Most of the time, “no” is the safest answer, but it also can be the most dangerous one.

    The one thing I try to get across to people in my corporate improv trainings is that when it comes to ideas, quality starts with quantity. Say you are in a brainstorming session, you want to yes to every idea that’s thrown out, even the dumb ones, the impossible ones, and especially the funny ones. It never hurts to add a little levity to the seriousness of a brainstorming session, especially before lunch.

    Now you have 31 ideas up on the white board; 80 percent of them are ridiculous, unrealistic or just plain suck. But as you stare at the board, something will come to the group. Someone will realize that if you combine idea No. 4 and No. 23 you would have brilliance. Pure Genius. A Million Dollar idea.

    And there is no way in hell that life changing idea would have happened without the other 29 crappy ideas up on that white board.

  1. Enhancing Role Playing
    Role playing has become the new buzz word in cooperate training. And yes, it is very effective. If you are lucky and you have some outgoing, Type A personalities who are not afraid to jump up and do some role playing in front of their peers, it can be really useful. But if you don’t, you may run into some trouble. Sometimes in role playing situations, participants feel scared, self-conscience and vulnerable. Doing improv exercises and games prior to the role play exercises can change that experience from making people feel like they’re put on the spot to making them feel supported, which makes more people open to participating in the role playing exercises.