5 Things Improv Class Taught Me About Business Communication


Today’s post was written by Brett Slater (above, left), Chief Social Media Officer at The Latimer Group

Last June, I started taking comedy improv classes at Unscrewed Theater in Tucson, Arizona. My original motivation was to fan my creative flames by working with others in a collaborative setting. As a freelancer, I don’t work with others as often as I used to, so sometimes, the creative rut can get a little deep. Improv seemed like a fun and artistic way to shake things up a bit.

However, after 16 weeks of classes, I found that the benefits of improv extend beyond having fun and exercising my creative muscles with a group of weird and delightful people. Many of the “rules” of improv also apply in the workplace, and can be hugely beneficial to creating a more collaborative environment.

1) Acceptance of others’ ideas. The cardinal rule of improv is that no denials are allowed. “Yes and” is how each player is to approach any given scene. As soon as you deny a reality presented by your scene partner, the scene stops dead in its tracks. “Yes and” provides forward motion in the scene, even if it takes the scene to an absurd place (which is often the idea). Similarly, when collaborating in the workplace, accept others’ ideas first, and see where they take you, together. You may move forward to a place of genius and inspiration, or you may move forward to find that idea needs to be rethought. But accept and move forward first. You can always critique or examine later on.

2) Listening. Another fundamental rule of improv is to listen to your scene partner(s). A cohesive scene is built around what the players on stage do together – as a team, not as a group of individuals. If you’re not listening, but rather, just “waiting to talk,” then you risk missing something wonderful that your teammate offers in the scene that you can then build from.

3) Supporting your partner(s). Great improv is built on give and take. Such is the case in all great collaborative effort. If each person in a scene is only taking, only looking for the funny lines, only seeking the limelight, there’s little chance the scene will progress and come together in a meaningful way. So give to your partner. Set them up for the funny line. Set them up for success, let them do the same for you, and the team succeeds together. It’s why there’s an “Assists” category in sports.

4) Increasing your comfort with public speaking. You know how nervous you get when you speak before a group with prepared comments? Imagine how it feels to get up there with nothing. You’re winging it, and you’re expected to be funny. The improv stage can be a scary place. But like everything else in life, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And if you can get on a stage and do improvised comedy, just think how easy it’ll be to give your next speech or presentation – with notes!

5) Silencing your inner critic. They teach you in improv that there are no wrong choices. Sure, there are choices that may be strong or weak, but nothing you do is outright wrong. That’s an empowering notion both onstage and in the conference room. If you normally keep silent for fear of being “shot down,” then it’s not only a blow to your own confidence, but it’s a potentially groundbreaking idea that never gets shared. But when you can approach a meeting, presentation, or project with that concept of “no wrong choices,” confidence increases, and then the REALLY great work can begin.

If there’s a local improv theater in your town, pop in for a show, and watch how the players work together. Find out if they offer classes, and give it a shot. At worst, you’ll laugh and have a lot of fun for a few hours a week. At best, you’ll find more confidence as a public speaker, and become a better teammate and collaborator in other parts of your life.

Good luck.

Brett Slater is the founder of Slater’s Garage Ads & Audio, a media development company that helps small businesses put a clear voice to their marketing. Brett has been a critical business partner of The Latimer Group since January 2008. He manages all aspects of our social media communications and actively participates in the crafting and creation of our marketing voice.

Photo by Pure in Art Photography, used by permission.


One response to “5 Things Improv Class Taught Me About Business Communication”

  1. Ed Seith says:

    Great parallels, as always, Brett! I find so many of your correlations relevant, but #2 is especially timely right now, as I just got done doing a team building exercise with my Production Support team designed to help them understand that in a conversation or meeting, it’s really the LISTENER that has the power – without anyone listening, a speakers words are meaningless, and in this ever-increasingly me Me ME world, the art of listening has taken a backseat to, as you say, waiting for my turn to talk.

    Great points! Thanks!

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.