How Improv Can “Improve” Your Career

In case you hadn’t noticed, Improv is having “a moment.” Most people know Second City in Chicago, Whose Line is it Anyway? and Saturday Night Live, but you can find improv clubs in every major city across the country. And most clubs offer training programs for the general public. I know–I graduated from the Second City program in Chicago. What you may not know, is how improv can enhance your leadership skills. Here are four things leaders can learn from improv training:

1. How to focus and be present in the moment.
Think about it–on most days, we are overwhelmed with decisions, information, and people competing for our attention. We multi-task or jump quickly from one thing to another–in a struggle to keep up. In improv, your only job is to be fully present, and respond to what’s said to you on stage. If you’re multi-tasking, or distracted, you can’t do your job. Through improv, you learn the lesson of hyper-focus– an increasingly valuable, and rare experience in the modern world. People you lead crave your undivided attention, and more importantly, a sign of your authentic interest. How many times a day are you distracted, or checking your phone when talking to someone? Or you forgot something because you lacked focus and attention?

2. How to be a better listener.
Along with being hyper-focused, an improviser must be an active listener. If you’re focused on the other person, but thinking about what you’re going to say next, you can’t do your job. Things move fast, and since your job is to react to what you’re given by another performer–you need to know exactly what they said. How many of us are preparing a rebuttal in our head instead of listening to what someone else is saying in an important meeting? Did that help you understand their position?

3. How to collaborate effectively.
The first rule of improv is to say, “yes, and”–which means listening to what someone else says and building upon it. In organizations, there’s a lot of ‘no’ and ‘but’. Meetings can be competitive and parochial, with people eager to protect turf and promote their own ideas. Using the “yes, and” technique, someone makes a statement such as “I want to buy a car.” The next person may add “Yes, and it will have leather seats.” The next person may add “Yes, and it will be red.” As silly as this sequence may sound in a senior team setting, the idea is to get people to collaborate and understand that any idea that’s brought to the table can be accepted, added upon and made better. Have you, or your team ever shut down a bright-eyed newcomer who offered an idea, by saying “no, we’ve tried that already”, or “yes, we know about that–but you just don’t understand the bigger picture here”?

4. How to think, and speak, on your feet.
As mentioned, your only job as an improviser is to be present in the moment and respond to what’s offered. Contrary to popular belief, your job is not to be funny. Funny happens, but only as a result of doing your job. And you must react to exactly what’s said–no matter how strange it may seem. This realization can freak out even the most confident person. However, regular practice results in a remarkable ability to think, and speak on your feet–an essential skill for leaders. How many times have you been in a meeting or gathering where someone asked you to stand up and spontaneously address the group regarding a project, or suddenly there’s a reporter, news camera and a microphone waiting for your reply?

Studies show that people learn most effectively when they actively participate, and three things are present: construction (something I can create), cognition (feedback on my creation) and community (learning with others). Improv training, whether in a workshop or a long-term program offers all three. Yes, And it’s also fun.

Learn these and other valuable skills in “Improv and Improve | Leadership and Life Lessons of Improv” Find out more. Click here.

Improv and Improve

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