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Improv in Business: Not a Laughing Matter

Improv in Business: Not a Laughing Matter


When someone mentions ‘improv,’ you probably think “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” rather than workplace trainings. That’s why when our boss, Everywhere’s CEO Danica, told us we would be doing an improv-based workshop to help us improve our communication skills, stage fright and general apprehension were the instinctive reactions.

Alas, growth doesn’t typically happen inside of your comfort zone and continuous improvement is something we preach at Everywhere Agency. So, what I’m saying is there was no way out. We had to grin and bear it. But, as it turns out, we were in the hands of a kind, experienced trainer, Alison Dukes Gilmore. She is the chief improve officer at DuMore Improv and has worked with teams from companies ranging from Siemens to Benefit Cosmetics. She knows what she’s doing.

We started by going over the basic ground rules of improv, the first of which is to make your partner look good. This essentially set the tone for the exercises and made us all feel like we were maybe going to survive without embarrassing ourselves too badly. After all, we were all in it to help each other – just like we do any other day at the office.

Here are the most crucial take-aways I learned through Alison’s improv-based training:

  • Multitasking is a myth – Everyone thinks they can do it, but as illustrated by an activity that involved multiple team members talking at you for 30 seconds, it’s basically impossible to actually focus on more than one thing at a time. At best, you’ll pick up bits and pieces. So, instead of responding to emails while on conference calls, or sending out calendar invites while having a conversation, do one thing at a time with purpose to be more effective and preserve sanity.
  • Shut up and listen – We often want to convey just how engaged and actively we’re listening to someone by chiming in with questions and comments. Weirdly enough, it’s actually better when you just keep your mouth closed and wait for the person you’re having a conversation with to finish their thought. Asking questions prematurely or adding additional commentary can derail conversations and distract from the other person’s perspective. So, if you want to let someone feel heard, just let them do the talking.
  • “Yes and” forever – This one’s a game changer! When practicing the art of improv, you can never say “no,” only “yes and.” For example, if you’re in a brainstorm and someone suggests a concept that you know from the bottom of your heart won’t work, instead of saying, “How about no?” and simply disregarding, you should instead say “Yes, and why don’t we do this other thing that is feasible.” Eliminating the word “no” from your responses, completely changes the dynamics of a discussion to allow for more contributions, better compromises and increased collaboration. A win, win, win, if you ask me.

While we aren’t quitting our day jobs to become professional improv actors, we are definitely practicing improv skills every day of our professional lives and becoming more attentive, creative communicators in the process.

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