Improv Skills Applied to Life

Improv comedy skills are not just for the stage.  The principles which make for great humor also apply to leadership skills and building strong relationships.  Let’s look at three areas where improv skills help us succeed with the challenges of life:  Energy, Creativity and Trust.

ENERGY:  As an improv player you need to energize yourself to be your best as a performer.  As a speaker you need to energize yourself to deliver your message from the platform.  As a leader you need to energize yourself and your team to be productive. 

We normally open each improv workshop, and warm-up before a show, with energy-building exercises.  Zip Zap Zop, Bunny, Whoosh Bang Pow, My Name is Joe…are examples of energy building exercises.  These exercises could also be used to open a staff meeting.  They build energy and are fun.  I’ve used exercises to warm myself up before a speech.  I remember doing My Name is Joe at 7:00 am in an empty hallway before a keynote speech.  It worked.  It warmed me up mentally and physically.  It energized me.

CREATIVITY:  Improv games are good for changing routine patterns, for breaking pre-occupation, and for stepping outside your comfort zones.  Improv can help us with the brain-storming process by helping us to suspend judgment and to accept different solutions.

Improv games help us focus on looking for connections and get our creative juices flowing.  Just as the key to humor is in the connections we make, the key to creative problem solving is also linked to seeing connections and approaches which give us fresh insights for solving problems.

TRUST:  Improv helps us to develop a sense of trust that our team is there to support us.  One of the guiding principles of improv is to accept all offers.  What that means is that when one improv player suggests something, the correct behavior is to accept the “gift” or the “offer” and to build on to it.  The principle is referred to as “Yes…And“.   The idea is to agree with what has been said, done or offered and then to add to it.  The reverse of this behavior is to say NO to an offer.  Also blocking an offer is the response of “Yes…But.”  Good improv players learn to accept what is offered by other members of the troupe.  This skill is valuable in the workplace too.  People are encouraged to contribute if they feel that their contributions will be accepted and valued. 

We need to have the mindset that we are always giving and receiving gifts.  We need to treat our fellow players and co-workers as though each one is a genius.  Look for what is right and good in each person you are dealing with.

An amazing thing I learned on the improv stage is that when you’re having a hard time working with a “difficult” player or team member…the problem isn’t them…it’s you.  I remember watching a seasoned player in the Santa Barbara improv troupe playing onstage with a novice player who was doing everything wrong (based on traditional improv rules).  His approach was to accept everything she was offering…and the result was a brilliant and very funny scene.  In one of our Santa Maria shows we hosted a guest player from Los Angeles, Dan O’Conner.  I remember a scene where he played with one of our players who would always do the unexpected.  Again he played Yes…And to the extreme, and the result was absolutely amazing. 

What I learned from these experiences is that whenever you are having difficulty playing with another player, perhaps one who doesn’t have the seasoned skills necessary to guarantee success…the problem is that YOU aren’t good enough to play with them.  The problem isn’t them.  The skilled player…the pro…brings out the best in others.  That’s a profound message.

Strong improv skills help you to bring out the best in others.  Consider this:  What would this world be like if everyone you dealt with was present with you, if everyone listened to you, if everyone treated you like you were a genius, if everyone agreed with you, if everyone trusted you?  And then consider, what would it be like if everyone you met experienced that kind of world because of you?  Apply the principles of improv and you can create that kind of world for you and for the people you meet.