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Improv can improve your business

Improv can improve your business

Not only that, it can make your life so much more rewarding.

DISCLAIMER: As they say at the start of every improv show. "Nothing that follows is scripted, everything you see and hear (watch and read in terms of this blog) will be invented on the spot, for one night only, never to be repeated."

I've been doing improv (improvised comedy) for many years. I did my first workshop over 30 years ago, but really started to get serious when I attended a residential workshop at Osho Leela in 2010, hosted by The Maydays, an amazing improv troupe based in Brighton.

The following year, not only did I participate in the workshop, I was asked to film the event, and you can see the promo I produced up top.

Why improv is good for you and your business

The main thrust of improv (as I see it) is to make your on-stage colleagues look great while they are trying to make you look great... When everyone does that the results are amazing. So when someone says "makes an offer" (says a line or does some action) you build on it. To do that (and be really great at improv) you need to, as the Maydays taught me:

  • Listen
  • Say "YES"
  • and Commit

Listen

When you're on stage you have no idea what your fellow performers are going to do, after all it's unscripted, that means you really have to LISTEN to them. If not you'll have no idea what's happening.

In business too, listening is very important.

If you don't listen to what your customers or clients are saying, how do you know they like (or hate) what you do? How will you be able to improve the service you offer them? Many times I have been at a network meeting and I get talked at by someone who's not interested in listening...

So what I do is listen, which makes the "talky" person feel good. I may also ask them the odd question or two which makes them feel even better, and then when they have finished I have so much information about what they do and what is and isn't working in their business. I can then tailor a razor-sharp offering to them by coming up with a solution to their problems. My brief response to their elongated soliloquy is focused, to the point and often surprises them as they have no idea why I know so much about their difficulties!

Say "YES"

"Hi Charlie, how's the new job?" she said winking at me.

If I say "I'm not Charlie, I'm Derek and I'm too young to have a job" the scene has just died. Whatever you are offered in improv you need to say "YES" to, that way the scene builds in a way that no one expected or planned and the audience loves it.

"It's OK, I suppose Britney, but the snake-skin leotard really chaffs. " Charlie replied, scratching his bum.

Now the scene is going somewhere interesting... I said "YES" to the proposition and now Britney can build on that...

This is the same in business. If I am offered feedback on a job I have done (good or bad), I can ignore it (wrong), or I can listen and quietly say "YES" to myself  and build my business offerings with this new information.

And Commit

COMMITMENT comes down to how much energy you put into delivering your line. "It's OK I suppose" is a bit of a downer, so in improv terms you deliver it as a BIG downer, you COMMIT to the feeling of the line, so that when Britney responds she has your energy to bounce off.

BRITNEY: "It's terrible that the boss insists you wear it inside out, when I worked for him I had a sequined one!"

CHARLIE: "I feel your pain honey I really do."

In business nothing happens without action, so once you've LISTENED and said "YES", you now need to COMMIT to doing something about it. Commitment for me is like passion... If you are passionate in your business (you are committed to doing whatever is required), you will stand out from all your competitors.

So go on, find an improv group local to you and go and do a workshop. It's a lot of fun and you might learn something that will help you in business.

What else have I learnt about improv performers?

That they make great performers in training videos, and they are a real joy to direct. So I hope to be making many more improvised training videos in the future... Ones like the clip below:

If you are a training organisation who would like to include video like the ones above as part of your training offerings, then check out some of the training video productions I have worked on.

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One comment on “Improv can improve your business”

  1. Nice colloquial language Neil, and yes, listening is key in life; in your case sharing it with businesses. Im from Australia, and did The Osho Leela course in 2013. We always have room to grow and lessons to learn.

Neil Ben

Neil Ben is a Director, Coach and Trainer who works with Entrepreneurs, Sole Traders and SMEs, to help them use video to stand out from their competitors. He started his television career as an assistant producer in the BBC in the late 80s and has won many awards for both his broadcast and video productions including a BAFTA nomination and an FSB Award for Business Innovation.

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