This summer, the Myriad gang piled into their station wagons, coupes, trucks and hatchbacks and caravanned 16 miles down I-40 to exit 293B in the spirit of trying something new: Improv training at the DSI Comedy Theatre in Chapel Hill.
When our resident stand up comic, Shane Smith, suggested we try improv training as a business, I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure how comedy could be used in the workplace—other than Scott, Kent, or someone else with a quick tongue lightening the mood with an off-color remark. However, after doing some reading and talking to Shane, we were intrigued. We really could have fun and train a group of creatives at the same time. We signed up and nervously waited for the day to come. The thought of being on a stage in front of people you care about and respect was intimidating.
It turned out to be a blast. Nerve-wracking at first, yes. But the warm up games helped us conquer our self-consciousness and calmed everyone right into a zone.
One of the most interesting things we learned is how to keep momentum going in conversations. Our natural tendency is to hear someone’s idea or thought and immediately add a “but” to it. For example: “That’s a great idea, but…”
Improv comedians apply the “yes, and” approach to keep things barreling forward. All you do is repeat what you heard (indicating you heard and understand what was said), agree with it, and add something new to the mix. The object of the game is to always add on to the conversation and make statements that foster a sense of partnership and continuity. The “and” frees the mind to wander and create, while the “but” grinds group discussions to a halt.
Another cornerstone of improv: There are no mistakes, only opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Jump right in and offer your thoughts. They may take the discussion in another direction, and that’s a good thing. Don’t be scared—clients are only people. Sometimes, stumbling or making mistakes takes the edge off and makes you more vulnerable, likable and human. Which, in the world of back-to-back conference calls, is always a good thing.
Thanks to Zach Ward and DSI Comedy for creating an intense, raucous workshop. We stepped out of our comfort zones and returned to 410 Salisbury Street armed with new skills and a greater sense of camaraderie.