Jul 06 What PR Professionals Can Learn From Improv Comedy
By Vera Hanson
“Yes, and…” These were the words that guided the LaunchSquad Boston team through the last hour and a half of our mid-year offsite. At the Microsoft NERD Center overlooking the Charles River, we barked like dogs, sang advertising jingles and forced ourselves to eliminate the word “but” from our vocabulary. We were PR pros temporarily thrust into the world of improv.
But, like most things that push us out of our comfort zone, our time spent with ImprovBoston quickly became about so much more. As a group, we celebrated each other’s on-the-spot choices, and were humbled by the many ways improv techniques can be used to create a more productive, creative and supportive professional environment. Here are three business lessons that this PR professional took away from improv comedy:
1. Don’t Just Hear, Listen.
The “yes, and” exercise asks you to accept whatever your improv partner says during a scene, and build on the idea by responding with “yes, and” – and adding something new in return. The challenge here is to listen to everything your partner has to say with an open mind. Whether you agree or disagree with the thought or idea, the only option is to listen to the other’s person’s point of view, and use their thoughts as a jumping off point for a larger discussion. “Yes, but” not only halts the conversation, it also implies that you view your own idea as superior. When we start to approach our workplace conversations, both internally and with clients, with a “yes, and” attitude, we eliminate our preconceived opinions and, instead, start truly listening. It doesn’t mean we won’t face tricky or delicate situations in our work, but it does mean that we’re allowing ourselves to be more open during those conversations and, as a result, more productive in the long run.
2. Put Yourself Out There, and Commit.
One of the scariest parts of the improv experience is learning to be okay with making a fool of yourself. In a matter of seconds, you may find yourself dancing in front of a strange crowd or pretending to open an imaginary gift. The essence of improv is that you need to lose your inhibitions – even briefly – in order to succeed. So, how come we don’t bring that same fearlessness to brainstorms and strategy sessions? It’s easy to feel like you have a half-baked idea, or like you’re thinking too big. Yet, the best ideas are never perfect from the get-go. In fact, most will take a whole lot of workshopping. Along the way, the key is to trust both yourself and your teammates to support those risky first thoughts, even when vocalizing them makes you feel vulnerable. Once you open yourself up to the possibility of failure, you create an environment for even your most whimsical ideas to grow into something great.
3. Embrace the Unexpected.
Thinking on your feet is at the core of improv comedy. For example, in one scene you may be asked to explain how a pogo stick will help your partner de-frizz her hair. Although unrelated, the exercise demands that you problem solve – with a bit of humor and creativity – to come up with a solution. In the PR industry, we’re asked to make due with the unexpected all the time. Whether it’s crisis communications or responding to breaking news, unforeseen circumstances in PR demand quick decision-making, creativity and strategy. Initially, these moments can feel overwhelming, but more often than not, trusting your gut will lead you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to take on the challenge of these surprising situations, and do it with confidence.