Using the Art of Improv to Build Business Skills

April 11, 2013 Alison Meier

Using improv at work

Here’s another skill set to add to your career toolbox: Improv.

using improv at work

We’re not trying to be funny, really. Being able to improvise helps you think quickly on your feet, respond resourcefully when options seem limited, and lets you thrive in times of uncertainty. In short, the art of improv is all about how you react – and making the best with what you have at a moment’s notice.

Here are common scenarios where using improvisational skills at work could turn your whole show around.

That interview question where you blank

improv under the microscope

Many of us have had that one interview question that draws a complete blank. And that one question can make the difference between getting the job, and not. Being caught in the interview headlights without a flicker of an answer is difficult for anyone.  However, the more you can hone skills to be in the moment, listen well and go with the flow of a conversation, the better you’ll react to interview questions that take you by surprise.

Hiring manager: I’m attending a White Party. I want you to sell me a ketchup Popsicle.

You: Sir, you need this ketchup Popsicle to stand out. If it melts, so what? You’re so cool and stylish that if you get a little melted ketchup on your white outfit, everyone’s going to want one of their own – just because of your attitude.

The presentation that sinks like the Titanic

It’s your turn to give a presentation. You finally get to show off your most brilliant idea. To celebrate, you pulled a week of all-nighters and put together a killer slideshow presentation. You know you’re going to hit a home run. Until it’s show time, and you look up to see . . .  the client’s confused expression, and your boss’s clock-watching – like he’s calculating how long he has to wait before firing you.

Improv helps you quickly judge the mood of the crowd. Comedians do it all the time. Sometimes, you have to throw your polished script out the back exit. It’s scary, but take a breath, relax, give yourself a few seconds to read the room’s mood, and then follow your gut.  The next sentence could be a question to the group, which will then give you a new direction to follow. It could surprise everyone—in the best way possible. For example:

You presenting to a room of clock-watchers: “We have to invest more in advertising if we want to increase our customer base for a net-net profit of .  . . ”

You spinning out an improv save: “Forget that! Let’s try doing something totally different than what I said. Who’s in for a little brain storming?”

When it’s time to speak up

improv ideas

Improv promotes confidence, even in the face of adversity. So, let’s say you’re in a situation where you want to challenge your manager’s idea because you think it’s outdated. Now you have some improv tools – like turning a potential mistake into an opportunity. Approach the situation by putting forth some ideas of your own. Advocate modern tweaks by emphasizing the importance of speaking to a new, younger demographic.

You: “Studies show that this marketing strategy excludes a younger demographic. If we want to include a younger demographic, we could grow our customer base – and then we can play around with some of those edgier ad campaigns that Pat mentioned.”

Your boss: [Scratching chin] “Well, let’s at least give it a try.”

Improv artists get up on the stage with no game plan, which isn’t that different from a day at the office. Learning to think on your feet is a back-pocket skill that will take you far. Especially if you practice, and stay confident.

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