“Now you are wizards and fairies!” my improv teacher Jamie shouted with glee, and the five of us flapped our arms wildly and zapped each other with imaginary wands. We had two minutes to collectively make up a game with clear rules about who wins, who loses, and how. Here is the kicker – without talking. This is how I spent my Thursday evenings from 7-10PM during the month of August, and surprisingly, learned some powerful business lessons from my first foray into improv.
My kids went to sleepaway camp for the first time this year, and I decided I would tackle a couple things that terrify me. One was driving, admittedly hard to get back into after years away from the wheel, but much scarier was taking beginner improv. My public speaking coach recommended this as a good way get more relaxed in front of crowds and prepare for my book tour for Million Dollar Women. Since my book exhorts women to go outside of their comfort zones in order to raise capital, I also thought maybe I should go outside of my own comfort zone. Way out, in this case. I don’t even like to watch improv (I get too nervous for the actors) and I have never ever wanted to DO improv. Happily I was able to convince my intrepid 24 year old assistant to sign up for a four week course with me. Most of the other students were closer to her age than mine, and taking the class with Christina made it somehow seem less like torture and more like professional development. I was so frozen with fear at the first class that the teacher had to order me by name to get into a scene because I was seemingly Velcro-ed to the wall. The other students – who seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was! – ranged from three high school-seniors from New Jersey to a millennial tech co-founder to a 60-something character actress.
Here are 5 cool things I took away from my four week improv class that I will carry into my professional life as a CEO and author/speaker:
- Commit Fully. When you decide to play an emotion or situation, play it BIG and give it your all. Even if you feel like you are overacting, everyone would rather see you go all out than be tepid. When you commit fully you can’t go wrong. Besides, when it comes to improv, getting things wrong may be hilariously right. But more on that below.
- Make a choice. When you or your scene partner comes up with an idea, embrace it! Don’t second guess your choice, just play it out. Now you are sliding down a seashell into a pool of Gatorade? Yes! That’s a choice. The worst thing you can do is not make a choice.
- There are no mistakes. “Every mistake is a gift” Jamie says. Did your scene partner just say “we live in the United State” instead of “United States?” — use it! that can become a hilarious thing to keep repeating. Don’t apologize, just keep the scene going.
- Trust your partner. Scenes only work if you trust that your partner will offer you something you can work with. Then be ready to go along. This is flexible leadership and team-work in action. If they say you are a tarantula expert, then get out your monocle! If you are meant to be eating a brontosaurus bone, put ketchup on it.
- Play positive. It’s tempting to go to dark places in a scene to get a reaction, but if you can resist that and play positive, it’s so much more fun for the audience. More fun for you too. Does anyone really want to watch a scene about throwing babies off a boat?
By the last class, I no longer lurked by the wall, and I even had fun paying freeze games where I got to be a military trainee and an evangelical preacher leading his flock. Now I am a proud graduate of “Level Zero” improv and even considering taking Level One. Of course, just being a CEO (or a parent!) has many improv-like qualities, like dealing with “unscripted” business challenges that pop up every day and getting into a game you aren’t always sure how to play. Probably my biggest takeaway from my improv stint is the most cardinal rule of improv: instead of “no, but” always say “yes, and” to your scene partners. Then trust yourself and the rest will fall into place.
Where have you learned unexpected business lessons? Share with me below!
Until next time,