As an unabashed theater junkie, writer, marketer and artist all-in-one, you can only imagine my delight when I meet or hear about others just like me: Did the whole acting-since-grade-school thing, went to school for theater, discovered writing, discovered you can mesh writing with business and maybe actually make a living, then figure out a way to blend all your interests into a full-time gig. We are a rare breed but we certainly exist.
It seems that’s what Mr. Bill Connolly has also done (though I have no proof his history is anything like mine – I can only assume). Either way, he certainly caught my eye with his recent article for MarketingProfs titled, “Five Ways Improv Comedy Made Me a Better Marketer.” I saw the title and squealed…”There are others out there!”
Connolly notes an NPR article that said there is a definite relation between improv and business, citing how some top-tier business schools are offering more than just finance and marketing these days: Duke, UCLA, MIT and Stanford are all teaching improv. Professors say these techniques help students increase collaboration, creativity and risk taking.
Rather than even attempt to improve upon Connolly’s tips, I will regurgitate them here for you because they are oh-so-true and uber relatable for anyone who’s done this. And for those of you who haven’t but have always had an improv itch, what’s stopping you? After all, it won’t just be a hobby, it will make you better at your jobs. Win-win.
1. ‘Yes, And…’
This is the very first concept that you are taught on the very first day of improv training. It is drilled into you until it becomes second nature. What does it mean?
As improv actor and trainer Daena Giardella points out, too often in society (and business) do we hear the words, “Yes, but.” In a business setting, as in a comedy scene, the phrase “Yes, but” acts as an idea blocker. In using it, you are acknowledging that the other person has something to contribute, but then negating the value of that contribution. Doing so does not fly in the improv arena.
By adopting the “Yes, and,” mentality, you force yourself to take into consideration what everyone is saying. You open up the possibility of creating something together, which is the basic objective of improv comedy.
As a marketer, this can be an exceptional technique for idea generation and brainstorming. By forcing yourself to be more open and collaborative, you will be amazed at the results.
2. Let the Idea Breathe
This one is directly correlated to the “Yes, and,” concept. In improv, part of the great difficulty lies in knowing when to make edits to a scene. When should you enter, or exit, or change the scene altogether?
Often, actors will prematurely end a scene that had promise. When that happens, we are usually told to “let the scene breathe.” In some cases, scenes start out shaky, but if given some time they turn into something great.
In marketing, good ideas are often shot down because of budget, time constraints, lack of resources, etc. All of those may be real issues to work through; but, instead of killing these ideas, try finding other ways to develop them, or break them down into attainable objectives.
3. Maintain Perspective
An entertaining bit that often occurs during an improv show is when a humorous character is placed in an unlikely situation—for instance, a soldier from the Revolutionary War shopping at a Whole Foods supermarket.
When involved in such a scene, you maintain your character’s perspective, even though your setting is alien. What might annoy someone from the 1700s about today’s shopping experience? That is where the scene will find the most humor. As a character, it’s about consistency.
In marketing, it is equally important to maintain perspective. That is most true in brand consistency. Especially today, when we are bombarded with so many different forms of both traditional and digital marketing, maintaining your brand and your message (perspective) across all channels is even more important. \
4. Know Your Audience
All right, this one might seem obvious, but it really is not. In improv, your audience will vary greatly with each show, both in size and attitude. As a comedian, you must captivate the audience quickly, because once you lose them getting them back on your side is nearly impossible. Understanding what the audience wants from you will go a long way.
The same works in marketing. Marketers focus too much on what they want the customer to know about them, and not what the customer actually wants to know. Knowing who your audience is, and more importantly, what they are looking for, is the key to both better performance and more effective marketing communication.
5. Everyone Bombs
This is perhaps the most important concept to understand. In improv, everyone has a terrible performance once in a while. Taking risks and never settling for the “safe” play is what makes a comedian great in the first place.
In business, we are programmed to always succeed. We place so much pressure on ourselves not to mess up, that we are often afraid to take risks that could lead us to greater success than we could otherwise achieve. Just remember that great marketers, just like great improv comedians, have to fail in order to grow.