Enhance Your Career With Comedy Improv Skills

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Unconventional Education for Every Career. When I took a few comedy improvisation classes in New York City last year, I learned more than just the fundamentals of creating a funny, unscripted vignette. In fact, I was tickled to rediscover that many life skills can still be boiled down to a bunch of tried-and-true clichés. The basic principles of hilarious comedy improvisation can be applied to everyday life, including your career.

1. Warm Up

How it’s used in Improv: Rapping, yowling, and throwing invisible knives are not your average warm-up exercises. However, in comedy improvisation they are used to loosen the body and stimulate the brain to get into the ready-for-anything state of mind. Your workday can similarly benefit from a little mental preparation. You can’t succeed in the spotlight without doing behind-the-scenes prep work, and setting realistic expectations enables you to deal more nimbly with surprises.

How to make it a career enhancement:

Set aside time before you get to work to think about the day ahead.
Do a mental “walk-through” with the people, places, and situations you may encounter during your day.
Practice the mindfulness to behave kindly and with dignity even in the face of challenging circumstances.

2. Initiate the Scene How it’s used in Improv: The show can’t go on unless one brave soul charges forward… declaring war, asking the most popular 7th grader out on a date, or confessing a deep, dark secret to a stranger on a train. But everybody standing around watching dust particles float past their noses creates quite the awkward silence on stage- and a missed opportunity to be a star.

How to make it a career enhancement:

Be the first to express a thought or idea. It takes courage, but often results in appreciation from your colleagues and respect from your managers.
Take initiative on tasks and projects awaiting a champion. Initiative shows commitment and dedication, which impresses the boss and builds trust and good working relationships with peers.

3. Yes, and… How it’s used in Improv: -“Grandma, thank you for chauffeuring us to the prom,” says the brave scene initiator. -“Yes, of course, my dears… and I took the liberty of providing you with some of your favorite hot cocoa in place of that big cooler you brought!” The immediate purpose of the “yes, and…” technique is obvious: it takes the initiator’s idea forward, it keeps the ball rolling. Grandma doesn’t just affirm the idea, however. She also heightens the stakes, creating both a story and an invitation to collaborate.

How to make it a career enhancement:

Acknowledge and add to your colleagues’ suggestions whenever you can. Everyone loves recognition, and it fosters a positive and creative work environment.
Earn a reputation for being supportive and open-minded with your sincere acknowledgment.

4. Listen How it’s used in Improv: “Milk pail!” “Dinosaur egg!” “Football camp!” In the world of comedy improv, ideas fly around at a staggering pace. At any moment, a scene initiator may grab one and run with it. Everyone else has to pay attention, think fast, and be ready to jump in when they hear the right cue.

How to make it a career enhancement:

Pay respectful attention when others are speaking, even if their presentation does not directly involve you in that moment.
Be ready to participate if called upon.
Offer ideas or feedback that show you were actively listening.

5. Support the team How it’s used in Improv: You might not imagine that comedic talents would include being an unassuming table or a whistling wind, but good comedy improvisation is a group effort; where they’re needed, even furniture and sound effects may be crucial to the story. They might even steal the show! In comedy improvisation there is no star, yet the entire ensemble shines when every contributor makes the success of the group his focus.

How to make it a career enhancement:

Be willing to do the small tasks as well as the big ones, and to do whatever needs to be done to facilitate the overall success of your group.
Don’t be a diva; nothing turns colleagues off faster than someone who sucks up to the boss.
But don’t sell yourself short, either. An ensemble cast is one in which all have equal roles to play, and success is usually found in the scenes where all the strengths balance out.