Improv for Business

A couple of years ago we had a group come to our office to run a session on improv. I hadn't known much about it and certainly hadn't experienced any of the techniques first hand, although I had done a programme once called Think on Your Feet which is somewhat similar – but it turned out to be a lot of fun and taking improv classes is now on my list to do at some stage. Improv is explained as "a positive form of theatre – performers don't know what they're going to do but they do have certain structures to make it work". It sounds very like the business world where improvisation is the order of the day but we don't often have the structures to make it work that well.

Taking more improv classes has risen higher up my list now – mainly because I listened to a BBC World Service Global Business Program on it the other day (Let me Entertain You).
– This was an easy listen to the topic with a lot of eavesdropping on a couple of courses on what business leaders can learn from improvisational comedy and rock musicians.

The fact that it's easy to listen to is telling – it means I probably wasn't really listening (true, as I was also checking through my emails), but I did hear the speaker say that the key to effective improve is truly listening. One of the exercises practised was telling a story one word at a time i.e. the group members speak one word each in order to construct a whole story. This forces the person to listen to the previous speaker in order to make a decision on what the next word should be.

Another exercise – which I've used a lot since I learned at the improv course I went on – is the 'yes and' exercise ("and' being a much more powerful word than 'but' which has a lot of negative implications).

If you're interested in learning more about improv a good website is that of the Applied Improvisation Network. It has a selection of improv games, a list of books, and so on. And an article that I found gave a good overview of improv for business is Improvisation: not just funny business, originally published in T & D. It has several stories of the value various business people have found in taking up the techniques, plus links to other websites and contacts.

I like the title of the book Improv Yourself: Business Spontaneity at the Speed of Thought . I haven't read it yet but skimming through the contents pages and reading the reviews suggests that I'd gain a lot from it if I did. Another title added to my wish list!

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