It’s no joke – the power of Improv in business meetings

by | Oct 15, 2018 | Professional Development

Improvisation group

Last year I started taking improvisation lessons. I wanted to think faster on my feet, wanted to expand my coaching range by working more fluidly with my clients’ energy, and wanted to do something that didn’t resemble my everyday life.

I had a ball! What I didn’t expect was to find that improv skills can be used in so many ways in business and in selling, more ways than I ever imagined.

And I learned some things I didn’t know:

  1. There are rules for improvisation.
  2. If we followed some of these rules in the business world, we would quickly amp up our ability to trust our teammates and bosses, think more effectively under pressure, sell and manage more effectively, and have a blast doing it.
  3. Above all, improv is about teaching kindness. Who knew?

For example, we played a game called ‘Hotspot’. As a group we turned our faces to the wall, and one of us had to go into the middle of the room and start singing. How embarrassing. Very quickly, one of us facing the wall had to save the singer by taking their place and singing ourselves. Repeat. Save and sing…save and sing.

The point of the exercise is to take a risk, not let your teammate make an idiot of themself for too long, and not to make them feel like an idiot when you save them. Just save them, and perhaps make them look good.

What a concept!

What if that was our focus when we interact with each other in our internal meetings? Take a risk…I will save you when you risk…and I’ll try to make you look good.

Participation rates would probably increase.

Improv rules require participants to accept and cooperate with each other, listen interactively, and jointly advance the action of a given task while continually supporting each other to be successful. These behaviors may not be typical for everyone. I know they aren’t for many of the sales leaders and reps I work with. My invitation to you – give it a whirl.

Here are two improv activities you can use in any internal meeting – live or virtual – to break the ice and build a stronger team culture.

Each activity takes only minutes:

1. “Yes, and…” (versus “No, but…” or “Yes, but…”)

The intent: To tell a story by accepting and building upon each other’s ideas rather than by blocking them.

The process: One person starts a story by saying a simple sentence (e.g. “Joe went to the store”). The next person adds to the storyline, beginning their sentence with something like “Yes, and…he bought an ice cream cone.” Keep going until the story concludes.

Feel free to start with a ridiculous premise, e.g. “Barb created a new soft drink from gasoline without killing anyone off.”

You may notice that some people have trouble accepting and building. The group I was in experienced this. Ask the person who blocked an idea to try again, using “Yes, and…”

After playing this game, have the meeting facilitator request that “Yes, and…” be used as a way to proceed during the following meeting discussion. See what happens.

The business payoff: Break down barriers and generate ideas, increase cooperation, trust and a positive work environment. You can do this activity easily on the phone, so it works well for virtual teams.

2. Tongue Twisters

The intent: Loosen up everyone’s lips before a meeting begins.

Try the following tongue twisters – have the whole group recite each one about 10 times, as quickly as they can:

  • Unique New York
  • Toy boat
  • Red leather, yellow leather
  • She stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping, amicably welcoming him in. (Good luck with this one!)

The business payoff: Everyone in the group has already tripped over their tongue, so it should help them participate more freely in the meeting discussion that follows. I’ve found this game to be extremely effective (and fun!) with the sales teams I work with.

Improv’s emphasis on generosity, cooperation, trust and experimentation counterbalances fear and unleashes creativity. You’ll find you will be willing to take more risks, accept and advance others’ ideas and trust that you’ll know what to do. The magic of improv is that it nurtures us as creative, connected human beings – and this can drive business performance.