Improvisational (or improv) performance is one of the most long-lived and versatile styles of performance in history. It has existed in a variety of forms, from music to dance to poetry, but perhaps most associated with the word “improv” is comedy. Having had the opportunity to perform this style of comedy for close to 10 years, I’ve learned to use my skills as an improviser in a variety of ways both on and off the stage. From problem solving and content generation to overall communication with clients and colleagues I’ve found these fundamentals have helped me flourish. Here are a few tenets of good improv, and how they can help you improve your marketing.
Ask any improviser worth their salt about the first rule of improv and 9 times out of 10 you’ll hear a response of “yes, and.”
Improv has always been a collaborative art, meaning that anything great on stage is a product of great teamwork. “Yes, and” is the act of accepting what is given to you, and adding on to it with your own suggestion. In an improv scene “yes and’ing” may look like this:
“Martha, I think it’s time we start thinking about that lake house.”
“Oh Phillip, we can finally become lumberjacks like we’ve always dreamed!”
“Yes, and every night we’ll scare the neighboring children with ghost noises.”
While not necessarily this outlandish, you can see how a scene is formed when both parties give their own information to the scene and their partner accepts and adds to it. This gets to a deeper point of improv: every person and every suggestion is important. Accepting and adding to others’ ideas, whether they be clients or coworkers, can be the foundation of great content creation and marketing strategy.
Tell the Truth
Improv comedy isn’t about jokes, no matter what anyone says. The bible of many improv performers, Del Close and Charna Halpern’s Truth in Comedy, states ““One of the biggest mistakes an improvisor can make is attempting to be funny.” The entire message of Close and Halpern’s book is that improv is about tapping into shared experiences with fellow performers and the audience, those shared experiences typically result in a kind of joy of oneness.
How does that grand philosophy apply to marketing you may ask? Simple: be honest with people. It may seem like infantile advice, but the longest-lasting business relationships are based on trust, and that trust is earned through open and honest communication. Sales may be your goal, just like laughter is the goal of comedy, but the basis of those goals is and will always be the truth.
Do, don’t think
Possibly the hardest lesson to teach beginning improvisers is to “do, don’t think.” There’s a variety of ways to articulate this (don’t overthink, get out of your own head, etc.), but in both improv and life it boils down to “don’t be afraid to fail.” A coach once told me “there are no bad ideas in improv, only bad reactions to them,” and that advice has probably affected my professional life more so than my performance ability.
As a business owner or marketer you need to be unafraid to try new ideas. Even if an idea fails for your business, you’ve learned what doesn’t work for that specific scenario. I like to think Thomas Edison did a little improv on the side when I read his quote “I have not failed once, I have simply found 10,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.” If it works for Edison and Wayne Brady, why can’t it work for you?