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As a speaker and facilitator, I need to be able to think on my feet. You just never know when a question or comment or situation will pop up out of the blue and require a speedy response. Some years ago, I took an Improv class for the purpose of honing that skill. And just recently, I took another one - at BATS Improv (Bay Area Theater Sports) in San Francisco – to refresh it. Not only was it a lot of fun and personally rewarding, it got me thinking. The principles of improv can benefit everyone. In business and in life.

And guess what? I’m apparently not the only one who thinks this! Some top tier business schools are now teaching improv classes in their MBA programs, including Duke, MIT, UCLA, and Stanford. A Fast Company article explained why:

“The underlying axiom is that curveballs don’t just happen on stage at improv classes; they also happen in the ever-changing business world. When you’re on stage, unsure of what will happen, and are forced to go along with whatever suggestion your fellow actors offer with a “yes, and…” response that means you’re always accepting–and building upon–whatever others are doing or saying as part of your own storyline. This kind of cooperation is said to inspire adaptability, which becomes a particularly useful skill to have in the current global business landscape.”

Here are some improv principles that we can all apply.

Yes, and… Saying “yes, and…” as opposed to “yes, but…” can make a big difference in one-on-one conversations, brainstorming sessions, performance reviews, talks with your teenager, self-talk, you name it. Think about it. When someone is speaking to you and says “but” in the middle of the sentence, do you remember anything before the “but”? No matter how sweetly the sentence begins, a “but” in the middle signals negative territory ahead.

Listen. In improv, listening effectively is essential. Other actors may be setting a scene or giving you characteristics (addressing you as “your highness” for example) that you’ll miss if you’re talking or not paying attention. Listen so you can respond appropriately. Same goes for meetings, relationships, etc.

Make your partner look good. Improv is a team sport. It’s not about upstaging others so you can shine. It’s about working together to create a scene that entertains the audience. Most of our work today is done in teams or in collaboration with another. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman

Embrace mistakes. One of the refreshing and fear-fighting things about being on stage in improv is that mistakes are OK. In fact, often it’s the mistakes that get the biggest laughs from the audience. You fall, you dust yourself off, and you keep going. Just as we need to in life.

Give it 100%. Improv is less about being a good actor and more about jumping 100% into whatever role or situation you’re given.  If you believe, the audience will believe. How much better would we all be if we gave 100% to every endeavor, every assignment, every relationship?

Do something. Here’s where the thinking-on-your-feet comes in. Someone knocks on the (imaginary) door, answer it. Someone throws you a line, respond to it. Think how this applies to life. Every day we have opportunities and possibilities. Don’t just stand there, do something!

Till next time,


Communication, Life, Personal development


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