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Employers Who Say “Yes, and…” to Improv Comedy Gain Serious Benefits

Oh, Patti Stanger, once again, your wisdom has unwittingly transferred over to the world of recruitment and talent management…I’m referring of course to TV’s Millionaire Matchmaker, who I’ve once likened to a talent recruiter in how she is often challenged with finding a happy medium between giving her clients what they want and what they need – even when the two don’t always align.

In Tuesday night’s episode, however, Patti exhibited the qualities of a manager who understands the value in providing opportunities for employees to develop the skills that will not only help them succeed in their endeavors, but ultimately reflect well on her abilities as a leader.

During the episode, Patti coaxed her client, Michael, to take a class that would help the “painfully shy” bachelor to become more outgoing. While the scene already served as a great example of how managers should actively encourage their employees to improve their skill sets, Patti went one step further. She went the unconventional route by making Michael take an improv comedy class, which she recognized as a way to not only improve his confidence, his ability to engage his date in conversation, and ultimately his chances of closing the deal securing a second date…but also to help him have fun doing it.

What is improv comedy? If you’ve ever seen “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” (or last night’s episode of Matchmaker) you’re already familiar with improv, or improvisational, comedy – that is, comedy that is made up on the spot by a group of actors, based on a suggestion from the audience.

How improv works in the business world.  There’s a reason why companies like Pepsi, McDonald’s and United Way have utilized improv theaters like Second City and iO for their corporate training – and why several business schools include improv classes in their curriculum: The very skills that improv comedy teaches performers for use on stage (and, evidently, singles for use in the dating world), also transfer remarkably well to the business world. Among just a few of the business and presentation skills it helps students hone:

  • Thinking on the spot
  • Listening and communication
  • Collaboration
  • Innovative thinking
  • Taking initiative
  • Knowing one’s audience
  • Presenting with confidence

Improv is also a great team-building tool – not least of all, because it’s a unique experience employees get to share. But with its “Group Mind” mentality, improv also teaches groups to work together and agree on a uniform idea, while recognizing every person’s individual input. In fact, the first lesson taught in improv is to say “Yes, and…,” an exercise that helps others get along, and learn to accept others’ unique ideas.

For these reasons, improv is also great for developing your own management skills, as the “Yes, and…” aspect forces you to listen and explore the possibilities contained in new ideas, rather than rejecting them off the bat. You’ll gain trust and respect from employees by learning how to listen to others in a way that shows they are being understood, and learning to stay open to new ideas. It also forces you to pick up on nonverbal cues, such as body language and eye contact, helping you better understand what your employees are telling you, even when they don’t say it aloud.

Why now? At a time when employers are struggling to keep workers engaged and retain them, investing in this type of training can not only raise morale, but it also sends a clear message to your employees that you’re committed to providing learning and development opportunities (a lack of which is a major reason employees leave companies) – and that you care about their engagement in the company. 

What about you? Have you ever used improv as a training tool at your organization? What was your experience?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
8 comments
Greg Maughan
Greg Maughan

It's great to see business people acknowledging the value that improv classes have outside of the world of comedy. Anytime you encourage employees to be more outgoing and think quickly you are training skills that are valuable in any workplace. The theater I run in Philadelphia has worked with everyone from Cirque du Soleil actors to Vanguard managers and we always hear back from clients about how positive the experience was - not just fun, but something that had positive impacts on their productivity, creativity, and ultimately their bottom line.

Nicole Kumar
Nicole Kumar

Great article! I love Millionaire Matchmater and I'm a Recruiter. I often think about how similar my job is to hers!

Nicole Kumar
Nicole Kumar

Great article! I love Millionaire Matchmater and I'm a Recruiter. I often think about how similar my job is to hers!

Claire Billingsley
Claire Billingsley

I have been teaching and performing improv for years, and yes, there is a great deal of improv that can help people get "un-stuck" and move situations forward. The "yes, and" approach is very helpful in brainstorming meetings; it lets people get out of their heads and create possibilities by not just taking the first answer as the right answer. Being in the moment and learning how to make positive choices that keep doors open are transferable skills in any business situation.

Claire Billingsley
Claire Billingsley

I have been teaching and performing improv for years, and yes, there is a great deal of improv that can help people get "un-stuck" and move situations forward. The "yes, and" approach is very helpful in brainstorming meetings; it lets people get out of their heads and create possibilities by not just taking the first answer as the right answer. Being in the moment and learning how to make positive choices that keep doors open are transferable skills in any business situation.

Ericka Parker
Ericka Parker

I watched the episode of Millionare Matchmaker and was also impressed with Patti's willingness to not only provide the training but to attend with her client. I believe as companies invest in training & development opportunities it is equally important to participate as well. This sends the message that,
"I'm with you in this and you matter enough to me".

Ericka Parker
Ericka Parker

I watched the episode of Millionare Matchmaker and was also impressed with Patti's willingness to not only provide the training but to attend with her client. I believe as companies invest in training & development opportunities it is equally important to participate as well. This sends the message that,
"I'm with you in this and you matter enough to me".

Dave Cintron
Dave Cintron

I've been doing improv for 8 years and although I have no trouble presenting anything to anyone, I try not to let it take over the sales presentations lest I make promises like, "this software will not only run your business, it will wash your car, sell your script and add years to your lifespan" leaving the prospect thinking we are all completely insane.

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