By Ben J Henry

Resilience in children

When most people hear ‘improv drama’, they think of Whose Line Is it Anyway?; they remember silly sketches at college, or their gut twists with an anxious plea: you’ll never catch me doing that! So why are business students and corporate leaders considering acting-without-a-script as a means of developing soft skills? In this article, we’ll consider five ways in which improv drama can get you off your screen and on your feet, connecting, creating and delivering ideas with conviction.


    Do you find yourself rehearsing what you’re about to say before a meeting or presentation? No matter how well we prepare, life doesn’t stick to the script. Technology glitches, agendas shuffle and unexpected questions throw us off balance. In an improv scene, you respond to questions and statements without pause to consider your options. When your scene partner asks where you left the keys, you can’t say you’ll get back to them in an email; you’ve a second or two to generate a plausible reason that fits the narrative. With practice, improv drama improves your mental agility, training you to think on your feet and respond to curveballs in job interviews, meetings and networking events.


      Consider the worst boss you’ve worked under. I bet one of the qualities he or she lacked was self-awareness. If you’ve seen The Office episode where Michael Scott attempts improv, you’ll know what I’m getting at here. A good leader is like a good scene partner: they’re more concerned with what’s best for the team than what makes them look good. Improv drama encourages us to read body language and hone our listening skills so that we can interpret our partner’s suggestions and build on them, making decisions that aren’t based on the ideas we had in mind when we stepped on stage but the collective ideas of those around us.


        Bristol Academy of Drama 2

        According to improv pioneer Keith Johnstone, “To become a good improviser you need to let go of the fear of being seen as mad, bad, or wrong.” We’re often afraid to venture new ideas or to counter suggestions if we fear that our opinions will be rejected. As a result, when we chip in during meetings or networking events, our delivery is weak and our ideas easily overlooked. Good improv actors make decisions with conviction. If they’ve decided they’re putting out that fire with the lube they found on the nightstand, they’re going for it. And this ability to commit confidently to an idea translates to the boardroom. You make a choice and you run with it.


        At school, the class clown was a bit of an idiot, right? An attention-seeker. Now, if you consider your favourite comedian, you’ll no doubt think they’re a genius. True comedians are highly intelligent, and this hinges on their ability to make connections. Improv drama classes typically start with word-association activities requiring you to link concepts. When an idea is thrown your way, you’ll want a couple of connections to draw from in the moment. Whether it’s a tiger or ethical non-monogamy, you run with the idea by making connections between what you already know and what has been covered in the scene. If you find yourself drawing blanks during brainstorming sessions, consider how improv drama might help you to make better connections, faster.


        There are few ‘rules’ in the world of improv drama, but the most revered is ‘Yes, and’. In essence, when your scene partner makes a suggestion, you take it on board (Yes) and you develop it (and…). In my experience, this simple rule is transformative, not just on stage but as a philosophy for life. Think back to your last meeting. Some people around the table (/in their little Zoom boxes) naturally lean towards a Yes, and mindset. They respond positively to ideas and suggest ways in which these ideas could be improved or amended. These are the people we enjoy working with. And then there are the team members who only seem interested in picking holes in our plans. While thinking critically is a key skill, criticism is better received when it comes from a positive mindset. Joel Vander Weele told Financial Management, “If you’re having a conversation with a client and they ask you to do something impossible and they want you to do it by Tuesday, the best option is to start your response with a “yes, and,”. Through improv drama, you can improve the wellbeing of your team by creating a better culture for sharing and responding to ideas.

        If you’re serious about your business, you’ll know your strengths and weaknesses; if you’re a good leader, you’ll know the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Finding time in the week to practise improv is not only enjoyable and energising, but will foster the soft skills required to take you and your team to the next level. Drop your email in the box below and we’ll let you know which coworking spaces offer thirty-minute drop in sessions. Get off the screen, out of your comfort zone and on track to a more productive working week.