“So you wanna teach improv in the business world, huh?”

Before The Improv Retreat, campers had the opportunity to register for three workshops. The first one I took was “Improv in the Business World,” taught by Deanna Moffitt.

Deanna makes part of her living teaching corporate improv with Business Improvisations. The participants are there not to become performers but to become better leaders and employees. She has taught improv skills to MBA students, salespeople, managers, all kinds.  (Here is an amazing list of articles on the subject from Business Improvisations. Second City also teaches corporate improv;  here is a WBEZ piece about what one of these classes (taught by Andy Eninger of Second City) is like for a group of librarians.)

None of the exercises we learned were new to me, but the spin Deanna put on them made it obvious how relevant they were for life off stage.

Here are some of my notes. Any inaccuracies are because I can’t read my handwriting, not because Deanna wasn’t full of wisdom.

  • Make the corporate workshop as safe a place as possible. Get a verbal agreement from all participants that they are releasing judgment of themselves, others, and the exercises.
  • In a corporate context, saying “yes” doesn’t mean, “I agree with you.” It means, “I hear you.”  (This! This is so helpful. I was once on a committee of improvisers, and the guy in charge would force his half-baked ideas to happen by telling anyone who questioned him that we “really needed to have a spirit of yes, and, guys …” None of us knew how to argue with that, which meant awesome group mind turned into horrible groupthink.)
  • Choose exercises that don’t keep the spotlight on one person. If we’re all doing this together, nobody looks silly.
  • Learn to ask good questions, and get comfortable with silence. The participants will eventually break the silence with answers that fit their workplace better than anything you could suggest.
  • Improvisers are so indoctrinated with “yes, and” that we forget how revolutionary it was when we first learned it. It changes lives.

My favorite moment was after we played Red Ball — y’all know that I like Red Ball, right? — and Deanna asked us for how this might apply to our work lives. Right away, people saw it as an exercise in delegating, multitasking, letting go of anxiety, and lots of other things I hadn’t thought about in connection with Red Ball. I had thought of this game as having straightforward applications for church ministry, but I hadn’t thought about how it could work in any office.

Improv principles apply everywhere in some form, and you can trust that most people will see how improv fits into their own lives and workplaces.

I signed up for this class because I’m teaching “Improv Skills for Life” at The Greenhouse this fall, and I wanted some perspective on how to approach planning curriculum for a class that does not have performance as its goal. I came away with practical ways to break my goals for the class into smaller steps, and I can’t wait to start teaching it.

If you took this workshop, too, did you take different notes? What did you take away from the class?

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