–written by Raleigh Marketing Consultants President Matt Eames
Want to get better at communication skills? Listening to others? Getting out of your comfort zone to talk to strangers or clients?
Improvisational comedy is a great way to enhance all of these skills! My name is Matt Eames, and my favorite hobby is performing improv. When I started doing improv in college, which was long before I got into the business world, I instantly fell in love with taking on the roles of extremely diverse characters, making an entire audience erupt in laughter, and performing on stage with my friends.
Here are a few reasons why this passion of mine has transformed me into an effective salesperson and leader in my field:
1. If you’re going to fail, FAIL BIG!
When the actor onstage fails, embrace it and have fun with it, the audience will actually find these moments the funniest! When I’m on stage and take it conservatively, that’s when my improv is at its worst. When I take risks and get out of my comfort zone with character choices, the audience eats that up! Being bold with a character or scene is the most important part, no matter if it is perfect, the audience remembers these moments most! With improvisation, you learn to be who you are, to be bold, to challenge conventions, and to question the rules.
I can say the same thing about success in business and leadership. When we fail, embrace it! Failures are the fuel to a great performance down the road. If we flub up a scene, or a sales pitch, who cares? Learning to embrace our failures helps us overcome them and gets us on a path for success. In sales, if we are bold and make strong choices, we will stand out and be in the spotlight instead of just being part of the background scenery. We must stand out; we must be bold; we must grab their attention! When I first started in sales, I was not very skilled; however, I was confident and grabbed people’s attention so that the customer would give me their full attention and listen to my pitch.
2. DON’T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY
HAVE FUN. That is the key to both sales and improv comedy. In improv, you must make fun of yourself and your surroundings. If you are taking it too seriously, that’s not funny. The audience wants to have fun and if the actors are having fun on stage, the audience will follow suit. Most comedians talk about their own shortcomings, which is the funniest part of their routines.
As a business leader, I am always relating to my team and talking about my failures in sales and business, so they can understand I’ve been there too. It is this connection that provides a great sense of leadership and direction to your team.
Once again, it is okay to fail. Just have fun with the process, it is always just a learning experience.
3. TRUST YOUR GUT
My mother always told me this growing up, most specifically when being nervous and over-thinking how to ace a test in school. In improv, there is no time to think. You must just DO. Be confident in the choice you make and run with it. We must always be quick on our feet, think intellectually, and trust our gut. In sales or running a company it is the same thing, nothing usually goes according to the script or plan.
Things change constantly and we must adapt to our surroundings immediately.
When running my business, I have found that trusting my gut when decision making ultimately leads to the best results. Improv and business both require flexibility and agility—when something isn’t working, we must change things up on the fly.
Change is just another part of the process of getting it right.
4. WE MUST LISTEN TO HELP OUT OUR TEAMMATES
The number one rule of improv is YES, AND. What that means is that we must agree with whatever our scene partners say, no matter how silly or absurd to reality. If I say, “It’s so crazy we ended up on the moon!”, my scene partner cannot say “No, we are actually still at the bus stop”. SCENE OVER. Disagreement causes the scene to end, because we must always agree with our partners.
Instead, my scene partner could simply say “YES, AND I can’t believe we fell asleep on the bus for that long, the moon must be the last stop.” Although that is a silly reply, now the audience is interested with how these two characters are related and how they are going to get back home! The scene is building organically towards the height of the scene!
In business, it is the exact same process. We must trust the instincts and direction that our teammates are headed. A true leader does not just tell people what to say and do, they listen to their team and enabling their success will help the team hit the common goal. Both sales and improv have greatly enhanced my listening skills. Improv is all about listening, and so is sales. We must listen to our fellow actors and work off each other. Similarly, we must listen to the customer if we want to assess their actual needs! Whether in the workplace or on stage, it is incredibly important to silence our own thoughts so that we can be present in the moment with the person we are conversing with.
5. YOU MUST LEARN TO LEAD —AND TO FOLLOW
On stage for an improvisational play, the roles change and adapt seamlessly from one moment to the next. The person who is leading one moment is following the next. True leadership is about that same ebb and flow. A leader may lead with vision and goals, but then other times they are following ideas and innovation of other team members or inspirations.
You need to know how to follow and lead at the same time. Geese do this in the wild; they change who is leading (and thus taking on the most wind resistance) when they are flying in their “V” formation so they can get to their final destination as a group much faster by interchanging who is leading the pack.
I try and do this in business by letting others lead and step into bigger leadership roles because that is the only way to truly help someone grow into a great leader: it takes a lot of practice!