There is an aspect of my background that I use every single day in business, and it’s not one you would expect: improv comedy training.  Although I never performed professionally in improv – nor did I aspire to – doing years of drop-in classes has had a big impact on my business. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it’s a skill that you might consider if you are looking for ways to build the stronger human connections that lead to business success.  If you are a speaker, if you interact with clients, if you are fostering relationships with partners or investors, or if you are trying to turn a lead into a customer, improv training can be the secret weapon in your business.

While it’s been particularly helpful for me as a professional speaker, improv training has a daily influence on my business through all the one-to-one interactions I have with clients, prospects, and partners.

Why?  Well, there are three improv fundamentals that it all comes back to.

  • The theory of “yes and.” The central rule of improv is that whatever someone else puts out there, you want to agree to it and build upon it.  This makes every conversation a collaborative one.  You aren’t rejecting each other’s ideas, you are respecting them and using them as a jumping off point for something bigger, better, more detailed, or more structured.  Yes, I know that in business sometimes we need to set boundaries and say no when we see people crossing lines.  But, a lot of the time our inclination to say “no” comes from a place of fear, lack of creativity, or insufficient bandwidth.  In those situations, saying “yes” honors others to bring their ideas to the table to co-create solutions.
  • The notion that you do have the answers.  Never once when I was on stage did the world end.  Never once did I freeze up so badly that I created a completely unworkable scene.  Never once did I have such a lack of instinct that I couldn’t find my way out of it – or someone else didn’t make an awesome moment out of my awkwardness.  I learned that even I could occasionally make awesome moments out of my own awkwardness.  When you realize that you were just on stage in a scene for 5 or 10 minutes talking about a topic that you can’t even define, you understand how much power you have to speak to people about the topics you spend every day thinking about.
  • Listening to and feeding off audience reactions. When you are in a scene, you are aware of what you are doing, but you can also hear and feel how the audience responds.  If they laugh, you just found the funny thing.  Do more of it.  This idea directly translates to how we interact not only with audiences for those who speak publicly, but in one-on-one conversation, as well.  If you are not both equally invested in the conversation, the conversation is going nowhere.  If you are engaging your lead/client/group/audience in what they think is interesting about your subject, they’ll be more engaged.  Your interaction is being set up for success when you are listening and responding to the feedback.

For those who are speakers like I am, the application here might be more obvious.  I know a number of people who go the route of taking workshops through Toastmasters or National Speakers Association chapters.  There is certainly good reason for learning how to craft perfect speeches and deliver your talks with fine-tuned technique.  However, improv gives you an ease, a naturalness, and a listening ear that helps you adapt your talk on the fly to ensure it lands.

Improv gives you an ease, a naturalness, and a listening ear that helps you adapt. #business #salestips #smallbusiness #publicspeaking #improv Click To Tweet

I once did a talk in a small town in Arizona where I spoke about building your client base through word of mouth and partnerships.  I asked the group, “Don’t we all want to get more customers and clients?”  A burly man in the back of the room shook his head no quietly.  I fearlessly dove right in.  “You shook your head no.  What kind of business do you have?”  He answered, “I run a prison.”

Well, I asked for it!  My improv brain kicked into gear.  I laughed so everyone could laugh with me.  “Okay, everyone except for him wants more customers.  We don’t want him to have more customers, but the rest of you do, right?”  I paused for a moment.  Then I added to him directly, “But, you do want more funding, don’t you?  Let’s think about how word of mouth and partnerships can work for you in those circles.”  Not only did the moment of direct conversation draw everyone’s attention, but it also saved him from sitting through an entire presentation thinking it was irrelevant to him.  I had to have the courage to invite that risky exchange and know deep down that I could handle whatever happened.

Even if you aren’t a speaker, improv is part of everyday conversation.  That means it is part of your sales process and part of every relationship you build for your business.

Improv is part of everyday conversation. That means it is part of your sales process and part of every relationship you build for your #business. #salestips #smallbusiness #improv #smb Click To Tweet

In order to connect with others and drive the conversation forward in a direction that would be good for you, you need to know how it is good for THEM.  But, you may not know that yet.  If you are just meeting a lead or a potential collaborator, you perhaps don’t know them well enough to know what they think is interesting or valuable.

Research may help you prepare, but the only true way to get to the root of what they value is to talk with them.  And there is no script for that conversation.  The best tool you have is a little improv training to build the script as you go.

If you want to connect people to your business, it starts with listening. Don’t just make them part of the discussion – build the discussion off of them.  Let their interest be your guide to find the offerings or tie-ins that dovetail.  Walk together toward the best answers and know that you have all the knowledge you need right now to get to the next step.

If you want to connect people to your business, it starts with listening. #business #smallbusiness #smallbiz #smb #entrepreneur #salestips Click To Tweet

Sure, I learned some comedic techniques from improv training that I find handy and fun. What I take with me every day, though, is the ability it gave me to co-create in each conversation.  If you are looking for out-of-the-box ways to strengthen your business relationship building skills, improv training might be worth a look.

And if you are an introvert reading this, please know that most of the people I met in the improv world were introverts, too.  Don’t rule it out!  As a nod to you, here are some marketing tips especially for introverts!