Yes, and: What I Learned from an Improv Session

    Recently, PRSA Hampton Roads held a monthly meeting at the Arts District home of the improv group The Pushers to see what could be learned about communications through improvisation.  PRSA member Julie Watson shares her experience and lessons learned.

    Yes, and: What I Learned from an Improv Session
    By Julie Watson
    Photos by Marcy Germanotta

    It’s not my nature to get on a stage in front of strangers to do anything let alone learn improvisational techniques, but that’s the situation I found myself in a few days ago in a quest to try new things.

    And you know what, it wasn’t that bad.

    Here are a few things I learned from the instructors, who honed their skills at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade and wrote the Off-Broadway “50 Shades of Grey” parody, and from the book, “Yes, And: How Improvisation Releases ‘No, But’ Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration,” written by two members of the iconic Second City comedy theater.  

    1. Improv is basically “bullcrap with confidence.” When you do improv, you’re not looking for the joke; instead you want to be as real as possible.

    Business takeaway: Maybe that’s a bit over the top for the business world, but what I took out of it was to be confident and authoritative when you speak. You’re the expert in your field so own it.

    2. There are no stars in improv. It’s an ensemble and you’ll only look as good as you make your partners look since you feed off each others’ remarks.

    Business takeaway: It’s all about teamwork and collaboration. You make your team and your manager look good and you look good too.

    3. Staying positive. “Yes, and” is a classic improvisation where both partners start each sentence with the words “yes, and.” In improv, negative energy doesn’t help move the story along. It actually shuts down the story and gives the audience a bad vibe. By saying “yes, and,” you’re not saying no and you’re opening the story to many creative possibilities.

    Business takeway: Try using the phrase at work, especially during brainstorming meetings and see where it takes the meeting. It might lead to a lot of creativity. At the very least, it will keep the meeting going longer than a soul-crushing “no” would.

    4. When doing improv, you’ve got to be fully present, concentrating on your partner(s) and making eye contact with them: no text messages, no answering emails, no side conversation

    Business takeaway: We’re all used to multitasking these days, but practice mindfulness and be in the moment.

    5. Accept that failure is part of the process and learn how to fail and go on. No one hits it out of the improv theater night after night. One person fails, but the others are there to pick them up.

    Business takeway: As one of the “Yes And” writers said, “Every success story is rooted in all these little failures.” Recognize that it’s OK to fail and it’s OK to talk about failure.

    So, how’d I do on that stage? I was in one of the easier exercises called a “one-word story” in which the audience yells out the name of a story and the eight of us on stage each add one word to the story. An audience member yelled out “My Boss the Meanie” and off we went to tell the story of a mean boss who stole my brownies and had a squirrelly face.   I added the words “brownies” and “squirrelly” to a story. Will I do it again? I liked the ensemble atmosphere, the challenge of thinking quickly and the concentration required so maybe I will pursue it further, but don’t expect to see me on the big screen.

    Julie Watson is a Corporate Vice President, Employee Communications at New York Life Insurance Co., and a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at [email protected]

    Scenes from August 19, 2015 at The Pushers
    Photos by Marcy Germanotta, Communications Director, Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast


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