Improv Isn’t Just For Laughs In Colorado, It’s About Business

Nov 21, 2017

When Monique Rodriguez went to a business coach to improve her pet photography business, she got some unusual advice.

“He suggests all of his clients go to an improv class,” Rodriguez, of Fort Collins, said. “It helps in your business in a lot of ways -- sales, marketing, service.”

An introvert at heart, Rodriguez said she was intimidated by the idea of doing improv -- an art form often known for its rapid-fire pace and extroverted nature. Rodriguez’s business coach Jeffrey Shaw said that’s how many of his clients respond.

“No one ever wants to do it, they’re always scared to death,” said Shaw, who also hosts the Creative Warriors Podcast. “And I’m the first one to say, which always makes them more comfortable, I suck at it and it’s OK to be terrible at it. It’s something you grow. It’s a skill set you learn.”

Businesses around the country are sending employees to improv schools -- not just for teambuilding but to help improve the bottom line. The tenets of good improv include good communication, being agreeable, always making your team look good and thinking fast on your feet.

Because in business, as in improv, things can come at you pretty quickly.

“Whether it’s the phone call we get from a dissatisfied customer and we have to figure out how to respond in that moment, or somebody calls and asks about your services and you’re not entirely ready in that moment (...) you can learn to buy yourself the time that you need to think about your next move,” Shaw said.

That’s what Rodriguez had in mind when she signed up for a class: Improv for the Business Professional, at the Fort Collins performing arts school, La-De-Da. She didn’t realize it at the time, but just the act of doing that meant she was already following the first rule of improv: Yes, and...

“Always when you’re having a conversation with someone, saying ‘Yes, and…’ and adding to it instead of automatically saying ‘No’ to something, really can open up a lot of possibilities,” Rodriguez said.

Improv for the Business Professional isn’t your typical business class, but it’s also not your typical improv class, according to instructor Jessica MacMaster.

La-De-Da's Improv for the Business Professional uses classic improv games to help participants work on their listening and team-building skills.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

“This one is for people who don’t do improv or don’t act or don’t even know what improv is,” MacMaster said. “So, it’s really to sharpen soft skills more than work on how to build interesting scenes. It relates much more to everyday life and life in the workplace.”

One example: the game “Animal Couples Counseling.” In this exercise, classmates act out a mock couples counseling session and give each other clues to figure out what animal they are.

So how does this relate back to the workplace? It’s all about listening to the other person.

“All of the rules apply to what you’re doing every day and make what you’re doing every day easier,” MacMaster said.

In the game, Brock Martin was a bunny rabbit, but in real life he’s a chiropractor. For him, listening is an important skill, especially when gathering a person’s medical history

“What I think needs to happen for a patient might not necessarily be what they want to happen for themselves and we kind of gotta find a balance between what I, as a doctor, think is best for them and what they actually want to do,” Martin said.

Really listening has also helped him with his business partner, who also happens to be his wife.

“Working as a husband-and-wife team you can often butt heads a lot,” Martin said. “We’ve noticed that ... saying ‘yes’ has been a huge improvement for our business and our day-to-day (life).”

But improv is not all fun and games, especially if you’re a perfectionist.

“I’m not comfortable making mistakes and it causes me to not take the risks that I probably should take,” Martin said.

Riley Tanner, Brock Martin and Monique Rodriguez play a game of Animal Couples Counseling as part of La-De-Da's Improv for the Business Professional class.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

Fear of failure or embarrassment is the number one reason Shaw said his clients give when they don’t want to try improv.

“Most people see improv as a means of entertainment and haven’t really thought about what they can gain from participating in improv and the skills that you can gain,” he said.

At Shaw’s first improv class, he was surprised to learn that he really wasn’t a good listener and that he didn’t always adjust easily when someone offered him an idea.

For Rodriguez improv has already paid off. Recently another photographer suggested she take on some new clients: puppies.

“Normally I’d say, ‘No, I don’t really have those type of clients,’” she said. “But instead I was thinking of improv, so I said, ‘Yeah, you know, let’s talk about that. Maybe I can implement it someday.’

And then a few days later...

“I got invited to a breeder event, and so I’ll meet a lot of people with a lot of puppies,” Rodriguez said.