There’s a persistent school of thought that people in business – and specifically those starting a sales career – can really benefit from a dose of improv training.
That’s right, improv, that particular form of theater or comedy created at the moment of its performance. Maybe you saw Drew Carey’s hit TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway, where actors made up bits on the spot. Maybe you’ve heard a great jazz quartet improvising on a riff or a rapper improvising rhymes. All those things are improv.
Well, nobody is saying you need to be a comedian or stage actor to start your career in sales, but the techniques required to do improv will come in handy in a lot of ways. It’s all about learning to create something from nothing, thinking on your feet and focusing intensely on the person or persons in the scene with you.
Here’s what some smart folks have said about the value improve can bring to your sales career:
1. It Teaches You How to Fail: In his talk at TEDx, Dave Morris says improv teaches you that “just because you failed doesn’t mean you’re a failure.” “It means, ‘Oh I failed, I screwed up. Well, I’m an improviser. I’ll just start again,’” he said. “That’s the worst thing that happens.”
2. It Teaches You to Be in the Moment: Joe Spector, who oversees media partnerships at TuneIn, wrote on LinkedIn recently about what he learned from taking an improv class. Among the lessons: How “being in the moment” helps you cope with the unexpected. “Pre-meditating can catch you off guard or box you in,” Spector wrote. “At work, it’s important to prepare, but be in the moment to react based on the information in front of you.”
3. It Teaches You How to be a Better Listener: Comedian Ben Gartner told the blog at Comedysportz that improv teaches you to listen for every clue that might yield an idea or an opening. “When you’re making it up you can’t afford to throw anything away,” Gartner said. “Before I took classes, I was shutting down good ideas left and right without realizing it. Now when I hear it happen, it hurts. That’s how instinctual it becomes. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that clearly wasn’t listening to you? Improv classes will make sure you’re never that person.”
4. It Helps You Commit to the Task at Hand: Motivational speaker Lisa Marshall says improv helped her “100 percent commit to a choice.” Marshall writes: “When I committed 100 percent I was able to shake my feelings of self-consciousness and just have fun! And when I wasn’t fully committed, I was shaky. I was nervous and struggling with what to say and do. I was full of self-doubt. It was a horrible feeling.”
5. It Teaches You to Make Connections: As the website humorthatworks.com noted recently, improv is a team sport, not unlike any sales situation. Without teamwork and interpersonal relationships, nothing can happen: “To have a successful improv scene, you must connect to the other player and focus on your relationship. It’s easy to forget about this when performing on a stage in front of people, and just as easy to forget when trying to make a sale or talking to our significant other. But life is about relationships and connections, not material objects or status.”