Hiring and Growth

Improv Comedy Lessons Every Small Business Owner Should Steal

Kira Deutch Content Marketer, Gusto 

Improv and work may seem like archenemies. But inside every improv show, there are some serious life lessons that you can apply to your business.

In improv, there is no preparation allowed—everyone is keyed up to perform on the spot. And that mindset “makes you happy in a way that a lot of other things do not,” says Nishit Tewari, an improv teacher at San Francisco’s EndGames Improv. “It can’t completely transform your life. But it can show you a direction to get there.”

We sat down with Tewari to learn ways you can apply that same flavor of improv-induced happiness in one of the places you least expect—your small business.

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1. Make fun a bigger part of your life.

Improv does something special to both the audience and the performers: it creates a space where people feel free enough to turn on their truest selves. And that authenticity is what unblocks many barriers to happiness.

Ninety-percent of Millennials say they want to have more fun at work. Because when you spend more time having fun, it gives you permission to do more of the things you love and less of the things you don’t. That permission “changes you forever,” Tewari says. “You just start treating everything as more important.”

How to do it:

2. Your first reaction should always be “yes.”

“We’re constantly improvising, constantly exploring things,” Tewari tells us. “And saying ‘yes’ means agreeing to that exploration.”

Responding with an instant affirmative also shows that you acknowledge someone’s idea—and believe in them so much that you’re going to build on it. When you make openness a reflex, you have a higher likelihood of uncovering greatness. That mindset also helps you stay focused on the real purpose of things.

How to do it:

  • Say “yes” more than “no.” Let’s say you’re going back and forth with someone about picking a place to meet up. Really, you just want to get together. Quickly saying “yes” allows you to remember what matters so you can move the scene forward. “‘Yes allows you to see where things can go,” Tewari says.

3. Make others look good.

Success is never about the individual—it’s all about the team.

“You have to coach people to take chances and support other people’s chances. And the more you support people, the more it will push you to take chances of your own.”

How to do it:

  • Set meeting guidelines that encourage everyone to participate—and step in. Perhaps you start a meeting and lose track of where it’s going. It’s the team’s responsibility to salvage the situation by either introducing a new idea or doing more with your original idea. If something interesting comes out of it, your teammates can volley ideas back and take it somewhere new. “If someone made a choice, see if you can find agreement with it,” says Tewari. “Then, find the same excitement they had.”

4. Be on your team’s side.

A great performance is born from acceptance.

“If you have a group that’s comfortable with each other, you can do anything,” Tewari says. But to get there, put yourself in situations that enable your group’s safety net to materialize. Tewari says that as a teacher, it’s his job to go out on a limb so his class can see that whatever they do, they’ll always be supported by the team. “If you’re not in that safe space, nothing great will happen.”

How to do it:

  • Talk about your fears openly with your employees. Our natural inclination is to protect people when we’re fearful of the same thing. “Once people know that you’re taking a chance, they’re naturally on your side,” says Tewari. That’s why it’s important to tell the team what keeps you up at night.

5. Toss out the filter.

To play your best ideas, you have to “play a version of yourself,” Tewari tells us. And throwing away your filter is how your best ideas are able to see the light of day.

One tactic for getting out of editing mode is to put yourself in conversation mode.

How to do it:

  • Pretend you’re talking to a friend. Wherever you are, try to have a normal conversation—whether you’re talking to an audience of zero or a thousand. When we’re in that flow, we’re just saying what we know and how we feel about things. “There’s no thinking involved.”
  • Think about the worst-case scenario. If you have trouble flicking off the self-censoring switch, Tewari suggests exploring what the worst-case scenario would be. In improv, the worst thing that can happen is that the audience might not think you’re funny. It’s a temporary phase, and there’s always another chance to improve.

In the end, Tewari says, improv is about learning how to be comfortable with yourself so you can bring out that same ease in others. The show is happening now. There’s no rehearsal, and you don’t need to be afraid.

It comes down to two people saying to each other, “I can take a chance and support you, and together we can make sense of it all.”

Updated: June 26, 2019

Kira Deutch
Kira Deutch Kira Deutch is on the content team at Gusto, where she focuses on telling stories that empower small businesses across the country. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups.

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