I knew I had problems communicating when I blanked out during a local commercial shoot. I was in high school and was asked to say a few things about our county fair. I remember smiling and the camera light coming on. But then the next thing I remember is me wrapping it up, saying "Oh God, yeah. That's the county fair all right."
The camera light went off. The room was silent and everyone was staring at me open mouthed. I had no idea what I said, and no one ever told me. But what they should have said is, "You need to take an Improv class!"
Everyone involved in business communication, from trainers to CEOs, should take some improv classes. Not because it's fun (it is) but because good improv skills and good business communication skills are more similar than you'd think.
Improv comedians are trained to listen to others, support their teammates by building off what they say, and work without a script. Tell me those don't sound like skills you'd like to command.
Of course, I'm not the first to think of this. Cultivating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their true opinion helps develop communication skills that embrace and build upon new ideas.
The Abilene Paradox video is a long-time bestselling program that has helped thousands of organizations increase profits and productivity by enabling teams to make better decisions. Participants get tips on how to skip the trip when they sense their group is "going to Abilene."
Keegan gives these three basic improv skills that work equally well in business:
Actively listen. Listen to understand and don't just respond. Listen all the way through and clearly grasp the other person's idea.
Affirm the idea. You don't have to agree with the idea, but acknowledge it and show that you understand it.
Build on the idea. Don't respond with "No, but . . ." Instead respond with "Yes, and . . ." Offer to make the idea grow. Even if every idea isn't the best idea, it is a bridge to the best idea.
Improv isn't for everyone, but using it to improve your business skills is no joke. If you need help thinking on your feet while speaking, honing your presentation skills, or just learning to listen carefully to your teammates, I'd give it a shot. Speaking from someone who has taken an improv class, I have yet to blank out in front of another camera.
Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.