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Why Improv Was My Most Valuable College Course

You know that course you took in college because you heard it was easy? Or maybe you just needed it to fulfill a requirement? Perhaps you just thought it sounded like fun?

All the above landed me in an improvisational theater class my sophomore year. Little did I know that the very class I took for some laughs and an easy A would provide me with real life lessons I could apply to my career in marketing and even starting my own business. Here are the takeaways from that course that I use every single day.

1) Never immediately say no.

This is one of the cardinal rules in improv. If someone starts off a scene and says, “Check out this bike I bought you,” you wouldn’t respond, “No, it’s a pony.” You go with it.

Your immediate reaction to an idea might be to shoot it down. But don’t reject it right away. Think on it. Try to make it work. See if it has legs. Some of the best ideas might not be the ones you’re initially excited about.

2) Listen then react.

My improv teacher always told us that you shouldn’t try to anticipate what the other individuals on stage are going to say and that the worst thing you can do is sit there thinking about what you’re going to say next.

Listen to the people around you. Truly hear them. Then react.

This is imperative in the workplace. Whether it’s your coworkers, a client, or a vendor, be sure you’re actually hearing what they’re saying. Then formulate your thoughts and react in the appropriate manner. This will help you build long term, mutually beneficial relationships and potentially avoid some strained conversations.

3) Get comfortable with not knowing what’s next.

Improv is all about unpredictability. The uncertainty of what’s coming next. It’s an environment that keeps your adrenaline pumping and builds a strong level of trust between everyone on stage. Your success and failure is theirs and vice versa.

Starting a new business is scary. Finding new ways to keep your brand thriving despite the harsh conditions we currently live in is terrifying. But that’s part of what makes it so exciting! It keeps you on your toes, challenges you to be flexible, and causes you to lean on and trust the people around you for ideas, solutions, and support.

4) Find the humor in things.

Even a mundane, everyday situation can be funny. When you’re performing improv, your job is to make people laugh. Learn to find the humor in things and others will see it too.

No one is denying that these are trying times. Whether it’s a late night on a Zoom or a meeting that has completely lost its focus – try not to get frustrated. Enjoy your coworkers, laugh a little, like your job. It will make those around you like theirs that much more.

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