Taking an improv class at the San Francisco Comedy College last night had to be the most uncomfortable moment in my life. That is, if you discount the hip-hop classes I used to take back in college (I am the ultimate klutz). I reminded myself that this was another step in my professional development kick challenge, and my journey was not supposed to be easy.
You might be thinking: what in the world can improv do to help you professionally? Surprisingly, there's a lot to be learned. Improv will help you think on the spot and that's very valuable skill that you can use in every situation. It will be handy at a job interview when your interviewer throws out an unexpected question or when your boss tells you to make a last minute presentation. Having the ability to make people laugh will lead to better interpersonal skills and confidence. Humor is great for office politics because it can lighten the sting of criticism, and it can also help you take a neutral stand when you don't want to take sides.
To hear how my experience on stage went, read more.
I was really quite shy when the class first started, but seeing everyone participate with such gusto really sheds your inhibition. The laughter helped a lot. I felt my work stress quickly dissipate because it's hard to think negative thoughts when you're constantly giggling and hearing everyone else laugh. There will be clever one-liners thrown around, but more often than not, someone's plain honesty turned out to be funny even when they didn't mean it to be. The instructor, Mark, puts it best when he told the class, "Humor is honesty." I realized that to make people laugh, you really don't have to rack your brains to find a zinger — just making honest statements will bring out the natural comedian in you. For example, when I was up on stage introducing myself, someone asked me why I chose this improv school over the others. Without thinking I immediately replied, "Because of the free intro class." To my surprise, I received laughs.
I learned valuable lessons from every exercise we did. Throughout the class, we were told not to ask questions and to phrase them in statements for better comedic flow. It was hard to remember that rule because we're all used to phrasing sentences as questions. Mark said we wouldn't be able to fathom how much stuff we'll be able to get if we get into the habit of replacing questions with statements. Let's say you're negotiating with a customer rep to lower your phone bill. Saying, "I would like my bill to be lowered," will work a lot better than asking, "Can you lower my bill?" Who knew improv class could teach you how to be assertive?
After class I felt different. I felt happier and more confident, and I felt like a comedian. In fact, I was determined to quit my job to chase a career in stand-up comedy . . .
. . . just kidding!
Stay tuned for more tips on how improv can help you in your career and join me on my journey of professional development! To keep it fun and mix things up for you readers, I'm going to attempt to do a different activity every week.