Improv(e) Your Professional Development

It was freshman year. I stood in the McKimmon center wearing a suit two sizes too big and carrying a briefcase. I hadn’t researched any of the companies. My resume was roughly two lines long, the first including my name and the second, my height and weight. Yep. I was professionally underdeveloped.

Somehow, I worked up the nerve to meander over to Google’s table and introduce myself. Figuring my acne-ridden face and constant voice cracking would make a good impression, I introduced myself: “G-Gus Vieweg.” They smiled uncomfortably and took my resume. I could tell they had seen worse applicants, but not by much. And if that wasn’t enough, they caught me off guard with a simple question:

“What’s your spirit animal?”

I froze. Why would I need to know this? This wasn’t pertinent whatsoever to the job I wanted. I spit out the first thing I could think of: “A human!” Bad move.

The Googler looked me dead in the eye, leaned in close, and whispered: “That’s your regular animal. I asked for your spirit animal.”

Perhaps you’ve been in a similar situation where you’ve been caught off guard.

That hyperbolic semi-true story is indicative of many people’s experiences at career fairs, during job interviews, or in everyday conversation. We are caught off balance by something we didn’t expect and are unsure how to respond. After all of the public speaking courses, interview prep, and human interaction, oftentimes it is difficult for us to think on our feet: a key interpersonal skill. Unfortunately, it is equally as difficult to find a venue through which to improve this skill.

Enter improvisational comedy.

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Have you ever seen Whose Line Is It Anyway? It’s a comedy show where everything is made up on the spot and the points don’t matter. It’s silly and inane. But how does this relate to professional development, the farthest thing from silly and inane?

Well, the base rules of improv comedy translate very nicely to interpersonal relationships. So after learning these two tips, you will not only begin to understand the inner workings of improv comedy (and thus decrease your appreciation of it…), but applying these tips will help you develop professionally as well!

1. Listen.

This seems like an obvious one but I am constantly surprised to see how many people (including myself) disregard it, both in improv and in real life. In improv, you need to listen to your scene partner to get the details, your relationships, and what the scene will be about. In life, listening not only shows that you genuinely care about what the other person is talking about, it will help you establish rapport with them and create common ground on which to build your relationship.

2. Yes, And…

“Yes anding” in improv is the notion that once your scene partner has said something, it is true for that scene. I need to accept what my partner has given me (I say “yes”) and add on to it (the “and” part). For example, if Patrick says: “Whoa! The clouds are made out of cotton candy today!” I could reply with “Yeah, and it’s hailing gumballs; ugh. This honeymoon was supposed to be perfect!” I accepted Patrick’s idea of candy weather by agreeing (the yes) and added information by suggesting we were newlyweds (the and).

Interpersonal relationships deal with this all the time. Always be looking to accept their proposition and add something to it. This does not mean to blindly agree to all statements they made, but rather to explore a topic that you can talk about. Cooperation is always a rapport-builder.

The full benefit of improv comedy does not come through in one simple blog post.

Performing improvisational comedy will help the above two tips become innate; you won’t even have to strategically use them. You will find yourself using them every day, in all relationships. Your spontaneity will rise both in and outside of improv. Your conversational prowess will increase. You will develop professionally.

And, if you’re interested in joining a troupe, the NCSU Comedic Improvisational Alliance meets in Daniels 216 on Tuesday and Wednesday 6:00P – 8:00P and we’d be happy to have you.

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