Improvisation: Any Artist (Or Salesman’s) Secret Weapon

corporate-improv2When most people think of improvisation, the word conjures memories of winging a high school speech or pulling excuses out of thin air when caught by the boss reading a blog instead of the quarterly financial report. In the realm of comedy, improv is revered for its spontaneity and the skill required to work unscripted. However, a talent for instantaneous wit can be applied to almost any medium – music, writing, even occupations that aren’t generally considered “creative,” such as sales and marketing.

After comedians, musicians – especially those tied to a mic – benefit most from a background in improv. One of the jobs of a frontman is to engage the audience between songs. Given that every crowd and every show is unique, there’s no script for audience banter. It’s up to the performers to read the audience, interact with them individually to gain their attention, and pull game-saving quips from the ether should anything go wrong. A few punk bands have made a career out of “improv rock,” most notably, The Dead Milkmen, who open their song, “B****in’ Camaro,” with a monologue that spirals into a different, hilarious tangent every time it’s performed. Rap relies heavily on improv as well; free-styling is, in essence, ad-lib poetry with a musical rhythm.

As for the world of words, “stream of consciousness” authors such as James Joyce employ improvisation for hundreds of pages at a stretch. Granted, few enjoy trying to make sense of Ulysses, but improvisational skill applies to coherent writing, too. Fiction writers create dialogue by contriving conversations, relying only on their understanding of the imaginary speakers. When faced with a block, concocting a random scenario (and the characters’ gut reactions) can breathe new life into a chapter and unwittingly further plot and character development. 

Improvisation can lead to creative advancements in the boardroom as well, although in that venue, it’s usually referred to as “brainstorming.” A group of people throwing out ideas without fear of judgement is a time-tested method of solving almost any problem, but not if your think tank lacks the confidence to contribute. For those who work with the public, a quick wit is essential for charming sales targets and resolving issues with problem customers. The right joke at the right time demonstrates your humanity and inherent likability, which could charm a crabby complainant or garner the baseline trust necessary to clinch a sale.

Interested in developing your untapped improv skills for fun and profit? Take advantage of our Sunday comedy workshops to learn the basics in a supportive atmosphere. Contact us with any questions or comments, or check out our calendar for a full list of events, including stand-up, karaoke, and our award-winning burlesque.