Rarely do I feel better when leaving a stage than after having performed comedy. While I like to believe all of my presentations are entertaining or funny, I feel when an audience knows the purpose of a performance is to instill laughter, everyone has a better time. Incorporating in the core values of improvisation (or improv comedy) into sales training or executive training can be invaluable to a team.
At the last two Women in Automotive Conferences (in Orlando), Danny Benites, the Chief Operating Officer of Roberts Auto Group, and I have given a “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” style training seminar where we use fun, interactive improv games to educate auto industry professionals. Translating the rules of improv to real-life, actionable scenarios is the most entertaining skill-building a team can have. It both educates the state of affairs in retail automotive, and teaches invaluable listening skills while doing so in a fun environment.
When I was coming up in Chicago, I was training and performing at Improvolympic (now known as I.O. Chicago), as well as Second City Chicago as part of their conservatory program. During the early training rounds, it wasn’t uncommon to see executives from the likes of Microsoft, Dell, and Motorola subjecting themselves to the rigors of improv comedy training. Corporate improv training is becoming more sought after. These years of improv comedy experience has been crucial to my career and the ability to adapt to both technology and people. As we now are doing improvisational exercises in front of willing conference audiences, we see how unique, dynamic and valuable this training can be. And how memorable.
Whether you work at a dealership, an ad agency, a vendor, or an OEM, if you work alongside others, there are five skills that improv comedy can hone.
The most important skill of a great improviser is the ability to listen to those around them. There are several games that focus solely on the ability to listen intently, and to multiple people at once. It involves focus, eye contact, attention, and patience. Yet so many people nowadays are planning what they’re going to say next rather than listening to the person currently speaking. This causes disjointed conversations and problems with understanding our customers’ and co-worker’s real needs. Even when I was in automotive retail as a manager, I was having my own team perform improv games in the morning before work to get into a good frame of mind, and to sharpen their listening skills.
There is a saying in sales that “buyers are liars”. I don’t find this to be true. Sometimes people just don’t come right out and say exactly what they mean. Some aren’t skilled at being direct. Or they don’t share all of the information with you, mostly because we haven’t asked the right questions. When my wife says “Whatever”, I know the answer isn’t “whatever”. That means “There is a correct answer, and you should figure it out.” Couple listening (objective #1) with understanding how to read subtext, and you have a key ingredient to finding the primary objection, goal, need of the person in front of you.
Humans communicate a great deal more through body language than we do verbally. For this reason, we need to be much more cognizant in the ways of mirroring body language, positioning ourselves, and being keenly aware of the physiology of those we interact with. Many improv comedy exercises and games go a long way toward making people mindful of what the body language of their customers and themselves mean.
Working Toward a Common Goal
The most widely known rule of improv comedy is the phrase “Yes, and…”. In any improvised scene, when an environment/relationship/circumstance is presented, the one thing a performer must do is accept what their scene partner has laid out to be fact and expand on it. Enhance it. Much like telling a customer “no” rarely works in your favor, improving your ability to “yes, and…” someone’s request in any situation always leads you to the collective goal. If someone wants to buy your product (and you, in turn, likely want to sell your product), you have the same goal. Sometimes the other person may not have the same way to reach that goal as you – in any interaction – but so long as you’ve championed “Yes, and…” you are a more positive, influential partner to that person. Following this rule leads both parties to achieve their end goal together.
Team-Building / Camaraderie
Work isn’t always fun. Training isn’t always interactive. Meetings grow sedentary and are driven solely by one person. Yet get people on their feet, thinking, interacting, all while keeping it light and amusing… you’ve found a team-building exercise that is invaluable. While on-stage conducting improv games with all of the attendees in the audience, I see them up and active with smiles splashed across their faces. They’re enjoying themselves. This isn’t the case with all seminars, trainings, and meetings. When small groups perform together, with the right leadership, camaraderie is formed. They have accomplished something together. Worked through scenarios. Became a team by doing nothing more than having fun playing games. Make this type of improv comedy learning consistent and you’ll see a happier workplace and more tenured employees.
Not everyone is funny. Most improv comedy isn’t funny anyway. But improv comedy is more about the journey. The listening, the subtext, and the body language all open your eyes to the people around you. It is a break from the norm and a welcome respite from the ho-hum meetings and trainings we’ve subjected each other to for years.
- Are you a vendor wanting to educate your team on the intricacies of retail automotive (since they have no personal experience in that environment), yet serve them as customers? Considering reaching out to us to conduct an improv comedy workshop with your team.
- Are you an OEM looking for memorable train-the-trainer clinics from two, almost-funny, retail-trained professionals? Contact us.
- Are you a dealer group seeking a new way to educate your staff on important listening, customer service, and sales skills while seeking a memorable departure from typical trainings? Please connect.
Think outside the box the next time you’re considering doing a team-building workshop. Watch a more positive culture form by performing entertaining games in front of each other. Embrace improv comedy into your company’s future training plans and you’ll laugh all the way to bank.