Valuable Business Lessons from the Theater and Improvisation

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Valuable Business Lessons from the Theater and Improvisation

Having been in the PR business for almost 20 years, I can tell you that it isn’t the schooling I’ve had, or the seminars that I’ve taken on pitching the media, or years of developing strategic marketing plans that have had the greatest impact on my work. The aspect of my professional training that I find the most valuable (and seem to use on a regular basis) are the lessons I learned while performing in the theater.

I’m not talking about stage presence, diction, annunciation, or building self-confidence. Certainly, these are all helpful in business, but they aren’t nearly as potentially life-changing or career-changing as the three simple rules you must follow to be good at improvisation: listening, allowing for creativity, and committing to the process.

Last month, I was lucky enough to participate in a refresher course with my Chicago Vistage group that was led by author and performer John Cremer, founder of The Maydays, an award winning improve comedy troupe in the UK. He reminded me of some powerful principles from my days in the theater that can be applied to business, and all communications. Here they are!

1. Listen. I tell my kids that God gave us one mouth and two ears so we can listen twice as much as we speak. However, when you listen to a client or a prospect, we’re often listening for cues to “sell” our own position, product or service. What if we listened for what the person isn’t saying? The cues we receive from each other’s physiology generate lots of juicy non-verbal cues. By fully listening and being present, our communication effectiveness can be turned up a notch and yield higher impact results.

2. Say Yes, AND … Warren Buffet is credited with saying, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” This may be true, but I bet that those successful people don’t have all that much fun! Instead of saying no, how about saying “yes, and…”? “Yes, and” can transform the engagement of your employees, clients and even your family. When you say “yes, and…” you open the door for growth, fun and endless possibilities. The clients we have that generate the largest impact with their public relations programs are the ones that say “Yes, and…” to our zany PR ideas.

“Let’s put giant condoms on all the pylons on Halsted Street in boy’s town for Condom awareness day.”

“Yes, AND let’s call the alderman to see if he can help us with permits.”

Wow! (Oh, and by the way, that campaign was a major success for our client!)

3. Commitment. As with all things in life, and in business, if you do it half-assed, it’ll come back to bite you. Committing to your decisions, and following through, will always have better results than only doing something part way or questioning your choice the entire time. If a client decides to take the interview with NBC over ABC, but during the interview with NBC he keeps thinking, “Oh man, I should be sharing this with ABC first…,” then the interview with NBC isn’t going to go well, guaranteed. You can’t physically be in two places at once and despite many, many attempts over the years, I will concede that you cannot be in two places at once mentally either. No matter what you think about multi-tasking, it can’t be done. So, in business and in marketing, pick a path and then commit to it.

Tina Fey has a fourth rule that I’ll include as an homage to my fellow business women: Make Statements.  When working with business women as I prepare them for press conferences or media interviews, they suddenly start turning everything they say into questions. It’s as if gaining approval and agreement have superseded our desire to be powerful and commanding. If you are a woman, start to listen to how often you let your voice rise at the end of a sentence, making a statement into a question. Ladies – Make a statement and be confident with your words.

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Winger Marketing is an integrated marketing and public relations firm serving middle-market clients in fields of health care, education, legal, and the arts. To discuss how your organization can work with Winger Marketing’s team to develop a marketing or PR program or contract our team to host a PR Boot Camp or Theater for Business program, email kate@wingermarketing.com

About the Author:

With nearly twenty years of media and communications experience, Karolyn Raphael has taken clients from near-obscurity to recognition on a national level. Her work in strategy, media placements, PR training and community outreach includes leading business to business consulting firms, nationally-ranked healthcare systems, national trade associations, local art shows and non-profits. She’s created city-wide awareness campaigns and landed stand-out media placements in local and national news outlets. Karolyn joined the firm in 1997 as an associate and was named President in 2006. She is an advocate of work-life blend and trains team members to think like entrepreneurs.

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