3 Roles that scream,” I need to learn improv!” Sales, Leadership and Customer Service please stand up.

 I’m the first person to proudly proclaim that improv skills are good for everyone, doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. Improvisation provides a life changing set of skills. So, that’s my disclaimer.  The following are just three capacities that are on my hot list right now. They’ll be more to come, you can count on it.

1. Sales –This one just might be closest to my heart.  I spent over a decade in B2B sales, and I know firsthand how my improv training made me better at my job. There’s a reason people believe that sales is one of the toughest roles you can have.  There is a lot riding on that pitch, the face to face meeting with a decision maker that can make or break your company’s year, that thirty second elevator ride you have with Mr. Prospect, the one time he/she takes your call and every other critical moment that you need to be able to own.  Improvisation teaches you to meet your moments with no fear.  Everything is moment to moment in improv, so our spontaneity and adaptability muscles are toned and ready. Listening is the most important skill you can have in sales (and in life for that matter), yet it is the one that gets missed the most.  Nothing trains a listening muscle like improv.  Improvisers are taught to be listening ninjas, listening verbally and non-verbally to everything around them so that they don’t miss any cues.  Most sales people don’t recognize or understand why they talk too much, and the first step is admitting you have a problem.  Read this blog, it’s like the 12 step program to seeing the light. Another skill improvisers must learn is to be vulnerable and learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Selling becomes a lot less intimidating when you are okay with being vulnerable and uncomfortable.  Your clients see the real deal, honesty and a genuine interest in their needs. Let’s recap; the same skills improvisers use, being in the moment, LISTENING, the ability to change quickly, honesty, being nimble, establishing trust and vulnerability are all golden nuggets to a sales person. More reinforcements from a sales lady turned improviser.


2. Leaders- I’d say a company’s leadership and managerial team are “Where It’s At”.  Lead by example, we’ve all heard that before. Great leadership boils down to a few critical skills, and you guessed it; they are also skills that improvisers practice to better at their craft. The ability to embrace change is essential to being a great leader. Today’s global workplace is a whirlwind of change, and the ability to handle uncertainty with ease is the key to navigating through the complexities of today’s business climate.  Improv is all about some constant change, in training, improvisers become masters of moving with change, and doing it with ease and grace.  Empowering your people to make decisions is another invaluable characteristic of a great leader.  In improvisation, empowerment is just a byproduct of trust.  Because you trust your scene partner, they are empowered to drive a scene without worry of judgment or failure.  Put others before yourself is the final piece to the leadership puzzle.  Simply put, when a leader puts everyone else’s needs ahead of their own, people will take bullets for them.  In improv we say, “Treat your partner like a God.” By practicing this notion in business, a leader’s reward becomes performance above and beyond imagination and a loyalty that is rare in most companies. Recap: embrace change, empower your people and make others feel important are traits of today’s successful leaders.  Want to hear it from a famous (ex-improviser) person?  Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo is pretty vocal about leadership and improv.


3. Customer Service- So, yeah, although it is becoming a lost art form, the customer does come first.  It’s a fact; people are getting busier and more impatient as technology has made things easier and faster.  Whether it’s a call center or a QuikTrip, I want my smile and service please.  The thing about improv is that you invest everything you have into your partners, because if you don’t, it just doesn’t work. You MUST be an excellent listener.  I always tell people great improvisers are just impeccable listeners.  How many times have you called into a customer service department only to be interrupted a million times when trying to explain what the issue is? Empathy is next on the list.  Sometimes we just want someone to agree with us (this is where “the customer is always right” come in).  The “Yes, And” rule in improv teaches improvisers to accept all ideas and add something to it. This keeps a scene alive and moving forward.  You cannot argue in improv because it kills a scene, and if a CSR starts to argue with me, I just kill the call.  Lastly, improvisation teaches us to find the humor in a tragic situation. I’m not saying customer service professionals should laugh at someone’s problem.  There is nothing wrong with lightening up the mood though.  For example, if a complaint comes in and a rep accepts blame and lends a little humor toward the mistake that was made, it is likely to diffuse the tension.  Here’s an article on the matter in a prestigious business magazine.

Applying improv skills to various business roles is becoming a common practice that companies are using to fill the gap in soft skills training that exist in most workplaces today, and it is certainly not confined to sales, leaders and customer service.  I have made it my work and passion to help people apply improvisation skills to their work no matter what the role.  The demand for professional development through Applied Improv is gaining momentum. You can find improv classes for business professionals in most any city today.  I highly recommend it to all professionals in any capacity.

Kristy West is the Founder of Atlanta based The Brink Improv, an Improv for Business Training Solutions Company.  She offers an on-going series of classes for professionals, BizProv 101, where anyone can improve their work through improv training applied to the workplace. Check out The Brink’s BizProv sessions or sign up here.