Whose Line is It? How an Improv Comedy Class Can Help You at Work

improv class students perform on stage at a theater.
Carrie Pinkard, center, onstage with other Improv 101 students during a showcase at The Box Theater in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Carrie Pinkard

Showing up to my first day of Improv 101 was a lot like showing up for the first day of Kindergarten; I had no idea what to expect and I was wearing a T-shirt with a platypus on it.

However, I realized after the first class that improvisation is more than just a comedic style.

I realized I would be getting more out of the class than a pipe-dream to become the next Tina Fey. I quickly found out the tenents of improvisation could and should be applied to all aspects of my life, personally to professionally.

So much of life in the office has to be improvised. You can’t always plan for setbacks, illnesses or staff changes. What you can control is how well you adapt and improvise in the moment to find a solution.

Here’s how an improv class will make you a better worker.

1. Improv Gives You Confidence

Public speaking is the number one fear among adults in America.

People find it scarier standing up and speaking in front of a room than they do jumping out of a plane or swimming with sharks. This shows you how natural it is to care about what people think, but also how inhibiting it can be.

In your career, if you’re afraid to speak up your voice won’t be heard. You could have amazing ideas, but you have to be willing to contribute them.

An improv class will teach you to be confident and to believe that your voice matters. In improv, every voice on stage matters and is essential to building a good scene. An improv scene dies if all players on stage don’t contribute their part.

Improv will get you in the mindset to speak up in a way that contributes without overshadowing the other players.

2. Improv Teaches You To Say “Yes and”

One of the first things we learned in Improv 101 is the “yes and” philosophy of improv.

This philosophy trains your mind to not only say yes to what the person in your scene offers up, but also to add your own value to the scene by contributing your own “and.”

Saying “no” immediately shuts down opportunities and conversations. Saying “yes” gives those opportunities and conversations a chance to survive.

Saying “yes and” ensures those opportunities and conversations will thrive by not only affirming them, but also adding your own element to the idea.

Practice this in your professional life by encouraging your co-workers with the “yes and” philosophy of improv. See what happens when you don’t immediately shut down new ideas that seem risky, but instead give them a chance to develop by saying “yes and.”

3. Improv Makes You Think On Your Feet

A group of improv students at a theater.
Pinkard, center at top, with fellow Improv 101 students. Photo courtesy of Carrie Pinkard

Quick thinking is essential for life at work where new challenges arise every day.

Everything that happens in an improv class is made up on the spot. What makes improv so enchanting to watch is you know it’s unplanned. An improv class will throw you into scene after scene with people and require you to come up with something to say in lightning speed.

Improv will require you to adapt to all sorts of crazy situations on stage, so when you’re facing something new at work, handling it on the spot won’t seem so intimidating.

When you’re able to respond quickly and effectively to new challenges you’ll become a more competent and trustworthy worker.

4. Improv Reminds You It’s OK to Fail

In improv when someone “messes up” in a game or scene, you always clap it out for them.

People aren’t perfect and innocent mistakes will happen. In improv, you quickly applaud mistakes and take the opportunity to move on to the next scene.

Likewise, you will make mistakes in your professional life. Your natural tendency will be to beat yourself up about it all day, thereby messing up your mental state and tanking your productivity.

A healthier option is to internalize the mistake, learn from it and give yourself a round of applause for trying.

Stakes are higher in a business setting than they are in an improv class. But the concept of building yourself and your co-workers up and creating a supportive environment where people aren’t terrified to fail is still valid.

Sign Up for an Improv Class to (Improv)e Your Career

Taking an improv class is an amazing way to develop the social skills you need to succeed at work.

Improv will make you the type of person others want to work with. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who’s confident, encourages new ideas, can adapt quickly, and isn’t afraid to fail?

All you need to bring with you to an improv class is an open mind and a willingness to contribute.

Check your local improv studio for introductory classes. If you’re in the Tampa Bay area, you can check out The Box Improv Studio where I took Improv 101.

Carrie Pinkard is an amateur Improviser and Comedy Writer. She tries to make all aspects of life easier with a healthy dose of humor.