Last Wednesday, I went to Nick Conti’s Professional Actor’s Studioto audit an improv class. I’ve always enjoyed doing improv not just watching. It takes a high degree of creativity, fast-thinking, and confidence. It’s also a highly useful skill for salespeople and entrepreneurs. In fact, Steve Wall, SVP of Sales for StudentBridge, incorporates improvisation as part of his interview process.
A couple games the students played (names may not be accurate):
  • 5-3-1 Conversation:Three people are assigned to a group and each member is assigned either 5, 3, or 1 word to respond. Members can respond in any order, but they must respond in exactly the number of words they’re assigned. Implication: Think fast and relevantly. Oftentimes, each person is so focused on answering in the number of words that his/ her response is pre-meditated making conversations choppy (not flow well). For salespeople and entrepreneurs, have a plan, but be ready to adapt.
  • Mister Whisker: Everyone stands in a circle. One person talks at a time with one of three commands. Commands determine the direction of who should respond – “Mex Western” dictates person immediately to the left responds; “Whiskey Mixture” – immediately to the right; “Mister Whisker” – any direction across (best to point to the person who should respond). Because the commands can be difficult to remember, repeating what the previous person said is advisable. Implication:If you don’t understand or know how to respond, repeat what the other person says for clarity. If you’re selling, it’s okay to repeat what a prospect says. It can ensure you understood. Follow up with “is that right?” or “what does this mean?”

Then, the group performed improv scenes in pairs:

  • Scene: Actors could control the weather. I still don’t know what happened – they dancing, making it “rain”, and doing a “hurricane” dance. It was part mysterious Mother Nature Gods and part stripper scene. (You had to be there.) After the scene, the actors admitted they had no idea what they were doing, but they sold it very confidently. None of it made any sense to the audience, but we were leaning in wondering what we missed because they seemed so in sync that we were the ones out of sync. Implication:Confidence goes a long way in intriguing the audience, and great chemistry can create that confidence.
  • Scene: Co-owners of a business discussing a merger. The scene opened with one actor hysterically crying while the other was trying to paint the glorious opportunity of the merger. However, they’re responses to one another contradicted an established sentiment – made little sense. Once a sentiment or fact is established, go with it and/ or navigate the scene to fit a purpose. Implication #1: Some prospects quickly give a negative response if they suspect you’re selling something. A good salesperson can navigate these barriers with open questions, get to a productive conversation, and reveal if there’s an opportunity at all. Implication #2: Some prospects are completely resistant to change and would never buy. Good salespeople know when it’s best to move on.

I love doing improv, and I feel sales embodies the fun challenges of improv. Sadly, I was purely auditing the class. Perhaps I’ll consider taking classes for a couple months to up my game, or just continue selling and ask prospects for suggestions of a scene.
How do you think improv can help the corporate world? What improv games have you done for sales, and what were the implications?
(Last thought was a joke.)
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