Why using improv to boost your business skills is no joke

If the thought of giving a presentation or leading a meeting at work keeps you up at night, Jay Reid says taking an improv class might help. Reid, along with Second City alum Hayley Kellett, leads corporate improv workshops through The Making-Box, a comedy hub he established in downtown Guelph. The workshops are designed to foster teamwork, boost morale, and develop skills such as customer service and leadership.

Reid, BAS ’15, says people do more improvising at work than one might think, and learning to harness the power of improvisation on the job can help business professionals overcome anxiety and improve their communication skills.

P: How can improv make businesses better?

Jay Reid: We use improv skills as a training tool for professional development by harnessing all the skills of improv theatre that we use on stage and applying them off stage. We like to think of improv as a framework that encourages trust, flexibility and productive collaboration. Research shows that a one-per-cent increase in corporate climate — that’s a company in a good mood — leads to a two-per-cent increase in revenue.

P: How does improv help build corporate climate?

Hayley Kellett: It creates happy people. We thrive on creating a positive atmosphere. If we can
help increase positivity in the workplace, then those happy people are more likely to work harder because they’re enjoying themselves.

P: You say improv can help people with anxiety. Isn’t putting anxious people on stage counterintuitive?

HK: Improv creates a non-judgemental area where you can try things and everybody’s there for the same reason. We stress accepting other people’s ideas and supporting each other and working as a team, so there’s no pressure. We actually celebrate failure. When people make a mistake in improv, the worst-case scenario is that everyone ends up laughing.

P: Do you need to be funny to be good at improv?

JR: Improv doesn’t operate on funny, even though we see improv through a comedic lens most of the time. It operates on a framework of listening, connecting and responding. That first word, listening, is kind of strange to people when they think of improv because they think the silliest extroverted people are the best improvisers. We can take a group of relative strangers and within two hours have them smiling and laughing together, and building communities through the skills of improvisation. It has an incredible payoff.

P: What kind of feedback have you received?

JR: Quite often students say the experience helps alleviate their anxieties. It’s almost like exposure therapy. You have to step into the realm of the unexpected, and every time you step on the stage it’s the realm of the unexpected. Because life is improvised, the skills of improv can be applied anywhere.