What communicators can learn from comedians

Effective communication from improv

Second City is an improvisational comedy enterprise well known for training the likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, Chris Farley and most recently Weber Shandwick Minneapolis’s very own, Heidi Bobier. Heidi grew up watching “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and has always loved improv comedy shows. She’s no stranger to the spotlight, but wanted to learn more about this very different kind of performance.

Communicators learning from comedians, No Boundries

With the help of Weber Shandwick’s No Boundaries program, Heidi enrolled in an intensive 3-day workshop on improv acting and comedic writing. You might wonder what improv acting and comedic writing have to do with PR and communications – you’d be surprised! Here’s what Heidi learned:

1. Make more eye contact.

Improv actors make eye contact with their fellow performers to make sure they are in agreement with where the skit is going. When presenting, how often do you make eye contact with the person or team you are co-presenting with? People tend to focus so much on the audience (or in our case, the client) and ignore their team. Use that visual check-in to keep everyone on the same page.

2. If it feels weird, do it more.

Embrace the “weirdness” to get your most creative ideas, and work with a team to explore unusual concepts.

3. There are no mistakes, only gifts.

In improv, there are no mistakes, just different directions for a narrative to go. It’s everyone’s dream to deliver a plan that gets approved without changes, or a news release with no edits, but instead of taking this feedback as a “mistake,” take it as an opportunity to collaborate on the approach and create a different narrative – one that never would have happened if the first draft was accepted as is.

4. If you don’t present with confidence, why would we care?

This goes for really anything – you’ve got to believe it before anyone else will.

5. Recognize when you are needed, and respect when you’re not.

It’s always most attractive to jump into a skit that’s going beautifully, but maybe they are doing okay without you. Realize that some of the more glossy projects and accounts are taken care of and your work will be better used elsewhere. Help reinvigorate the project that everyone pushes to the backburner or offer to help on the tough accounts, and beyond becoming everyone’s best friend, you’ll be making a real difference.

6. There is no such thing as writer’s block.

You don’t have writer’s block – you just are trying to write something perfectly the first time. Start by writing too much and then cut down and edit later – don’t do them simultaneously. This goes for brainstorming, writing or any other creative process; idea generation is the first step, then refine and edit those ideas later.

7. You have to be vulnerable before you can create anything truly great.

People have to be willing to go out on a limb to actually create something unique. Don’t be afraid to make yourself uncomfortable and offer up crazy ideas. Weber Shandwick is an agency with serious creative chops – that type of work doesn’t happen without an account team (and client!) willing to take risks.

After her whirl wind improv training, Heidi shared some of these key learnings with her colleagues. Here’s a look…


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