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Why so many companies use improv to help their business

When I first founded Knuckleball Comedy back in 2016, I would tell people “I run an improv comedy company.” It felt like the fastest and easiest way to describe what I do. Over five years later, my description has changed. Depending on who I am talking to, I usually say, “I use humor to run professional development, team building and leadership workshops.”

I usually leave the term “improv” out of the conversation (unless I am speaking about the kids aspect of my business where we teach and perform improv comedy to kids of all ages). All of my programs are based around improv. But I have found the word “improv” frightens people. For some terrible reason, they hear the term improv and immediately assume they are going to be called out, embarrassed and become the butt of the next joke.

I don’t know what someone else has done to you, but that’s not what improv is about at all!

(Knuckleball Comedy conducts a team building workshop for Honest Game at a hotel in downtown Chicago)

I ran a team building workshop back in September and when the first participant arrived, I asked, “How are you doing today?” Just trying to make some small talk before the rest of her team arrived and we began the workshop. “I’m terrified,” she responded while avoiding eye contact with me.


She was scared of the term improv, terrified of something that she knew nothing about. Within the first minute of the workshop, she realized her fears were misplaced. By the end, she loved it and even sought me out afterward telling me she already had people in mind to recommend my services to. But I’ve often wondered how many clients I have missed out on because they hear the term improv and start running the other way.

I am here to tell you today, if you are scared of the term improv, whoever you learned it from was doing it wrong. When I run my corporate team building, professional development and leadership workshops, no one spends a single moment in fear. That’s simply not what it’s all about.

Not only should you not be afraid of improv, but you should embrace it and let it enhance your work and your personal relationships.

What is improv?

As an art form, improv is a performance where the performers make everything up on the spot. But an improv based workshop for businesses is not about teaching your team of accountants how to be good at making an audience full of people laugh. It’s about taking the same tenets that make up a good improv team, and showing your accountants how those can be applied to their daily work life.

So what makes up a good improv team?

Active listening

I have written about it many times before and you can check out those articles HERE and HERE. A good improviser listens intently to every word their teammate says. If they don’t, they can’t continue the scene.

Whether you’re a salesperson speaking with a potential client, or a manager speaking with an employee you manage or a computer engineer speaking with another teammate, listening is key. When you listen, you make other people feel valued, that’s important whether they are your employees or your clients.

Supporting each other

Before every improv performance I’ve ever done, the team huddles up and everyone goes up to everyone else on the team, pats them on the back and says, “I got your back.” A good improv team is a supportive improv team. Your teammates should have no fear because they know you always have their back.

Who wouldn’t want to work in a business environment where you felt supported? No one wants to throw out an idea at a conference room meeting and have everyone say it’s stupid. That’s the easiest way to make sure that person never speaks up again. Support your employees, your peers and everyone’s ideas. Even a bad idea can be supported in a way where the person still feels valued even if their idea wasn’t the best one.

Thinking quickly and creatively

A good improv team is quick on their feet and creative to boot. If you are on stage and want to make people laugh, creativity is a must and it must happen quickly.

Every company wants their employees to be creative even if it doesn’t seem that way. Creativity doesn’t always mean fun and silly. An accountant can be creative to solve an unusual issue, a salesperson can be creative when describing the product as the perfect fit for a specific client, a manager can be creative when it comes to incentivizing their workers.

Attention to detail

If you go see an improv performance, you’ll notice that among other things, what really makes you laugh and what really engages you are the details. The performers are paying close attention to the details their teammates have created in the scene, and the audience is locked into the scene because the performers have used incredible detail to paint a picture for you and deliver poignant jokes that only work because they align with every detail already created.

Whether a marketing director at a big industrial company, a partner at a law firm, or the CEO of a software company, attention to detail is the key to success. If you want to impress a client, ask detailed questions and give detailed answers. If you want to create an innovative product, remember that others have created a similar product. Yours will only stand out if you paid more attention to detail than they did.

Can you name a company that doesn’t pay attention to details? No. Because all of those companies cease to exist. They were overtaken by companies who paid better attention to detail.

Details don’t just make success in the business world. Every day when someone made a simple mistake, my high school baseball coach would yell, “attention to detail!”

Don’t be scared of the word improv. When you hear the term improv you might think of a performance art, but the reality is that every word that comes out of our mouths is improvised. We are all improvisers.

Embrace it and learn how it can help improve your business.

Want to learn how improv can help your business? Learn about all of the way we work with businesses HERE

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