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Improv in the Classroom (or What I Learned From Tina Fey)

September 19, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 79

"There are no mistakes in improv; only happy accidents. Like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. And Botox."

Tina Fey, American Actress & Comedy Writer

The thought of being invited onstage at an improvisational show is about as appealing to me as being part of the pilot test group for new tortures at Gitmo. Little did I know I could learn a lot from those brave souls.

Tina Fey is a gifted performer who learned valuable life lessons from her years at Second City Improv in Chicago. She chronicles them in her book BossyPants which I bought because I thought she'd dish the dirt about Alex Baldwin, Seth Meyers and Sara Palin. She does, but I was even more intrigued by her improv lessons and how they work well in real life and at work.

Lesson One: Agree with your partner

In improv, the actors have to start with a premise and their partner has to agree with it. So if someone says, "That hat looks like an upside down shoe" your partner has to agree with it. If your partner says, "I am not even wearing a hat," the scene comes to a grinding halt. End of show.

Now, will you agree with everything your partners say? No, some of them will make ridiculous statements like, "Why don't we just stop giving people performance reviews?" You will likely scoff at this foolish idea. "That will never work" or "We won't know how to give raises if we don't have records." See what I mean? We all know people like this. And frankly, no one wants to be around someone so, well, disagreeable. Agree with your partner; it shows respect and that you have an open mind.

Lesson Two: Say, "Yes, and..."

Resist the temptation to disagree. Stretch a bit and say, "Yes, and..."

"Yes, and I got this hat from your mother's closet" or "Yes, and it made a nice fashion statement while I was filibustering on the Senate floor last year..." Now you're getting somewhere. You've established that this is a hat to wear while reading the phone book in the Legislature.

"Yes, and our employees told us they would rather be water-boarded than do those reviews." Again, you're getting somewhere. You've established that there might be something less painful than these reviews and you're now adding something valuable to the discussion.

Lesson Three: Make statements

Don't just ask questions. "Hey, what kind of hat is that? Is Saturday Night Live still on the air? Why are we all craving spaghetti and meatballs?" Don't put all the responsibility on your partner to find the solutions. We all know people who have all the questions and none of the answers. "What will we tell our board of directors if we dump the performance reviews?" and "How will I know how many sticks and carrots to buy if we don't have reviews?

Instead, observe, think and make statements that showcase your opinion. "Think of how much money we will save on carrots and sticks." Or, "Let's review our board of directors instead." See, you're on to something here.

Lesson Four: There are no mistakes; only opportunities

Now I know there are tons of mistakes you can make at work like inviting the CEO of Merrill Lynch to the CFO's alumni recruiting event, but I learned a lot from that and even kept my job. I'd like to tell you it was a lovely mix, like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, but alas it was not. But it was not as bad as Gitmo.

So make no mistake about it, I will be bringing these four lessons from Improv to my next training class, and facing my fears. "Relax," I can hear Tina saying, "there are no mistakes....only chances to try something new. Lesson #4."

Ann Marie Morris, President of Train-Your-Talent ( ), is a training and talent management expert with over 20 years of corporate experience. She has worked with numerous leaders and has coached them become GREAT leaders. For more of her insights, contact her at

Source: EzineArticles
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