Fifteen years ago, "Whose Line is it Anyway?" began airing in the United States, bringing improv comedy to the masses. (It proved so popular that it’s back on TV once again
.) Now, comedians who got their starts in improv, such Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert, are household names, recognized for their incredible wit and timing. As Fey’s "30 Rock" character Liz Lemon once said
, “I want to go to there.”
So I did. I walked into the comedy club, ready to make the hundreds five other people in attendance laugh with my comedic prowess. Fast forward to five minutes later, I was silenced from fear of not being funny. The ten-minute warm-up was the longest ten minutes of that week.
Then, the instructor told me, “Just relax. Don’t try to be funny, it will just happen.” What a relief. I had permission to not be funny! That’s all I needed. I felt free.
It’s time to break down some lessons from the comedy classroom, and apply them to the everyday public relations lifestyle. Prepare to be freed:
“Yes, and…” is the first rule of improv. The idea is to agree with your scene partner and add something, not to challenge. If we are in a scene and I say, “Watch out! There’s a group of wee, angry leprechauns behind you!” and you reply, “No, there’s not,” the scene has ended. What fun did that interaction bring? But, if you were to reply with “Damn, I left the lucky charms box open again!” you have agreed, and we have begun a scene.
In public relations, we gather into groups to brainstorm strategies. So, a “yes” environment that encourages all ideas is beneficial. A great idea has to start somewhere, even if it starts from what may initially seems like a bad one.
Don’t take yourself so seriously
instructor told me the worst scene you ever do will be over in 5 minutes. Don’t dwell on a bad scene, or a bad phone call. While Stephen Colbert may not be able to relate, everyone else can. Shake it off and move on.
Throw out the script
Working without a set plan is freedom in a theater for an actor and an adventure for the audience. No forgetting lines or structured play; just freedom.
In public relations, an unscripted phone call has potential to cause anxiety, but magic can happen when you forgo the premeditated conversation and just have an authentic talk from the hip.
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There is so much to be learned and enjoyed from improv. I highly recommend finding a local class and jumping in. At the very least, you might learn some things to use at work.
Leah Scherschel is a senior account executive at The Abbi Agency, a PR and digital communications firm in Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada. Follow her on Twitter @theschersch, as well as the agency @theabbiagency. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency's blog.