"Yes, and...": What Agencies Can Learn from Improv
Y&R Canada’s SVP and Strategic Planning Director Kasi Bruno – who recently completed her first improv class, and Sulaiman Beg, Director of Global Digital and Social Communications – who is a performer at the Magnet Theater in New York highlight some of their key improv learnings that will make agencies more innovative and effective as brand champions.
"Yes, and...": What Agencies Can Learn from Improv
WHAT AGENCIES CAN
LEARN FROM IMPROV
bBROUGHT TO YOU BY
Y&R Canada’s SVP and Strategic Planning Director
Kasi Bruno – who recently completed her first
improv class, and Sulaiman Beg, Director of Global
Digital and Social Communications – who is a
performer at the Magnet Theater in New York (This
is a plug: if you’re in New York you should totally
take a class, and or check out a show. Sulaiman will
buy you a beer.) highlight some of their key improv
learnings that will make marketers more innovative
and effective as brand champions.
Whether you’re in a client pitch, presenting to
your boss, or sitting around brainstorming with
your team, one of the most important skills for a
marketer is being able to think on your feet.
Stimulating your brain with books, music, theat-
er, concerts, etc. is one thing, but stretching and
exercising the body’s largest creative muscle is
Improv, specifically longform improv comedy –
a theater-style where performances are created
in the moment – has gained significant popu-
larity over the years with theaters popping up in
the U.S. and beyond.
TO C O M M U N I C ATE ,
be confident and present,
and create relationships and
content brick by brick.
Sound familiar? It should. These are skills that are
crucial to a marketer’s success.
In classes, teachers instruct students on how to
you have to slow down and
– to your client, to your gut,
and to each other. Improv is
– Rick Andrews, teacher and performer at
The Magnet Theater
Surrendering your idea
can lead to a better idea.
When you initiate an improv scene, you sometimes have an
idea of where you want the scene to go. Well, like life, im-
prov never goes as planned. Your scene partner may (and
probably does) have other ideas and because it’s all about
building, you have to “yes, and…” the hell out of anything that
comes out of their mouths. And this means letting go of
whatever idea you had for the story – a “kill your darlings”
moment. And that’s ok. Because when you surrender for
the group, it just means the group is also surrendering for
you. And the scene is always better for it. It takes a really
bright person to find the nugget in an otherwise bad idea
and find the thing to build on. What’s the thing you can say
“Yes, and…” to about every idea?
What people ask for is not
always what they really want.
Listen for the real want underneath the surface. If someone
asks “Where did you get your shirt?” they may not be asking
where you bought the shirt, but rather expressing that they
want it. When you are actively listening, you’re not just lis-
tening to what someone is saying, but how they are saying
it. Listen for the real motivation, the real desire. Your client
may not always ask directly, so if you can really listen and
peel back questions, you’ll start understanding what they
are really asking for.
Get out of the way.
Don’t step on a joke.
This is a golden rule of improv. If someone’s getting a big
laugh, and you have nothing to add, stay silent. Don’t be
selfish. An improv scene typically ends on a good big hearty
laugh from the audience. If that laugh happens: say nothing!
Sometimes the funniest thing to do is say nothing. Some-
times the most creative way to build on something is to say
nothing. So if you get the big laugh, or sell your work to a
client, start the car, as they say. Know when to wrap it up
and quit while you’re ahead.
People will always watch people
with a point of view, even if they
disagree with it.
Your POV is unique. No one else in the world thinks like you
do – so apply it. This isn’t about aggression or being over-
ly assertive, but it’s about one of the fundamental guiding
principles of improv: commitment. Commit to your ideas
and to your point of view. Because a stake in the ground is
at least something people can engage with. If your opinions
and ideas are as weak and malleable as over-cooked spa-
ghetti, well that’s, as clichés go, not very interesting.
But...always leave yourself
somewhere to go.
Don’t go to your max right out of the gate. Be direct, have a
point of view, but don’t burn out after your first statement.
Leave yourself room to heighten, to grow more passionate.
Leaving yourself someplace to go is a huge part of building
narrative and emotion with your audience.
Don’t use wimp words
or safety nets.
We tend to fall back on words and phrases like “maybe,” “I
think,” or “perhaps...” this doesn’t give anyone something to
sink their teeth into. Start strong, be direct, and be specific.
The more direct you are, the more you empower the people
around you to decide how to act and react.
“Using ‘sort of’ to reduce the risk of making an error or caus-
ing offense is a tactic an editor friend calls ‘strategic softening’…
Sometimes I think of epic declarative statements, and wonder
how they might be rendered in today’s hedge-speak. ‘It was sort
of the best of times, it was sort of the worst of times.’ ‘I came, I
saw, I kind of conquered.’ ‘I sort of have a dream.’ Sound kind of
- Steven Kurutz, The New York Times
You don’t have to
be loud to be heard.
Improv is not about being the loudest or funniest person
in the room. In fact, sometimes lowering the volume of
your voice can encourage people to lean in and pay closer
attention. So true in life.
Fail Loudly: Trust in
yourself and your team.
It’s often been said that the best improvisers in the world
(think your Tina Fey’s, your Amy Poehler’s, your Will Ferrell’s,
and for you real improv heads, your TJ and Dave’s) have an
80 percent success rate on any given night. Even the best
have off nights. They fail. But, improv is about failing loudly:
because even if you get it half wrong, you got it half right.
Fail loudly so people can hear the part you got right. Our
tendency is to quiet our voices when we’re unsure. Don’t.
If you’re too quiet, no one can hear even the small part you
got right. And a good improv team knows that there are no
mistakes, only opportunities. If you’re listening, when some-
one falters, you come in to support their idea. To the audi-
ence it all looks like part of the show.