Nothing truly prepares you for starting your own business. After all, it is a departure from the left-brain world where the road ahead is clear and well-paved from all of those who have traveled it before you.
As an entrepreneur, much of the time you’re on a journey with no definitive playbook and potentially little support. But there is something that can help, and it’s not a subscription to the Harvard Business Review or enrollment in a new mastermind class—it’s improv comedy. Before you roll your eyes and think I’m crazy, let me explain.
Improv comedy is a format whereby a team of people perform short or long-form scenes. There is no script, and until the performers set foot onto the stage, there is no direction. They don’t know what situation they’ll be in, what character they’ll play, what words will come out of their mouth, or how their fellow performers will respond.
They have no idea where the scene will take them.
Blank slates and a promising business future
Perhaps some of this may sound eerily familiar to you as an entrepreneur. The blank slate of a promising future, the way you almost have to shape-shift in response to situations you never anticipated, and the realization that your next step is almost entirely dictated by the market and your customer’s response.
As odd as it may sound, improv comedy is much less about being funny as much as it is learning to shift your perspective, enhance communication and be comfortable in a place of uncertainty.
In fact, the people with an agenda are often the ones that fall—distressingly and embarrassingly—flat. And nobody wants to be that performer – onstage or off.
So while you may have no interest in making your living as a comic, here’s a look at three ways improv can up your entrepreneurial game.
1. Improv teaches you to be comfortable with uncertainty.
Performing without a script is one of the scariest things an improv performer faces, and it is the day-to-day reality of an entrepreneur. Through practice, improv trains the body and mind to quell anxiety that naturally surfaces when put in a position of uncertainty.
In this way, it acts as exposure therapy, helping to reduce the stress associated with not knowing where your next step will lead you. For startups and small business owners this is critical to stop frazzled nerves from killing self-esteem, derailing plans, and promoting “safe” decisions that yield minimal results.
Improv can flip the perspective from fear of the unknown to excitement of the possibilities ahead. After all, it is a practice focused not only on embracing uncertainty, but also on making strong and creative choices. And this is exactly what an entrepreneur needs to compete in a crowded marketplace.
2. Improv exposes you to the true meaning of collaboration.
One of the first lessons of improv is to respond to anything a scene partner says with, “yes, and…” If another improv classmate asserts that you are their long-lost cousin, then you don’t say, “no, you’re not. You’re my spouse, remember?”
It doesn’t matter what you had planned for the scene. You’re a team, and you accept your partner’s suggestion. In this sense, you have to listen carefully and pay close attention to those in your scene so you can build upon their words and actions.
A single person does not create the story. You develop it – word for word and movement by movement – through each other. And because of this, the ideas generated are usually more creative than one could have anticipated.
Learning how to pay close attention to others, accepting rather than denying ideas, and building a discourse rather than a one-man (or woman) show is crucial in business. As an entrepreneur, your job is to work with others and for others. Success comes through networking, collaboration and partnership – and improv provides an opportunity to work on enhancing these interpersonal skills while also having a little fun.
3. Improv strengthens your communication skills.
Think about a time you gave a successful seminar or sales pitch. You probably mapped out the words, timing and delivery. When the time came for the big moment, if you had adequately prepared, all the right words were at your fingertips. You may have even patted yourself on the back after finishing because you “killed it.”
Then there are those other situations – the times when you didn’t prepare for a discussion and, when questioned, didn’t have an answer. That’s when the sh-t hits the fan. You give a blank stare and trip over your words trying to explain something that is probably not that difficult.
Afterwards, you mutter that you “killed it” but this time, you meant the deal. You missed an opportunity that might not come around again.
Improv teaches a valuable lesson – how to speak on the spot about any topic, even those that fall far outside your comfort zone. A scene might ask you to recite a haiku about quantum physics. So you do it.
Instead of freezing up and shutting down, you learn to open up your brain and explore corners of it that you hadn’t even known were there. You learn to gather words, string them together into a coherent sentence, and continue the conversation seemingly unfazed.
Increasing your ability to think quick and communicate effectively – to feel confident that you can address whatever question or concern that comes your way, that you will find a creative response – could be the difference between going big and going home.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Amanda Richardson, PhD MS CHWC, is a health coach, consultant, researcher, and writer. As the Founder of WellHealth Integrative Health Coaching & Consulting, she helps individuals, small groups, and organizations change behavior, enhance productivity and improve health. Amanda is passionate about wellness and draws on her 15+years of experience in the health sector to deliver personalized evidence-based solutions. Connect with @wellhealthihc on Twitter.