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The lessons of improvisation

This week, I returned to work at Tendo after a five-year hiatus.

For the last several years, I served as executive director of an improvisational theatre company. Like any field, “improvisational theatre” is rich and complex and I could talk about the nuances for hours … but at cocktail parties, I usually just explain it as, “It’s like that show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’”

Improv is creating theatre without a script. And while I wouldn’t recommend improvising your company’s marketing strategy, there are some lessons from the improv stage that can help you connect with your customers.

SAY YES – One of the cardinal rules in improv is to “say yes” to the offers made by your fellow performers. By accepting what has been suggested and building on it, you are able to create something new together. If you say “no” to an offer, you stop the scene and are unable to move forward.

Is your website “saying yes” to your visitors and potential customers? Are you building on their interest to lead them to new information? Do you engage them in a way that allows you to create something collaboratively?

LISTEN – Lots of people think improv is about being funny. But good improv is less about being clever and more about listening to what’s said and building the story with your partners. And since you are creating something from scratch with no script or roadmap, the only way forward is to listen to the contributions of others and use them as building blocks for your scene.

Do your marketing communication efforts provide an opportunity to listen to your customers? Does your website approach your partners with a pre-conceived idea or do you provide a venue where clients can engage in a two-way conversation?

BE FLEXIBLE – An improv actor may be required to play many different types of roles without preparation and must be able to construct a character on the spot. For example, if the scene calls for 80-year old grandmother from South Dakota who lost her arm in an alligator accident, you transform yourself into that character and step on stage.

Are your communication strategies nimble enough to respond to different needs? Do you have a “one size fits all” approach or do you tailor you tactics as required?

HAVE FUN – If you’ve seen the show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” you know that the players look like they are having a good time. In fact, many people don’t believe the show is unscripted because they look so loose and relaxed. Aren’t they worried about making a mistake?

No, they’re not. There is no script, so how can anything anybody says be wrong? They know that if everybody is working together, “a mistake” is just a new offer—an opportunity to go in a new direction.

Few businesses believe that mistakes are gifts, and I’m not suggesting that you instruct your marketing staff to screw up on purpose. But does your marketing communication work have a sense of fun? Are you willing to try new tactics and techniques, or is your fear of a mistake limiting your reach? Do your customers enjoy their engagement with you?

Another improv lesson: Know when to end the scene. I think I’ll end this one here. ―John Kovacevich, VP, Marketing Services


April 18, 2007 - Posted by | Content Strategy, Customer Care, John Kovacevich, Tendo View

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