I started learning improv about two years ago. A former colleague of mine had signed up for a class in hopes of becoming a better public speaker, but I saw it as a fun challenge. Little did I know, I would soon become known as the Tiny Fey of Washington, DC.
OK, just kidding. That’s definitely not a thing. Yet.
But as I was learning the fundamentals, I quickly came to an unexpected realization: The basic rules of improv are no different than the guardrails we follow when telling a great story—online or otherwise. Our audience, whether sitting in a theater or at home scrolling through Twitter, will react when you connect with them at an emotional and personal level.
I know—#MindBlown. Here’s how learning improv will help you tell better stories for your brand:
1. Improv is all about listening.
It's true. Since there isn’t a script, you have to listen to what is happening on stage and be able to react and adapt quickly. If you don’t, you could miss a critical part of a scene. The same goes for digital storytelling. It is our job to listen and learn about what our clients are doing, keep tabs on social trends online, and keep focused on telling a story—all simultaneously. If we ignore what’s happening around us, we lose our audience. When you lose your audience, you lose the ability to be an effective storyteller.
2. The two most important words in improv are “Yes, AND...”.
Some of the best content comes from cooperation with others. One of my favorite examples is when Old Spice tweeted: “Actions speak louder than words. So remember to scream loudly while doing things,” and the Harlem Globetrotters responded, enhancing the conversation. When we write content, it important to find opportunities to not just agree but also to enhance the story.
3. Be honest.
Have you heard the story about Marlon Brando in an acting class? The students were told to act like chickens and that a nuclear bomb was about to fall on them, and while the majority of the class clucked and acted erratic, Brando sat calmly pretending to lay an egg. When his teacher asked why, he said, “I’m a chicken, what do I know about bombs?”
The truth in life is comedy, and when we tell stories, the truth will resonate with audiences. Why? Because they go through this truth every day. Successful content is compelling and draws the audience in, because of the personal touch and the connection they make.
4. Relationships matter.
In improv, you have to keep the audience engaged—without props, sets, or a large cast. This puts an increased focus on one thing: relationships. At the beginning of a scene, the audience should be able to understand the emotions and relationships of the characters on stage, regardless of the plot. This same skill is important in digital storytelling. When we write content, we’re writing for an audience—whether it’s consumers, other business, vendors, or influencers. We need to establish and build a relationship with that audience if we hope to tell a clear story and keep them interested.
5. Failure is OK.
Even the best improvisationists sometimes perform scenes that don’t work. That’s OK. The risks we take might fall flat, or they might provide us with some of our greatest moments—that’s all in the name of improv. In fact, some of the greatest and most quotable movie scenes were improvised risks the actors took.
The same goes for content strategy. When it comes to telling stories, we must always be willing to take risks, and ask our clients to take those risks with us. It may not always work, but a calculated risk is always worth taking. Imagine: What if Steve Jobs’ 1984 Apple commercial never made it to TV?
Now that I’ve told you the secrets to success, you can venmo me. Good luck.