Career Advice from the World of Improv Comedy!

Recently, MSN.com posted an article by CareerBuilder.com editor, Kate Lorenz, titled, “10 Hangups That Cripple Workers.” What struck me as interesting is that every single one of these “career hangups” can be addressed by simply using basic principles from improvisational comedy. Of course I see the entire world through the filter of improv comedy! However, in this case, I’m pretty sure I’m right. Take a look at the ten hangups below, along with my “improv solution,” and see if you agree.

For each point, I’ve listed an improv game or exercise that directly addresses the issue. (Note: You can see examples of the games on the video page)

Here are the 10 “Hangups”:

1. Wallowing in the Past


The point here is not to dwell on mistakes. A key improv principle is to stay in the moment and keep moving forward. An improv performer can rely on nothing but the current moment – the past is gone, and the future is uncertain. By staying in the moment, you can let go of the past and take care of what needs to be done.

Games: 3 Word Sentences, Scenes Without the Letter_________

2. Being a Control Freak

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written or seen me speak, then you know that a fundamental idea in improv comedy is to let go of control. When a performer is on stage working with a partner, the worst thing he can do is to try to control all of the action. By letting go, not only can you reduce your stress but you can also accomplish more by focusing on what you CAN do, not on what you CAN’T control.

Game: 2 Word Stories

3. Wishing You Were Someplace Else

This is simply a matter of focus. I have long taught that to be an effective improviser you have to get out of your own head and put your attention on what’s going on right around you. Wishing you were someplace else is the antithesis of this approach. If you are unhappy where you are, the best thing you can do is put your focus on the here and now so you can do the things you need to to improve your condition.

Games: Double Speak, Ding

4. Negative Thinking

Of course negative thinking will kill your career. It will also kill an improviser’s performance. When teaching improv to a beginner, I will spend a high percentage of my time working on the person’s self-trust and confidence. A performer who believes he can perform well will perform well; a performer who is negative will fail.

Game: The Expert Interview

5. Not Asking For What You Want

In your career, if you don’t ask for a raise, or better hours, or a promotion, you may never get it. In improv comedy, you don’t ask for what you want verbatim. However, every step of the way, you must be clear on your *intent*. When you improvise a scene with a partner, you make what’s called in improv, an “offer.” You offer up a piece of information that helps build the scene. Some improvisers don’t offer much back; they just sit their and have their partners do the work. These performers are very un-fun to work with and never excel at the craft.

Game: Yes And

6. Becoming Too Attached to Outcomes

More than just good career advice, this principle is the key to success in any area of life. In improv, it is vital that you do your best with a 100% willingness to fail. This frees you from fear, stress, and pressure and allows you to perform and have fun. Ironically, the more willing you are to fail the more likely you are to actually succeed.

Games: Spelling Bee, Scenes Without the Letter___________

7. Fear of Public Speaking

The fear of speaking will hold back your career because in order to advance, you will need to get in front of people to present, advise, and lead. The root of the fear comes from a lack of self-trust and poor focus (focusing on nerves and failure). There is no way you can do improv comedy and have a fear of public speaking. The techniques that get people to take the stage with nothing prepared are directly translatable to public speaking. If you have this fear, consider learning some improv comedy. (I recently completed a 3-DVD training vide titled, “Improv for Speakers!” If you haven’t checked it out, you can do so here: http://www.improvforspeakers.com)

Games: The Expert Interview, Gibberish Lecture

8. Self-Absorption

To overcome self-absorption, repeat the principle from #3 (”wishing you were someplace else”) An improviser who stays wrapped up in their own thoughts and what they are doing will alienate his fellow performers and perform some pretty bad improv. The key to avoiding self-absorption is to empty your mind and put your attention on the people and events around you. You can’t very well be self-absorbed if you’re focusing on the world around you, right? The added bonus to this is that not only will you get along better with others (and be more likely to have your career advance) but you’ll also be much more open to the many great opportunities that cross your path everyday.

Games: Word Associations, 2 Word Stories

9. Making Career Decisions to Please Others

Obsessing over pleasing others is a quick route to failure and frustration. Improv Comedy is about self-expression; the best improvisers don’t mimic anybody else, and they don’t do what others want them to. They trust themselves and their creativity and let themselves flow on stage. Trying to please others is a mark of insecurity. As long as you are doing your best and constantly improving while being yourself, you will be fine. Ironically, people with natural charisma that others all seem to like are those that are themselves, 100%, without any thought of trying to please anyone else.

Games: The Expert Interview, Ding Story

10. Always Seeking Perfection

Is there an art form that seeks perfection less than improv? :-) Improv comedy has been called “disposable theater.” Every step of the way in an improv exercise all you can do is do your best with what’s given to you and move on. There is no chance to go back and re-write. There are hundreds of little rules to remember in improv, and if a performer obssesses over them they will end up failing miserably. The best performers pick one or two things at a time to work on, master those, then move on. Is it perfect? of course not. Is it hilarious and great improv – always!

Game: Scenes Without the Letter______

There you have it. The 10 “career hangups” from MSN and CareerBuilder, and how you can use improv to address those hangups. Try them out and have fun!

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