For many (this writer included), getting up on stage in front of an audience without even an inkling of a script (AKA improv) sounds like a total nightmare. But even though you may have no interest in pursuing a career in show biz, there are a few key improv techniques that can totally help you progress in the professional world. In fact, Zoe Galvez and Betsy Crouch have built an entire business based on exactly that.

Galvez and Crouch are the duo behind Improv HQ, an SF-based business that works with professionals and companies (like Twitter, Google and LinkedIn) to teach people how to have an improv-like approach in work-related situations. We sat down with this inspirational and hilarious duo to learn about a few improv tactics a total beginner can try out to give their professional life a total revamp.


1. Actually listen to what people are saying. In improv, this is known as “intentional listening.” Basically, it means making extra effort to actually listen and not interrupt while someone else is talking. Betsey tells us, “A lot of us are thinking about what we are going to say next while the other person is still talking, and as improvisors, if we do that we don’t hear what our partner on stage says, and in every scene we need to pay attention to all those details to create a narrative.” She goes on to say, “It forces an interaction and a conversation versus a dueling monologue.”

If you’re looking to put this into practice, they recommend an exercise called “Last Letter First Letter” where one partner says something and then the second person starts their sentence with the last letter of the first person’s sentence. For example, if one person said, “What time is that yoga class?” You could respond with something like, “Six o’clock, I think.” To make this practical in the work world, play this game without your coworker, client or boss knowing. By making an extra effort to hear the last letter they speak, you’ll end up listening more intentionally in the conversation.


2. Say Yes. Probably the most well-known improv tactic, the idea of saying “yes” is crucial to keeping a scene alive in the improv world. If someone on stage asks you a question and you respond “no,” you’ve basically killed the scene. Same goes for conversation at work. Zoe says to take note of whether you’re saying “yes and” or “yes but.” If the latter, she advises, “see if you can replace the but with an and. You can still say the same thing and yet it’s easier for the listener to hear you.”

3. Celebrate your failures. Zoe says, “So many of us are so hard on ourselves when we make mistakes — especially women, I would say. We’re perfectionists, of course we want to do our best, and yet sometimes, we’re going to make mistakes. It’s important to know that out of those mistakes there are learning opportunities. As an improviser, when that happens we quickly get back up on our feet and are resilient.”

To this Betsey adds, “When we talk about celebrating failure, we mean celebrating the willingness to take a risk, the willingness step out of our comfort zone, the willingness to make a bold choice… We’re not necessarily celebrating the failure itself. Obviously, it’s hard to fail and it doesn’t feel good and we want to avoid it, yet we know that it’s going to happen sometimes, so how do we approach it? We say, great job taking a risk. What did I learn? And then move forward.”

What’s your secret to staying successful in the professional world? Share with us in the comments below.

(Photos via Getty)