About a year ago, a coworker introduced me to the DC Improv comedy school. I was definitely up for learning improv (I am an ESFJ, after all) but I was terrified of having to make stuff up on the spot. My heart was pounding like a drum line in a marching band and as my family and friends entered the room the lights went dark…
…and I said to myself, “here goes nothing,” as the stage lights were staring me straight in the face.
As a content strategist at Edelman DC, my job is to tell stories for our clients. Three improv courses and two performances later, I’m ready for SNL. (Lorne Michaels are you reading this?) Ok… Reality check… but I did learn so many skills to enhance what I do for Edelman. Here are five lessons I learned in improv that will enhance your content strategy skills:
Improv is all about listening. Since there isn’t a script, you have to listen to what is happening on stage and be able to adapt and react quickly. If you don’t you could miss a critical part of a scene. The same goes for content strategy. It is our job to listen and observe what our clients are doing as well as the social trends online when we write content. If we ignore what’s happening around us, we lose our audience, we lose engagement and we’re not effective storytellers.
2. The two most important words in improv are “Yes AND”
Agreeing to what is happening on stage and then contributing to what is already happening will make you a better improv artist and a better storyteller. 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
My improv teacher told me the story of an acting class that Marlon Brando was in where the class was told to act like chickens and that a nuclear bomb was about to fall on them. While the class acted like crazy chickens clucking, Brando sat calmly pretending to lay an egg. When his teacher asked he said, “I’m a chicken, what do I know about bombs?” The truth in life is comedy and when we tell stories, audiences will resonate with the truth. Why? Because they go through the 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 and without props, sets, and an entire cast, trying to advance a plot is pretty pointless. What is important is relationships in improv. 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 content strategy. When we write content, we’re writing for an audience. Whether its consumers, B2B, influencers, etc. When we research an audience, we become them while writing content and we keep our audience interested.
5. Don’t be afraid to fail
The best improv artists fail. They perform scenes that don’t work. That’s OK, if you don’t take risks in improv you’re afraid of what can come from thinking outside of the box. Some of the best movies scenes that we quote everyday were improv. It may not always work but it’s worth the risk. Content strategy is the same way. When it comes to telling stories we must always be willing to take risks and work with our clients to take those risks with us. What if Steve Job’s 1984 Apple commercial never made it to TV? We have to be willing to take risks!
Tatiana Posada leads content strategy for Edelman Digital in Washington, DC.
Image credit: Tatiana Posada