Employers look to improv comedy to improve workplace

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An improv comedy theatre in Phoenix is offering improvisation workshops to businesses to help with team building and workplace communication.

Jacque Arend, Director of Education and Corporate Training at Torch Theatre, says improv requires the performers to rely on the each other to succeed, and bringing that skill into the workplace helps people to be more successful at their jobs. According to Arend, improv is known to improve communication and active listening skills, and helps to build trust between coworkers.

Torch Theatre offers free drop-in improv classes on the first Saturday of every month at 2:30 p.m. For more information about classes and shows, visit thetorchtheatre.com.

TED SIMONS: Did you hear about the cat who drank three bowls of milk, he set a new lap record? That’s a horrendous joke and it wasn't delivered off the cuff. Which means it has nothing to do with our next topic. Improvisational comedy skills and how they are finding their way into the office and other environments. Here is with more is Jacque Arend, Director of Education and Corporate Training at the Torch Theater. Welcome to Arizona "Horizon."

Jacque Arend: Thank for having me.

TED SIMONS: That lousy joke people think of standup comedy and think of telling jokes. Maybe not that poorly but telling jokes. Improvisational comedy is different. Talk to us.

Jacque Arend: Very different. With standup comedy you are finding a voice and writing your jokes and you have a pitch, a setup and a punch line and segues and all that stuff.

TED SIMONS: It is all planned.

Jacque Arend: It is planned and kind of solo. You are up there by yourself feeding off an audience. With improvisational comedy and theater and exercises you really are relying on the people you are working with. You are focusing on being in the moment with them and banding with them to create something together.

TED SIMONS: Interesting and this can help on stage. We have seen the improvisational comedy as a hoot. But in terms of office skills, business skills, life skills. Talk to us about that.

Yeah, 100%. The exercises we use to hone ourselves as a great performer through improvisation and being in the moment is also really great for positive communication skills. They make us into great listeners and good supporters of other people's ideas. So by being present and in the moment and really active listening as they say listening to understand versus listening to talk. It gives us that opportunity to say yes to the conversations and ideas people are bringing to us and then support them by being on top of them. I think oftentimes with our social behaviors we tend to get conditioned into negative behaviors of saying no or yes but and by really practices the yes and philosophy it makes our conversations more positive and creates a stronger sense of trust with the people we’re communicating with.

TED SIMONS: Give me an example of an exercise in which improvisational skills, maybe on the comedic front, could work in the office.

Jacque Arend: Yeah, I think the very basic one you would experience at any, like intro level workshop or level one is just yes, and back and forth where I would say anything to you and we use our imagination so and it could be anything at all and you have to say yes and.

TED SIMONS: So if I say giraffes are tall you say

Jacque Arend: Yes and thank you so much Ted for taking me to the zoo.

TED SIMONS: And I will say yes and you a real pain in the neck. You can't do that.

Jacque Arend: You can. I don't know if you want to give the negative gist to the person that you’re improvising with. But I could deal with it sure.

TED SIMONS: You really do have to listen because it is yes and you are building on the conversation.

Jacque Arend: Absolutely. One thing that tends to happen through a lot of the workshops I do with businesses to do team building and active listening skills is that people tend to take themselves out of the moment. So, they are only listening to half of what is coming at them. They are already trying to think about how they are going to respond which means they are oftentimes pushing their own agenda, not giving the focus to the people they are listening to and I think that is noticeable and we notice that in our exchanges. You know, having that more positive experience through conversation does create a stronger connection in which like innovation and trust is created.

TED SIMONS: And you mention trust. Is there an element of the person feeling fear in kind of being out there without a net? Embracing that fear? Make any sense?

Jacque Arend: Absolutely. Improvisational or just the idea of comedy or stand up can make people shake in their boots a little. Yeah, I think one think about improvisational that we teach is that you have to make choices in the moment. You are only going to get things accomplished by making choices. If we teach people how to support those choices then people become more confidant in making those choices. The fear aspect gets set aside with the fact that there is no if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.

TED SIMONS: You trust who you are working with. Collaborators is a keyword there both in comedy and in the office but you really do learn to work as a team.

Jacque Arend: Absolutely. 100%. That is why they found these improvisational skills are great for team building within businesses because the skill sets you reinforce toward collaboration are not only fun and people loosen up and have a good time and get to know each other a little bit better but it reinforces skills we don't often think about. We don't notice we are being negative communicators until we are presented in this different way.

TED SIMONS: Until we tell someone they were a pain at the zoo.

Jacque Arend: Right.

TED SIMONS: It also seems like it can teach you, or show you an example of yourself as a leader of both a leader because you are guiding the ship and a follower. For a lot of folks in the business world being a follower is a little difficult.

Jacque Arend: Yes, 100%. I always say at my workshops the best leaders are great followers. If you are willing to let your team take the lead and focus and you can find the idea that the group can conceive is bigger than what the individual is capable of conceiving.


Jacque Arend: I think that one thing that tends to happen is as a leader we allow our ego to get in the way of the ability to trust those working for us and let them take the reins for new ideas.

TED SIMONS: That would fall into adaptability, agility, again working without that net whether you are allowing other people to do their job without getting in the way or you just go ahead and do your job and if folks want to follow good for them. There is a lot of adaptation going on.

Yeah, 100%. Yeah. I think like you keep mentioning without a net and the reverse aspect is when you develop this great yes and positive communication within your teams at work then there is a net. If somebody makes a mistake or drops the ball there is always somebody there to pick it up. It is like the concept in baseball with the outfielders. If the ball is coming to the center fielder, the left and right fielder are running to get there.

TED SIMONS: You get the synergy going where you know someone will catch it or you’re going to catch it.

Jacque Arend: If the sun is in your eyes you know the right fielder is right behind you.

TED SIMONS: When folks go in are they one way and when they come out are they a whole different person?

Yeah, definitely. There is a lot of like not really knowing what to expect. There is a lot of nerves. People feel like they are going to be put on the spot and they kind of are. We really try to create a safe and welcoming environment. You start to get the sense of we’re all doing this. We are all in this together. We start very simply. It is not about going up there and creating complex comedy together. It’s really about starting as simple as us making eye contact and supporting each other in a way that feels safe and welcoming so everybody is on an equal plane and you progress out of that through the exercises.

TED SIMONS: It sounds like great stuff. Congratulations on going this direction. Really interesting. Great to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Jacque Arend: Thank you, ted. Have a good day.

Jacque Arend: Director of Education and Corporate Training, The Torch Theatre

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