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Diversity Today

6 Ways Comedy And Improv Can Help You Succeed At Work

Estimated reading time ~ 3 min
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Image courtesy of The Jopwell Collection

Improvisation is all about being in the moment and thinking on your feet – two things that also happen to be crucial to success at pretty much every job out there. Chanel Hemphill, who works as the marketing manager for Second City – a comedy club, theater, and school with locations in Chicago, Toronto, and Hollywood – explains, “Life is improvisation. I use my improv skills every day.” Given her expertise, we asked Hemphill, along with a few of her colleagues, to share some of the insights they’ve learned from improv and comedy. They assured us that these tips could help everyone – even those of us who are a little more shy (#stagefright #introvert) – be more successful at work. Take a look.

1. If you misspeak or your mind goes blank, own it.

“Improvisers know there are no mistakes, only opportunities. The improv technique that I find to be most helpful is to just 'lean in.' Let's face it, a word blunder can be embarrassing. But, it's also relatable and, therefore, inherently comedic. The solution is to completely own the moment. So, when you eff up, use that as an opportunity to crack a joke and jump back on track. Nothing breaks the tension faster than being able to laugh at yourself.”

Vernon Mina, improviser, sketch performer, and teacher

2. Take a second to accept your reality before reacting to it.

“I use improv constantly in my real life, mainly as a listening skill. Listening, in the way that someone who’s on stage and forced to react in the moment does, allows you to take in outside thoughts and ideas and just immediately accept them without judgement; because, in improv, there’s no time to waste debating anything. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have an opposing opinion to whatever is being said. But, acknowledging that an idea has been established and accepting it for what it is will allow you to move forward more quickly.”


3. If you start to panic, breathe.

“Panic, like the kind that creeps in right before you’re about to perform in front of a huge audience (or your boss), happens when we get too in our heads. And the result of that is we stop breathing, either as deeply as we should or, in some cases, all together. What I’ve learned is that, if you can, just get your breath back; that will awaken the nervous system and, therefore, your brain. Do that and you’ll be back to thinking, ‘I got this’ again in no time.”

Dionna Griffin-Irons, director of diversity and inclusion

4. Make it a point to read the room.

“Whenever I walk into any room – a meeting with executives, a boardroom, a theater – I ‘read’ the room by making eye contact with as many people who are in there as possible. This is the first nonverbal cue that I can give someone to acknowledge them and let it be known that I am present. Everyone likes to be seen and, in return, they’ll usually extend you the same courtesy.”


5. Stay open to whatever may come.

“I generally have an open-door policy at work unless I am on a deadline or in a meeting. If someone (in my case, typically an actor or comedian) drops by or calls the theater to speak with me, I generally trust my instincts in the moment and make myself available to them. My theory is, you never know how much courage it took for the other person to pick up the phone or walk through our doors to be heard or seen, so I do my best to be inviting. This industry is already tough enough without creating more barriers by rejecting people for no reason. And I will say, I've made some excellent connections just by saying ‘yes’ to the unexpected.”


6. Accept that failure is inevitable – then use it to your advantage.

“The older we get, the more we start to fear failure. But, improv teaches us that failure is a part of the process of discovering something great within yourself. As a working mom, wife, and purpose-driven woman, I've been adamant about holding on to my own fearlessness. If you are tired of living a boring, predictable life, add improv into your daily routine. Take a left out of your driveway instead of a right. Say ‘yes’ when that person you just met at a networking event asks you to coffee. It’s amazing how these small decisions can lead to big things. When we let go of fear, only then will we discover our true potential.”

Chanel Hemphill, marketing manager

Second City is a Jopwell partner company

Image courtesy of The Jopwell Collection

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