For Jane’s 50th birthday, her big surprise gift was an eight-week workshop on Improv comedy for the two of us. Believe me, she was surprised! I thought it would be a great to experience it together, that we’d meet interesting people, and that we’d laugh a lot. Mission accomplished on all fronts! The course concluded with a show at The Funny Bone Comedy Club in Columbus. Working with 10 people in a safe space week after week is different than doing a live show in front of friends, family and strangers, so we were both a little nervous. But, we had so much fun we signed up for another course and concluded our second Improv show in late February.
As I reflected on the Improv experiences we enjoyed together, I saw interesting parallels between Improv comedy and sales. Even if you don’t consider yourself a salesperson the reality is every one of us sells ideas and ourselves daily.
I can’t imagine reading a few books on Improv or following a blog for a period of time then trying to perform in front of a live audience. Practicing in a safe space with a teacher was a huge confidence builder for all of us. And we learned quite a bit from one another as we observed each other on stage. Salespeople traditionally hate anything remotely close to role-play and think reading about sales or attending a seminar will give them all they need to succeed. Wrong! The more you role-play the readier you are for a sales call as long as your scenarios are realistic. I’ve also seen where salespeople learn as much, if not more, from each other during the training.
Improv is short for improvisational comedy, which is unscripted. When you improvise you are creating in the moment and Improv is all about taking what’s given to you then creating a funny reality. Quite often audience members shout out people, places and things leaving those on stage to use their imagination to construct a funny scene. You don’t know what will be thrown at you when you’re onstage and it’s the same when it comes to sales. You never know exactly what might come up before, during or after a sales call. Quite often you don’t know what objections you might be hit with during a sale so you need to be comfortable responding in the moment. The longer you’re in sales the more situations and objections you face and the more comfortable you are dealing with whatever comes at you. Just as more practice and performances help comedians, so it is with salespeople.
Great comedians don’t just wing it even though they might improvise. Through study and observation, they learn what makes something funny and why some jokes fall flat. They draw from the world around them so the audience can relate and understand their jokes. Imagine a comedian making jokes about King Henry the 8th and England in the 16th century. That probably won’t go over as well as jokes related to the present and politicians people know something about. By the same token, good salespeople understand their customers, their needs and speak to both. Good salespeople study their craft and learn how to speak persuasively so the
customer “gets it” just like the audience gets a joke.
Timing is crucial in comedy. Two comedians can tell the same joke but how they set it up, how they deliver the punch line and exactly when they deliver the punch line can make all the difference between laughter and silence. Selling is very similar.
Two salespeople can say essentially the same thing and for one person it comes across in a natural, conversational way but for the other it feels like a pushy salesman. Timing is also very important when it comes to closing a sale. When to close can vary based on many things and there is some “art” as to what you do to close the deal. Do it too early and prospective customers recoil because the feel like they’re being sold. As Jeffery Gitomer likes to say, “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.”
When people hear Improv comedy one of the first things you’ll hear them say is, “Yes, and…” Improv is much more than this little phrase but it’s one of the first concepts you’re taught. In order to make a scene work you’re told to take whatever is given to you and build on it. Nothing kills a scene quicker than rejecting what someone has said or done. Sales is similar in that shutting someone down, rejecting what they say, insisting they’re wrong and you’re right, is a sure way to alienate customers. “Yes, I can understand why you feel that way and…” then transition into something to hopefully get the other person to start seeing things differently.
So, if you want to succeed in Improv or sales remember to be PUSTY (Practice, Unscripted, Study, Timing, Yes). And one more thought to consider: Everything I just shared applies to parenting. Give what I just shared a quick reread and see if you get what I mean. Most of us are not handed a training manual when we become parents so we figure out quite a bit as we go along. I believe these same principles I’ve just outlined can help you be a better parent.
Interested in learning more about Improv? If you live in the Columbus metro area I encourage you to reach out to Jeff Gage. He was a great teacher and it was apparent he loves what he does because, despite doing this for decades, he laughed as much as anyone during our workshops and shows. Reach out to him to see when his next classes will be held. It’s guaranteed you’ll have fun, meet interesting people, and laugh a lot. There’s not much better in life than that!
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.