How Theater Improv Can Help You Sell Your Ideas, Products, and Company

Theater improv is a team of actors who perform scenes without a script. They write the scene as they go by reacting to the input they are given by their teammates. It sounds a little bit like business, doesn't it?


Improv is not just for actors; anyone can learn improv. And it's becoming more popular for business professionals to study the principles of improv to help them sell products, ideas, and their company. In fact, business schools like Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, UCLA's Anderson School of Management, and MIT's Sloan School of Management have all offered students courses in business improv.

Everyone sells. Daniel Pink wrote a book about it  – To Sell is Human. Selling used to be simpler. The products sold themselves based on their quality. But today's environment is more crowded and consumers are more skeptical. Sales professionals – and if you believe Daniel Pink, that's you and everyone else – have to be great with people. That's where solid improv skills can help.

Improv combats fear

Fear can unravel a sales pitch. We are hard-wired to fear what we don't know; we hate uncertainty. It goes back to our ancestors who avoided walking into forests they weren't familiar with. When you walk into a sales meeting you are likely swimming in a lake of uncertainty regardless of how well you prepared.

You don't know if the person sitting across the desk from you is having a bad day because the Mets are down two games in the series. Maybe she skipped breakfast because her kid got sick in the night, and skipping breakfast makes her grumpy. Good sales people are masters of the unknown situations they find themselves in.

Good sales people are masters of the unknown situations they find themselves in.

I'm not totally against the benefits of fear at some level, but if fear is controlling the situation, you're in bad shape. Learning improv can help you get comfortable with uncertainty.

Improv is the practice of spontaneously handling unexpected situations. When people learn to use these principles, they learn to welcome unexpected turns in a situation and even use them to their advantage. Masters of improv can walk into a situation with confidence and presence, knowing that they have a set of tools to handle whatever is thrown at them.

Improv skills to master the situation

  1. Make everyone else look good – On the stage, improvisors are working to make everyone there look good. There is no sense in getting competitive or letting your ego interrupt the scene. Great sales people know that their job is to make their prospect look good.

  2. Transform as needed – Improvisors allow themselves and the direction of the conversation to be changed by what is said and done during a scene. In every moment they are listening and reacting to their partners. They do not come in with entrenched viewpoints of the way things are. They accept reality as it is presented to them and they react accordingly. This is critical in a sales situation.

  3. Keep the energy going – Regardless of what they are given, or what happens in a scene great improvisors accept and embrace new information with enthusiasm. They are constantly aware of the energy they are putting into the situation and they do not allow themselves to be an energy-drain on the scene. Showing disappointment or disapproval of the information your prospect is giving you is a great way to kill the energy in a sales conversation.

  4. Serve the good of the whole – Great improvisors and great sales people always ask the question, "How can I best serve this situation?"

Join us for a full day workshop to develop your sales skills through improv. We're going to have a great time learning how to develop skills that will help you in your next sales pitch.