The following excerpt is from the introduction to my forthcoming business improv book “One Word Suggestion” based on the podcast of the same name. Subscribe below for more previews and sneak peeks.
Back in 2011, I was in Los Angles writing a screenplay when I decided to take an improv class at The Second City.
I’ve always loved comedy and thought I was funny. And some of my friends agreed.
So I signed up thinking I would be awesome at it.
Right away I learned two very important things about improvisation:
1. Improv is not about being funny and
2. If you try to be funny in class, you’re the asshole.
(I was the asshole.)
So I recalibrated, and took more of a beginner’s mind approach to the whole thing and quickly fell in love.
We had plenty of laughs of course, but it was not the laughter that hooked me. It was the soft skills. Learning to listen, use eye contact, accept and build on other people’s ideas. And generally have conversations that flowed easily and productively.
Eight weeks later I turned in a draft of the screenplay and returned home to Sydney. I looked around for local improv schools, hungry to continue my education in this (new to me) art form. I knew improv training had the potential to make me a better writer. And I also knew it could be a powerful business tool everyone and anyone could use.
But there weren’t any training centres around. At least none that offered the same calibre of instruction I’d gotten in LA. So naively and selfishly I decided to fly a teacher from LA down to Australia to run a series of weekend workshops.
My plan was to try and sell some corporate workshops to help underwrite the cost. The facilitator fee, flights, hotels, meals, transportation etc. added up. I hustled hard and finally convinced the HR person at Cisco to take a punt on the opportunity I was offering.
With that locked in, I went from salesman mode into producer mode. Organising flights, hotels, venues. And then I switched again. This time into pitchman mode. I spent weeks hyping the weekend workshops and all the reasons why people should sign up for them.
It was a ton of work, but it was exciting. If I couldn’t move back to LA to improve my improv skills, I was going to bring LA to me, and it seemed to be working.
Our teacher came for 11 days. This was enough time to run two weekend workshops. One in Sydney and one in Melbourne. The idea was to fill the week in the middle with more corporate workshops. But I only managed to sell the one. On the upside, this meant my guest had plenty of time for sightseeing.
The first weekend workshop in Sydney was great. The corporate workshop for Cisco was great. And the Melbourne weekend workshop was great too. But by the end of it all, I was exhausted.
The whole exercise had ended up costing me money. More than it would have cost me to have flown myself back to LA for a weekend workshop. And by the end of the last day, I vowed that I would never do anything like this again.
But then something horribly magical happened.
I overheard two women discussing the workshop. It was during the last break on the last day of the last workshop, and they didn’t know I was right behind them. And since they didn’t know I was there they said exactly what they thought about their experience.
They loved it.
They could not believe how powerful it was. How transformative, how inspiring, how eye-opening, and how useful. They could take what they were learning and apply it at work and in their personal lives. They would never be the same again!
And I was like, “Damn. I have to keep doing this.”
Eight years later, (in 2020) Laugh Masters Academy is Australia’s largest comedy community. We currently offer improv and sketch comedy classes in three cities. We launched the Australian Improv Festival. And our students have gone on to perform at comedy festivals all over the world.
PowerProv (the corporate training arm of the business) has grown too. Our facilitators have helped thousands of people in hundreds of companies. And we are consistently voted the #1 best team training in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.
Through it all, I’ve learned more than any amount of weekend workshops could have taught me. I’ve met interesting, smart and funny people from all over the world. And I remain convinced that improvisation is a powerful skill that anyone can learn. And that everyone can use, not just at work, but in every aspect of life.
If you’re reading this then you’ve already taken the first step. I encourage you to keep going. Get out of your comfort zone. Try something new. Improv will change how you think, work, (and play) for the rest of your career and life.