Amy Poehler. Tina Fey. Steve Carrell. Chris Farley.
What do these renowned comedians have to do with your freelance business?
Amy Poehler. Tina Fey. Steve Carrell. Chris Farley. What do these renowned comedians have to do with your freelance business?
They’re all students of the art of improv.
So, how could taking an improv class help you as a freelancer?
It’s a misconception that improvisational comedy, one of the newest American art forms, is solely for people with the desire to perform on stage. Improv theaters around the country including Second City offer improv for wellness (programs with offerings include Anxiety, Autism, and for the Elderly).
But did you know these places also have entire departments dedicated to business training? It’s true!
Let’s look at what improv can help you be a better freelancer.
1. Discover New Ways to Brainstorm
A huge productivity killer for freelancers is trying to generate unique and engaging content. There are lots of great tools for brainstorm content ideas out there. But why not try improv to brainstorm new ideas?
A fun tool improvisers sometimes use on stage in order to generate ideas from the audience is a Second City-style “pad set.” The players bring out a large writing pad on an easel, draw a cross with four sections, and label each section like “Location,” “Celebrity,” “Object,” and “Relationship.” They then ask the audience to shout out suggestions for each designated section and create scenes pulling inspiration from one or multiple sections.
Try It: Create your own “pad set” on Google Drive and invite your freelancing network to contribute. Choose categories geared toward your niche like “Cons of Working From Home” or “Favorite Freelance Writing Plugin.”
2. Accept Others Ideas
Improv 101 teaches you the very valuable technique of always saying “Yes, and…”.
Here’s how it works:
If your scene partner walks on stage and proclaims to you, “Look at all these toys! Our kids are so messy.” You accept this reality and reframe the next statement you make as a statement a parent with messy kids would say.
You wouldn’t say, “We don’t have any kids! Who are you and how did you get in my house?” The scene dies immediately, plus you disappoint your partner and the audience by not being supportive of your partner’s idea.
In improv, you build a world on stage, brick by brick – similar to how you are building your freelance business.
You’ll make new discoveries when you actively listen and retain information. It’s a way to accept and explore your scene partner (or your client’s) ideas without dismissing their perspective. Even if your instinct is to disagree with the idea, agree, but reframe the facts.
Try It: Say “Yes, and…” to pitching a job post you find exceptionally challenging and might otherwise stray away from.
3. Win Over Your Audience
Have you ever seen an improv show?
The audience is in awe of the performers. Improvisers are people from all walks of life jumping on a stage and putting it all out there with no pre-planning.
Even if you never make anyone laugh, the audience is already amazed you are willing to get up there and be vulnerable in front of complete strangers. Getting a good laugh is just the cherry on top.
In both improv and freelance writing, don’t be afraid to try and make your audience laugh by being unapologetically you. They’re already impressed you are trying.
Being yourself is vital. In this digital age, people love knowing they are reading content from an actual human with unique flaws, opinions and insights.
Try It: Write a clever email subject line with some personality to it when sending your next pitch.
4. Handle Failure
When you first start taking improv classes, you’ll say and do more unfunny things than funny things. Fact.
Don’t worry. The more classes you take, the more that scale will tip in your favor. This is also true for freelance writing. Many freelance writers are terrified of failure during the beginning of their journey.
Here’s the magical part:
The longer they write, the more the fear goes away.
One of the greatest things about improv is when it teaches you how absolutely harmless failing actually is. You condition yourself to get on stage and vulnerably enter a scene with no lines or idea what you are going to do over and over again until it doesn’t scare you anymore.
Some beginning freelance writers spend hours agonizing over pitching and are terrified to be rejected (For good reason! It’s scary at first!). But improv teaches you to face your fears until they simply aren’t threats anymore, so you can truly be yourself and thrive.
As legendary improv teacher Del Close so eloquently said, “Follow The Fear.”
Try It: Use a rejected pitch as an opportunity to revisit the company website and find 3 style themes in their content that you could have used in your pitch.
5. An Added Skill to Your Resume
Improv skills are sellable skills.
Clients like writers who can think on their feet and are fearless.
Using improv on your writing resume shows potential clients you are imaginative and bold. It’s a skill that demonstrates that you’re not only interesting but also that you’ve got depth and are willing to try new things.
Try It: Add ‘Improv’ as a skill to your LinkedIn profile and ask your classmates to endorse you.
6. Work With Different Personalities
Improv class will expose you to all kinds of different people.
You’ll probably be learning alongside future professional improvisers with great comic instincts, to someone who isn’t taking it very seriously and wants to talk about themselves the entire time. There will be 18-year-olds and retirees enrolled. You could make great friends taking improv classes, but there will also be plenty of people you normally would not spend time with.
You will work closely with all of your classmates and be forced to learn how to communicate with a multitude of different people.
Freelance clients are no different.
Hopefully, you’ll have many dream clients who have personalities that mesh great with yours. But, you may also encounter clients who operate in a different way than you do. Learning how to deal with (and frankly, not be annoyed by) all kinds of personalities will help you become a better people-person and teach you how to work with a variety of clients, so you never miss out on a gig because of a perceived personality conflict.
Try It: Think of a client or past coworker who drove you bananas. Write down one ‘gift’ they gave you by teaching you how to deal with their personality type that you carry with you to this day.
Would you consider taking an improv class to help make you a better freelance writer? Let me know in the comments below!