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Improv: It’s not just funny business. It is for business!

By Jessica Shternshus    

Ask any experienced improviser what is the single most important principle of improv acting, and the answer,theatre masks by and large, will be “Yes, and.” 

Although that answer may not make a lot of sense to you, the use of the “yes, and” principle is the golden rule of improv. These two words make up the foundation for every successful improv group. The “yes, and,” principle allows for improvisers to collaborate and encourages teamwork on stage during a performance.

Here’s an example of the “yes, and” game in which two players make up a scene on the spot:

Actor 1: “Are you coming to the party on Friday?”

Actor 2: “Yes, and I’ve heard it’s going to be in the ocean.”

Actor 1: “Yes, and that would be a perfect place to show off my diving skills.”

Actor 2: “Yes, and you can finally wear those slick flippers I bought for your birthday…”

”Yes, and” allows the actors to let go of a preplanned agenda and collaborate to make it together, to the finish line. 

The power of “Yes, and” is derived from combining its two apparent elements, which are also strong in their own rights.  “Yes” creates the sense of acceptance and affirmation that shows the speaker is heard.  When you say “yes” to a team member’s ideas, you validate the ideas as well as the individual and signal that the person’s opinion is important to you. 

An environment created by “yes” is an open environment in which new ideas and new solutions are welcome. People are much more likely to suggest improvements and to look for better ways to doing their job if they are being heard and listened to.  “Yes” also sets a more pleasant and positive tone, which can readily lead to a more productive atmosphere. 

After setting the tone by encouraging people to voice their ideas, the “and” part lets you collaborate with them. 

“And” means adding your ideas to others’ and building off them, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel.  You acknowledge good ideas that are not necessarily yours and are willing to jump on the bandwagon, even if it doesn’t go exactly the way you had planned. 

What is interesting is that “yes, and” does not always come naturally; it requires practice. By combining the two words “yes” with its power to affirm with “and” with its power to encourage collaboration, you adopt a communication tool that will help you in all walks of life.

Jessica Shternshus is founder and owner of Improv Effect, www.improveffect.com, which offers corporate training and public classes on improvisational techniques. She can be contacted at 904-401-9485 or Jessie@improveffect.com.

 

SIDEBAR

“Yes, and” can easily be applied to a business setting. Here’s an example: Assume you are in a meeting with two team members:

Team member 1: “Let’s boost our company’s image through marketing channels.”

You: “Yes, and we can use a billboard campaign.”

Team member 2: “Yes, and we can create a new Web site.”

Although this example seems relatively easy, to have “yes, and” come naturally requires practice.


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