During an improv show, it’s impressive when actors on stage are able to create scenes on the spot — especially when they make you laugh.
It might seem like those scenes are pulled from thin air, but there’s actually a secret recipe.
Dan O’Connor, a professional improv actor who has founded multiple theatres in LA and San Francisco, shared that recipe with Business Insider and explained how using it can lead to better conversations, dates, and business meetings.
It comes in three parts:
1. Say ‘yes, and …’
This is the first and most well-known rule of improv. Saying “yes, and” advances the narrative of the story — and every conversation you enter is a story, whether you’re meeting a coworker for the first time or sitting down for a job interview.
“If you’re truly engaged and the other person is engaged, then that particular interaction is going to have a good story,” O’Connor said. “It’s going to be more resonant, and you’ll get more out of the conversation the better you are at yes-anding.”
Yes-anding doesn’t mean never uttering the word “no,” according to O’Connor. What matters more than precise word choice is intention.
“As long as the desire is to serve and further the narrative, it’s perfectly fine,” O’Connor said.
There’s a reason why it’s boring to go out to dinner with people who only talk about themselves. He explained that not asking questions of your date leaves the story of the conversation with nowhere to go.
2. Make your partner look good
Another improv technique is to be constantly thinking about ways to make your partner look good. O’Connor suggests trying to “over-accept,” or make things important.
“Be positive about what your partner is offering up,” he said.
In theatre, this enthusiasm is what makes things dramatic and exciting, and in life, it will go a long way in creating and maintaining relationships, especially because it takes the pressure off you.
“Neurosis and self doubt that come from internalizing your own fear go away because you’re now focused on the other person,” he said.
3. Decide that mistakes are gifts
Finally, improvisers are taught to look at mistakes on stage as an opportunity rather than a failure.
“Some of the funniest stuff in improv is when people make mistakes and then use those mistakes to change the story,” he said. “The audience finds it funny because they get to see how somebody is going to deal with the mistake.”
This can easily transfer over to business.
Watching somebody panic when their clicker suddenly stops working during a PowerPoint presentation can be uncomfortable. According to O’Connor, the discomfort comes from the emotional response of feeling bad for the person — a type of secondhand embarrassment.
He says the person is better off embracing the mistake of the dysfunctional clicker. Similarly, if you spill water on a date and can manage to smile and make a joke, it sends a message that you’re ok.
“Show that you deal with mistakes in a happy and positive way,” he said. “Fail goodnaturedly.”
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