Self-improv-ment: Learning to act with imagination

SV team days encourage cross-team communication and collaborative working against a backdrop of polite tomfoolery – and the first team day of 2019 was no different. As it was also my first team day with SV, it was an excellent opportunity to learn about our company goals for the year, and to get myself and the newly hired graduates into the mix. To further develop creativity and imagination at work, we enlisted the help of the London Improv Theatre, who provided a crash course through improv acting.

At the start, I don’t think many of us relished the idea of standing in front of our bosses, miming how to be a wardrobe. But that is exactly what happened, followed by something rather unexpected:  much like wardrobes, we opened up to each other – and it enhanced our teamwork and imagination.

Share because you care

Certain skills such as pitching ideas to clients or standing up to exacting product managers can sometimes feel daunting, regardless of whether you’re new to med comms or a seasoned pro. This is where the improv training comes in handy. One of the best lessons I took from the day was that mistakes are okay – you can only know if an idea is “bad” if you put it on the table. If you keep your ideas to yourself because you’re unsure, you’re not participating in the moment, and this can trip you up even more. It’s not “fake it till you make it,” but “share it because you care for it.” This is why it’s important to build relationships with your teammates and clients: If you’re working with like-minded people, good things follow.

Break out of roles to collaborate

Which brings me nicely to my next revelation. In improv, you’ve got to run with the first idea you’re presented with, and you have to make it entertaining. Good improv artists are always developing ideas, but not in isolation. They break down entrenched behaviour in communication, spinning out new ideas that they can develop with other participants in the process. Similarly, in med comms, we can offer more even to clients who might have a very defined vision. We learned new tools to that make us ready to take any idea and build on it, which we can then use to empower the client and develops the partnership. You’re not alone on stage – we’re in this together.

Laugh in the face of failure

Now, I’ve been to some truly dreadful improv shows in my time – the kind that make you want to turn inside-out with embarrassment for the people on stage. But improv can be equally as funny when it’s perfectly executed as when it goes horribly wrong. The difference lies in how you react to the evolving situation. Imagine, for a completely theoretical-and-not-at-all-true example, that you’ve been asked without warning to act as an airline pilot. And then, in the heat of the moment, you realize you’re being a plane – sound effects and all. Mortifying? Maybe. But what we saw, time and again, was that we all laughed at our mistakes, which left us better able to try again. Not to mention that laughing together brought everyone in the team closer. This fosters an encouraging atmosphere, which can lead to more idea-sharing and innovation.

Clock off and cocktail on

Riding high on adrenaline or anxiety – it can be hard to tell sometimes – we finished with a round of cocktails and miniature golf. A sophisticated end to the day. I’m already looking forward to how we’ll build and grow at the next team day. In the meantime, I’ve got a new set of skills to hone and put to the test.

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