What is the difference between musical comedy improvisation and internal communication? Or are there more similarities than you can imagine? You’re in the right place to find out.

I recently spotted a Twitter profile from an internal comms professional that intrigued me and I asked the lady behind it to write for my blog to explain all.

JuliaJulia Collings (pictured) performs musical comedy improvisation with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. She’s also Senior Communications Officer (Internal) at Ofgem and a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Over to you Julia…

My Twitter profile reads ‘Internal Communications professional by day, Comedy Improviser by night. Sometimes I get the two mixed up.’ 

It’s not as silly as it sounds. I believe that the bedrocks of comedy improvisation are also the building blocks of great internal communication.

So I’m going to share with you the biggest lessons that comedy improvisation has taught me about communications – and vice versa!

Listen, say yes, commit

One of the golden rules of comedy improvisation is to say a big emphatic, metaphorical yes to all the ideas our fellow performers give us on stage. We call these ideas ‘offers’ and take them in that spirit of generosity – building on them just to see where we get to.

It’s the way we embrace creativity and innovation to come up with a new scene, every night, every time.

It’s also a great tactic for brainstorming a new idea for an internal marketing plan or a solution for a communications problem. Brainstorming as a group can lead to amazing new ideas and results – as long as we learn to say ‘yes’ to initial suggestions. This means switching off our urge to censor ourselves and others, and resisting the temptation to focus on negatives and reasons to say ‘no’.

Of course there will need to be a process of weeding suggestions, and utilising the rigorous left-brain project management and organising skills that as internal communicators we know we have. But that’s for later in the process!

Trust: the process, yourself, others

One of the other biggest lessons that comedy improvisation has taught me about communication, is that you have to trust the process.

On stage there’s no time to think. You can’t second guess the quick-fire line that’s already half way out of your mouth. You just have to go with it and trust that the line will be funny, make sense and help move the scene on.

In order to appear authentic and interesting while performing, you have to make quick, strong decisions, commit to them, and trust they are the right ones.

That’s okay – because once you relax into the process, you will be surprised at how creative and quick-thinking you can be.

juliawithrlylHave you noticed how you suddenly solve a work problem while you’re jam-packed in a commuter train, or have a project breakthrough while you’re washing up?

It’s because we’ve disengaged our left brain and let our subconscious do its work and make those lightning-speed connections needed to come up with an idea. Most of the time you have all the answers inside of yourself – you just have to trust that they are the right ones.

Once you’ve learnt to trust yourself, you’ll only go so far unless you learn to trust others.

On stage you have to trust your co-performers – so that you can accept their offers wholeheartedly. You need to know they’ve got your back, and that you’ve got theirs.

It’s an essential skill for building successful teams.

You can’t micro manage an improvisation scene, unless you want to kill the magic. And the same goes for managing an internal communications project.

Accept failure – and move on

The third thing comedy improvisation has taught me is that once you start to embrace creativity and innovation you need to accept there will be times when you fail. Sometimes spectacularly.

When improvising, failure is inevitable. You can trust the process, embrace creativity, make quick decisions, deliver the sharpest, funniest line that’s ever been delivered, and yet the scene can at best fizzle out, at worst be an epic failure. The best improvisers don’t just accept this failure – they embrace it as part of the process.

I’m not there yet!

But what I have learnt from improvisation is that if it goes wrong (and it will) don’t beat yourself up about it.

Work out why it went wrong, learn from it, then move on. And next time don’t shy from another failure – instead make it bigger, better, bolder.

As internal communicators we don’t want to fail. We want to deliver successful projects each time, every time. But with all the best planning in the world, there will be times when our innovative new idea doesn’t work out, when we don’t deliver what we thought we could when we said we would

That’s why good project evaluation is so important. Not so we can beat ourselves up about what went wrong, or pat ourselves on the back, but so that next time we can be even better.

Post author: Julia Collings.

Note from Julia: This is a personal blog post, and doesn’t represent the thoughts of Ofgem or the CIPR.

Thank you very much for writing this post, I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it’s packed with smart advice.

What do you think of what Julia has written? Does it resonate with you too? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC with your thoughts.


Want to read more guest articles from IC pros? There are nearly 100 in my archive. You can access it here.

If you have a story to share, I’m always on the lookout for fresh voices and articles. See my guidelines and get in touch with your idea and you too could be featured here.

First published on All Things IC blog 31 October 2013.

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