What Improv Comedy Can Teach Salespeople


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Remember that show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” It was just a bunch of people standing on a stage trying to turn whatever was thrown at them into something that would entertain the audience. It was pretty amazing to see how good they were at spinning some random shit into a bit that had everyone in stitches.

Sales is a lot like that. Like Shakespeare said, we’re all players on a stage, and, especially in this business, we’re often up against a tough audience. It’s critical we learn how to think fast. I’m sure you can recall a time, maybe five minutes ago, yesterday, or last week, that you were put on the spot by a prospect or customer – how did you react? If you tanked, improv might help you.

A friend recently told me that the lessons he’s learned at improv comedy classes have taken his sales game to the next level. Basic improv comedy exercises like Advance and Expand, Yes And, and Environment Shift train your brain to adapt to and control a variety of situations, all of which can be used to knock it out of the park in sales. For example, Advance and Expand is a great way to train yourself to not get stuck on a point but move the dialogue forward and paint the picture in your favor.

Here are some things my friend found particularly helpful for his sales game:

Improv Teaches You How to Deal with the Unexpected

When a prospect throws a question your way that you don’t know how to answer, how do you deal with it? Ask another question! Improv comedians always keep the ball bouncing and avoid dead ends. Ask the questioner what they think the answer is or you can even toss the question to your sales engineer to come up with more time for a response.

Steve Martin is a comedy legend and a big influence of mine. Back in the day he used to put out albums of his stage sets. At one point he gets interrupted by a heckler, there was a long pause and as he tries to get back to what he was saying, he started asking the audience to help him out. It was part of the act, but still a good strategy to keep people engaged while biding time.

Improv Teaches You How to Play To Your Strengths

If you find yourself up shit creek, an improv teacher will always tell you to guide the audience back to the things you know how to do really well. On Whose Line Is It Anyway there was one guy who was amazingly good at impressions – when he couldn’t hang, guess what he did? An impression. The audience didn’t mind because he was so damn good at it.

In sales, when you’re dealing with random questions during a presentation and feel lost, push it toward what you feel most comfortable talking about or relate it back to the strengths of your product.

Improv Improves Your Chutzpah

If you’re really confident about something, you project that aura and people respect that. Improv will teach you that you can’t worry about saying the right or wrong thing – the important thing is that you’re committed to your answer.

Improv comedy is all about thinking on your feet, and, who knows, you might even get a rep as that funny, incredibly witty sales guy. With a little practice, you’ll become more aware of the tactics used to shape and control the conversation in your favor and be on your way to legendary status.

Photo: Whose Line Is It Anyway? cast. Courtesy of: whoselinequote.tumblr.com

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.


  1. You’re right – a class in improv is a fantastic way for salespeople to improve skills. Twenty years ago, I took two improv classes for that purpose. It was much more effective (and way more fun) than any sales training programs I had experienced.

    Improv heightens listening skills. If you zone out or get distracted in the middle of an improv scene. you’re toast, and so is the scene. There’s nothing better to hone one’s ability to ad lib or pivot in the middle of a conversation.

    But there’s a part of the improv protocol that doesn’t match up with sales situations – at least the protocol I was taught: none of the actors were allowed to say ‘no’, or to refute the thread that another actor had initiated. If Actor A said that an imaginary object was a hammer that he was using to bang on a pot lid, Actor B had to play along with that by embellishing or adding to the scenario. Countering kills the flow of improv.

    That dynamic does not occur in a sales call. Still, I encourage anyone who works with customers to try out improv. It’s well worth the time.


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