You just moved to a new city where you are out of your comfort zone, nervous and alone. It’s your first day at your new job, and you think you’ve accepted a role that you aren’t quite qualified for. Or maybe you’ve just started a new graduate program and your teacher assigned you a challenging group project.
In all of these situations, you want to build not only a professional network but a new social circle. Where in the world do you start? Here are four ways the art of improvisation can help you overcome your fears, make connections and establish new relationships, all while having fun in the process. Networking is really NETing a new outcome based on the WORK you put in. Follow these four simple tips to help jump start the process:
# 1: Initiate
In improv, one player must initiate the scene. They must pick an idea and immediately run with it in order for the scene to successfully start. There is no time for thinking or self-editing. In the same vein, if you are in a new situation and want to gain acquaintances, you must initiate in order to network! The more time you spend thinking about what to say and editing yourself, the less likely you are to take any action at all. If someone looks interesting, go up and introduce yourself. You’ll never know what opportunities that person may present to you until you initiate.
#2: Be Present and Actively Listen
So you’ve walked over and introduced yourself. Now what? You can start by making an observation about the person you’re talking to or the environment. The entire time, you are listening to see how the other person reacts and what topics they dive into. In improv, it is essential to always be present and listening. A scene can change at any moment, and if you’re not listening, you’ll miss out on many opportunities. People enjoy talking about what they know and love. When they bring up a topic of interest, ask questions and truly listen. If you show interest in them, they will be interested in hearing about you.
#3: If You Make Your Partner Look Good, You Will Look Good
This is an addendum to the last tip. It’s an old saying in improv that if you make your partner look good, you will also look good. On stage, this translates to not making your partner do anything you wouldn’t want to do yourself. You must work together and be willing to give up some of your creative control for the success of the scene. In real life, this translates to being respectful of others and expressing yourself in a positive way. If you like something about someone, compliment them genuinely. When someone is telling you a story, don’t think about what story you’re going to tell them after; listen with genuine enthusiasm. As Dale Carnegie said, make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
#4: Have Fun
This one seems simple, but it’s just as important as the other three. At the end of my introductory improv class in college, my teacher sat us down and asked us to name all the rules and tricks we’d learned. After writing them all on the board, he wrote one more “Forget it all! Have Fun!” Some of my favorite scenes I’ve ever performed on stage were scenes where I was enjoying myself so much; I could barely keep myself from laughing. When you’re out networking or socializing, you must also have fun! If talking to strangers feels like work to you, you’re going to lose motivation quickly. Most importantly, the person you’re talking with will sense that you don’t want to be there and lose interest. If you’re enjoying yourself, chances are good others will want to enjoy your company.
There you have it: four improv inspired tips to help you become a better networker. Now get out there and make some connections!
Michael Boothby is an aspiring entrepreneur, comedian, and improviser currently traveling New Zealand. He is a life long learner with a passion for studying, teaching and inspiring others with his love of improv.
In the four and a half months he spent in the small town of Wanaka, he devised and trained an improv ensemble on the fundamentals of improvisation as well as produced and directed their shows. He now lives in Wellington where he continues to teach and perform as often as he can.