What My Mother’s Italian Cooking Taught Me about Sales and Improv

By Guest Blogger: Michael Boothby

Every year around the holidays my mother, Mama Booth, slaves away in the kitchen for hours preparing a feast for the entire family and friends; appetizers, mains, desserts, the whole shebang.  Every year, she complains after the meal that she’ll never do it again, and yet the following year, she’s back in the kitchen trying out new recipes in an attempt to outdo herself.  Mama Booth is the master of large Italian meals.  She succeeds because she’s not afraid to take risks and always leaves us wanting more.  If you want to succeed in sales and improv, take some notes from Mama Booth.

Note #1: It’s All about Attitude

To improve your sales technique and your improvisational skills, you must hold yourself accountable and stay motivated.  When I was doing door-to-door sales in New Zealand for a charity, I faced more rejection in one day than most people face in a lifetime.  I even got attacked by a dog once!  It’s easy to become discouraged, but you have to keep your head up.  I would create games to keep myself motivated.  I would see how many times I could get the next person smile during my pitch or force myself to greet people in ways that I found amusing.  Emotions are contagious, and if you’re not enjoying yourself, clients won’t either, and you will lose potential sales.

The same theory of emotional contagion applies to improv and performing.  Some nights you will have bad shows.  It’s easy to beat yourself up and develop a bad attitude.  Take the pressure off yourself.  Treat every show as another opportunity for you to have fun.  Just as in sales, if you’re not enjoying yourself on stage, the audience will feel it and be taken out of the experience.  As a performer, you must manage your attitude before, during, and after shows.  Even if you bomb, you MUST have the courage to pick yourself up and throw yourself back in the fire again.  If Mama Booth decided after every Christmas to quit cooking forever, we would be sad and hungry.  Don’t leave your audiences sad and hungry!

Note #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

Albert Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  By Einstein’s standards, many people in sales are insane.  If you are pitching by the script “that has been proven to work” every time and not getting results, you MUST change it up.  Whether it’s the way you’re saying it or the words you’re using, don’t be afraid to make your own edits.  A successful sales pitch must appear genuine.  Play to the strengths of your personality.  Don’t try to fit a round peg in a square hole.

An improv show shouldn’t be the same every time.  If it is…it’s probably not improv.  When you’ve performed enough, you do learn what feels comfortable for you.  However, no one wants to see you play the same way every show!  If Mama Booth cooked the same meal every year, we would still be grateful, but we would also be bored!  Don’t bore your audience and don’t limit your potential.  You will never know the depth of your improv ability until you push yourself out of your comfort zone on stage.  Who knows, you may create characters and scenes you never knew you could.

Note #3: Always Leave Them Wanting More

I know I said earlier that Mama Booth never leaves the family hungry, and she doesn’t!  Likewise, you should never leave your clients/the audience “hungry,” but you should always leave them wanting more.  What do I mean?

Mama Booth always keeps us guessing.  We think, “Wow, Dinner was amazing…but what’s for dessert!?”  Or “The Christmas Feast was amazing…I wonder what she’ll make for New Years!?”  In sales, you always want to take your client on a similar but less culinary rollercoaster of emotion.  You want them to invest in your pitch.  You should never go on so long that they become bored.  Close at the peak of the rollercoaster.

The same can be said for improv.  Knowing when to edit your scenes is an important skill to develop as a player.  Even a scene that’s going well should be edited on a high note.  You never want a scene to last long enough that the game or characters become boring or stale.  Remember you can always come back to a good idea after it’s been established.  Leave the audience wondering how you will incorporate the game or the characters later in the show.  When you do finally call back to the earlier scene, they will love you for it.

We can’t all be the Italian Superstar Mothers that Mama Booth is, but we can incorporate her lessons into our own lives.  Sales and improv are both highly demanding skills that can wear us down if we let them.  Remember to be easy on yourself when the going gets tough.  We’re always learning and always improving.  Don’t be afraid to take risks and always leave them wanting more.  Most importantly though, remember to have fun.  If you find no satisfaction or enjoyment in what you are doing then let this be the motivation you need to do something that inspires you.

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.