What Do Effective Zoom Calls and Improv Comedy Have in Common?
What Do Effective Zoom Calls and Improv Comedy Have in Common?
Steve Pao
August 9, 2021
“With improv, it’s a combination of listening and not trying to be funny.”
— Kristen Wiig

Improv comedy?  I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly funny guy or the life of the party.  Yet, in my quest to learn new business practices brought on by work from home (WFH), a former colleague introduced me to techniques from improv comedy through a series of interactive workshops.  Amplified Team Training brings its heritage from the Improv Asylum in Boston and Second City in Chicago to help teams improve onboarding of new hires, integrate teams through M&A, and communicate more effectively day-to-day—even over Zoom!

What do effective Zoom calls and improv have in common?

According to Chet Harding, CEO of Amplified Team Training, they both require two often underutilized elements of engagement in our team interactions.

  • Active listening. Listening all the way through instead of just waiting for someone else to stop talking
  • A “Yes and” Mindset.  Not only avoiding the negative reactions that can kill a conversation but also the openness to build on the ideas of others.

As a way to introduce themselves, Chet and Eric, the founders of Amplified Team Training host a podcast series consisting of discussions with business leaders to talk about leadership and new challenges brought on by the current landscape.  I had the privilege of being a guest on Episode 10 of their podcast series to discuss both their improv training and other topics.

Specific to my experience with Amplified Team Training and improv comedy, I appreciated the power of getting everyone to participate, where no one individual could take it over.  Scenes could end up in places I’d never expect through “Yes and” where each of us had to agree but then build on what the group constructed together.  In daily life, we might be habituated in saying “no but” to keep our interactions “on track”, there’s a different mindset of saying “yes and” to drive innovation and creativity.  We also discussed the power of silence, even when people are afraid of silence.  Still, it is hard to work off someone else in improv - or in business - when we are not listening and instead just thinking about what we’ll say or do next.  

Beyond improv, we also explored other topics in our discussion, including:

  • Comparing teams in innovative startups versus operating at scale
  • Driving culture and growth with new hires
  • Sustaining support and trust in collaborative work
  • Challenges with ideation and creativity in WFH over Zoom
  • New systems and business habits needed in the modern era

Eric and Chet also gave me an opportunity to chat on their podcast about the work I’m doing at AMPLL, where we are developing a new work/life energy tracking application based on social science, our work activity, and our feedback on whether certain interactions give us “gains” or “drains.”  We’re just getting started at AMPLL, but we believe the application could serve as a part of a new standard of care for workplace burnout.

In addition to their podcast, Amplified Team Training promotes their methodology to individuals through free, introductory workshops for individuals which combine a series of fun exercises borrowed from Improv comedy with open discussion about how these experiences tie in with business.  If you’re interested in learning more, the next Amplified Team training workshop is June 17th at 9:00am Pacific time. Check out the Upcoming Events on their LinkedIn page. 

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Steve Pao

Steve Pao is Chief Product Officer at Ampll and a member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, an opt-in research community of business professionals. Prior to Ampll, Steve was an early employee and product executive at two companies that did IPOs (Latitude Communications in 1999 and Barracuda Networks in 2013). Steve is a proud "empty nester" and lives in Portland, OR with his wife whom he met in 7th grade German class.

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