by Charlotte Frankel
At UCB, we offer a variety of improv workshops to businesses both big and small, helping improve communication and collaboration between coworkers. We spoke with our Head of Learning Chelsea Clarke to learn more about the basic structure of our workshops, what you can expect when participating, and how improv has helped improve communication on a variety of levels in the places we have worked.
How long is the workshop?
Each workshop is usually 1-2 hours, but we can also schedule a series of workshops.
How many people can we have in the workshop?
We’ve had anywhere between under 10 and over 300 people at workshops. We can tailor the experience to your needs.
How much does the workshop cost?
This is dependent upon your business. We’ll work with you and your company to find a fair price.
Do we need any previous improv experience?
How should we set up the room?
We’ve worked in rooms set up in almost every conceivable way, but what we’ve found to work best is an open space in a location that won’t be disruptive to the rest of the office.
Who teaches the workshop?
Our veteran teachers, who have been with us for 8-10 years.
Will people be uncomfortable? Is it scary?
People will be pushed out of their comfort zones, but we always ensure that everyone feels safe. You’re also welcome to just watch, although we encourage participation!
How do we make sure everyone is safe?
We will never push anyone to participate that doesn’t want to. Our teachers ensure that the space feels safe and open, and we encourage anyone who feels uncomfortable to say so.
What will we take away?
You’ll walk away with a basic understanding of the key principles of improv and how they can be applied to business, specifically communication.
What exercises will we do?
We’ll do a variety of warm-ups and practice "yes, and"-ing one another, the core principle of improv. We’ll follow that by doing short scenes amongst ourselves.
Can we ask questions?
What happens if not everyone is a native English speaker?
We’ve worked with entire groups of non-English speakers and a translator. While the comedy can sometimes be lost, the concept of ‘yes-and’ is slow and easy to understand, so everyone still walks away with the same core understanding that you would if we were running a workshop for native English speakers.
We have a differently-abled participant. Can they still participate?
Of course! Improv is accessible to everyone.
What if we’re not funny?
It honestly doesn’t matter. We’re more focused on making sure everyone grasps the core concepts than forcing humor.
Does everyone have to participate?
Not at all. The workshops are guilt-free spaces.
What time of day should we do this workshop?
We can do the workshop at any time of day and have it be successful. It’s really up to you and what you think works best for your company.
Do people drink during the workshop?
You can, although it doesn’t ever help with the improvisation. However, people will usually grab a beer at the end together and recap what they’ve learned.
Can you accommodate large groups? How does that work?
Yes! We add more instructors depending on the size of the group. When workshops are especially large, we’ll run them similar to a masterclass, with multiple teachers floating around in a room with a collection of smaller groups.
What kind of specific skills do you help people with?
We work with people primarily on communication skills. ‘Yes, and-ing’ is main cornerstone of improv and usually biggest takeaway from any of our workshops. We teach how to best use ‘yes, and,’ and why it’s useful for improving both collaboration and communication in business.
Can you detail how improv can help with public speaking?
Improv can be frightening for people. It can be a worst-case scenario for someone to get up on stage and not know what they’re going to do. I think that exposing yourself to that fear and taking steps to overcome it can make public speaking, in general, less scary. For those who are not necessarily afraid of public speaking, improv can be really helpful in learning how to roll with the unexpected, especially of you are working with a pre-planned speech and want to make it more engaging.
What’s a good improv warm-up for someone nervous about saying the wrong thing?
We have a lot of improv warm-ups that force someone to say something when they need to versus when they have the right thing to say. Something like ‘seven things,’ where you have to just list seven things quickly and you don’t get to say ‘um’ or pause, is an exercise you can do on your own and will help loosen you up before a presentation or meeting.
How do improvisers get comfortable in front of a crowd?
The best way is to expose the audience to your own personality early on. Banter helps the crowd warm up to you and vice versa, since you’re both getting a peek at the personality of the other.
How can improv help with script-based public speaking, versus extemporaneous speech?
Being in tune with what’s happening in the room is really important to making script-based public speaking engaging. You have to be comfortable on stage in an extemporaneous way in order to pick up on things that are happening in the room and to feel confident enough to go off script.
Can you give us an example of some of the more interesting kinds of workshops you’ve set up?
In terms of space, we did a few workshops in the old abandoned TWA terminal at JFK, which is a total blast from the past place in that it’s absolutely gorgeous and looks like the 60s. We’ve done workshop series to support some female political candidates that I think had two-fold benefits. First, it was a fun event for them to do together and learn about one another and what was affecting their areas of the state and city. Second, the workshops gave them some tools to be more nimble communicating and talking with people, which is all politicians are doing all day. We’ve also done some networking workshops that are about giving people some common painful scenarios in networking in a relatively safe space. The people in the workshops already know one another, so it’s all about testing some of the less comfortable networking situations you can be in and how best to navigate them.
Why is improv so valuable as a tool for organizations?
It’s fun. It’s team building. It provides inside jokes and experiences that people can reflect back on later, building connections with coworkers that they might not usually work with. Alongside those benefits come the importance of “yes, and” and the ability to call back to jokes from the workshop to let's say get a meeting back on track when everyone is back at the office.
Who benefits the most from taking an improv workshop?
I think anyone to whom the sound of an improv workshop sounds frightening would best benefit from participating in one. If that sounds like a nightmare to you, to get up on stage and not know what’s going to happen, or have to be funny on stage, then you should take it. It’s really nice to go into something thinking it’s going to be very difficult, and then doing it and realizing it’s not that bad -- and maybe even a little fun.
Would you like UCB to bring a workshop to your organization? Contact David.Ma@UCBcomedy.com