Improv: The Secret to Being A Better Tech Professional

If I asked you to describe the list of qualities in a successful tech professional versus a successful improv theater performer, you probably wouldn’t give me two lists that looked very much alike. The former might include terms like creative, problem solver, and organized; the latter might include terms like funny, fearless, and shameless.

Of course, if you ask me — someone who both works in tech and takes improv classes – I’d create two nearly identical lists, but that’s because I know something that many people don’t know about improv: being a fearless comedian is not what makes you good at improv. To be good at improv, you need to be able to understand group dynamics, tell stories, and say yes in the face of the unknown. In many ways, improv draws on skills we cultivate as tech professionals.

Looking to become a better collaborator or designer? Looking to become more relaxed about all of the unknowns that can come with a career in tech? Or are you tired of books and articles and looking for a different approach to professional development? Then I highly suggest you consider taking improv classes.

You’ll Become a Great Listener

Being a good listener is a required skill to succeed in the tech industry. We listen to users’ needs, motivations, and challenges. We listen to our coworkers’ and clients’ visions, questions, and concerns. We need to fully take in what they say and how they say it so we can purposefully move a project forward.

Having trouble paying attention to group conversations or remembering what others have said? An improv course is a great way to build up those listening skills. Not only will you learn to pay very close attention to what other people say, but you’ll become finely attuned to more subtle cues and tones. Bring these skills back to client meetings, coworker collaboration, and user interviews.

A handful of Vigets showing us that group dynamics work best when people listen.

You’ll Learn the Art of Storytelling

You hear it constantly as a designer — “What is the story you’re trying to tell?”. Whether it be in a sketching session with co-workers, in a client presentation, or in a post for the company blog, we’re always thinking about the narrative we need to craft in order to move people through an experience and get everyone on the same page.

If you feel like your storytelling skills are falling flat, take improv classes! You’ll work on your aforementioned listening skills, how to get to the meat of the story, how to emphasize the right parts of your story to keep the audience’s interest, and more. You can bring these skills to your writing, presentations, and collaboration.

Resident Viget storyteller Ally Fouts wowed us with her skills during the latest Viget talent show.

You’ll Learn When to Let Others Lead

Trust is key in successful collaborations. We need to trust our users’ experiences and feedback. We need to trust our coworkers and clients as partners, and that their ideas and visions have merit. People who can’t trust always need to be in control, and this leads to conflicts and stalemates.

If you find yourself having trouble being led by others and know that you need to learn to give trust more readily, improv classes might be the answer. You’ll learn how to balance your ideas with others, and how to navigate many unknowns together. You’ll learn when a performance benefits from stepping back and letting someone else take the spotlight, and when the group needs you to take more control. Bring these skills back to collaboration sessions and client meetings.

Viget’s own Josh Korr has proven time and time again that he’s our fearless leader when it comes to group sing-alongs.

You’ll Become Comfortable with Curve Balls

Curve balls can be one of the most annoying parts of any project. A new requirement comes up. User testing yielded a bunch of unexpected problems. That client meeting totally didn’t go as planned. It can be all too easy to let those curve balls get us down and make a project more difficult.

If you want to work on accepting the unknown, give improv a try. You’re constantly dealing with unknowns being thrown your way and responding to conversations and scenarios on the fly. Learning to accept all of these unknowns carries over to life outside the classroom and helps you approach curve ball situations with a can-do attitude. Bring these skills back to the overall day-to-day of professional life.

What do a bunch of Vigets do when they’re asked to make fire without matches? They use what they have and accept the curveball, of course.

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Professional development happens in many ways. We read, we sketch, we build. But what about taking a path to professional development that’s a little bit less direct? Taking improv classes will make you a better team player, improve your storytelling skills, and teach you to roll with the punches. Best of all, it will build these skills without actually feeling like work. You’ll become someone who everyone wants to work with, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun than reading a book.

Samara is a user experience designer in Viget's Falls Church, VA, HQ, where she works with clients such as Catholic Charities and the White House Historical Association. She enjoys sketching, creating information architecture, and teaching UX to fresh industry faces.

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