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What Can Improv Teach Us About Public Relations?

Resetting Your Outlook and Generating New Ideas for 2018

By Paul Spooner, 2018 President, PRSA St. Louis

Think outside the box. Big ideas. No suggestion is a bad suggestion.

These are some of the cliché catchphrases that come to mind when you’re brainstorming a new project, planning for the new fiscal year or thinking about how to take your campaign viral. We’ll explore ways that improv relates to our profession and offer fresh ideas to reset your outlook for the year ahead.

Earlier this month, the 2018 PRSA Board gathered for their annual board retreat at The STL Improv Shop for team building. We also established our vision for 2018, ideated thought-provoking (yet practical and timely) programming for our members and discussed ways to build community within the chapter. Our 2017 chapter survey showed that the professional development topics members want to hear about include: marketing communications, social media, media relations (local), crisis communications and internal communications. We value your feedback and plan to bring you compelling content next year about these public relations topics.

Through our team building exercises at The Improv Shop, our Instructor Katie Nunn trained PRSA’s board members about effective teamwork and how to keep your audience engaged. Many of her teachable takeaways included below related to leading our chapter, but also applied to our varying roles in public relations.

Saying Yes—And!

We instinctively in our society like to say “No.” It makes our personal and professional lives safer and restrains the unknown; it often squashes creativity. But “Yes” can offer so many possibilities and a lasting impression. Fast Company reports that “Yes, And” improvisers always agree with the partner’s statement, then build on that premise with something new. Second City Exec Kelly Leonard (from Chicago’s premier comedy club) shares, “What you learn about improvisation when you apply ‘Yes, And’ is that there’s a bounty of ideas. In the business environment, when saying ‘Yes, And,’ you’re dealing with an abundance of possibilities. This creates an environment where ultimately you get the richest material.”

If Your Partners Look Good, the Team Looks Good

This plays into the familiar phrase—you're only as strong as your weakest link. In improv, it’s not always about being in the limelight; embrace the ensemble. Teamwork is about working together to make everyone look good, and capitalizing on the topic at hand. The assist is just as important as scoring the goal in soccer. In public relations, when an idea is already executed and the team has devoted resources to accomplishing that goal, throwing in brand new ideas can be counter-productive. You may have a brilliant idea brewing, but focusing on the task at hand is more important and better for the team. Ideas can easily be repurposed.

Be Versatile and Take Risks

In improv, thinking on your feet and adapting quickly is absolutely necessary in keeping your audience entertained. Taking risks also leads to hitting it out of the park and being remembered. Being versatile, adjusting to the situation and trusting your gut with ideas that empower will go the extra mile. It allows your audience to go on a journey, encounter revelations and ultimately taps their emotions. Harvard Business Review highlights that, in improv, little failures lead to larger successes, and business leaders need to embrace risk in the same way. 

STL Improv Shop Instructor Katie Nunn trained PRSA’s board members about effective teamwork and how to keep your audience engaged.

Paul Spooner currently serves as the President-Elect of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) St. Louis Chapter, assuming the role of President in 2018. He is the Senior Manager of Affiliate Relations and Ag Communications for the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), which aims to engage in dialogue with consumers who have questions about how today’s food is grown and raised. He has Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Communications Studies from The University of Iowa. In his free time, he sings in Vocal Edge, St. Louis’ Premier Men’s Vocal Band.

Top photo by Oscar Keys via Unsplash. Used with permission. 


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