Four Secrets Comedians Use to Keep Conversations Alive

Why you should hone up on your improv skills for that next job interview!

Author Samantha Field from Life's Secret Sauce (shot at Camp Big Canoe in 2011

Author Samantha Field from Life's Secret Sauce (shot at Camp Big Canoe in 2011

How many times have you been in a conversation and suddenly the topic changed and you’re left with nothing to say? You waited for that perfect moment to interject your two cents and now everyone is on to a new subject and you’re stuck trying to find something to say. It’s frustrating; you had the perfect joke prepared to bring everyone to tears but now you’ve missed your chance.  Don’t fret, the cure has arrived!

Refining your improvisation skills may not be at the top of your to-do list but the ability to react to changes within a conversation in an instant will leave others awed at your social prowess. To improvise doesn’t mean you weren’t prepared, but instead are in a situation for which you could not prepare.  Similar to improv comedy sketches, conversations flow and move from one topic to the next without hesitation.  Improv Comedians are masters at keeping a dialogue moving, they are prepared to make things up on the spot no matter where the conversation ‘turns’. This isn’t a natural gift, but a skill that is honed and perfected through practice.  They play games, practice scenes, and stretch their minds so they are prepared no matter the situation.  You don’t need to be ready to lead open mic night at the comedy club, but using these techniques of improv will help navigate even the most treacherous of conversations.

The following 4 rules come to you from one of the most famous women in the comedy scene, Tina Fey!

  1. Agree

  2. Yes And

  3. Make Statements

  4. No Mistakes, Just Opportunity

But how do we use these simple rules of improv in a world of complicated conversations?

Rule 1- Agree

Show Respect for what your partner has created

There isn’t much that can derail a quality conversation faster than staunch disagreement with whatever the person has said. A quality conversation is give and take, two or more people exchanging ideas and information.  But, any conversation will soon come to a screeching halt if neither party can find common ground. The 1st rule of improv, and one vital to quality conversations, is to show respect for what your partner has created.  In improv scenes the agreement is literal, you accept what was said and build from it to keep a scene moving and continue the storyline.  This doesn’t mean you must agree with everything someone says, (have you seen Jim Carrey in Yes Man?) but for the conversation’s sake, agree to disagree and keep the dialogue moving forward.  Respect the ideas of those in the conversation and being willing and able to change topics to avoid a disagreement can help build a strong foundation for the conversation to grow.

Rule 2- Yes And

Contribute something

Whether it’s a sketch comedy scene or a conversation in the boardroom when all eyes are focused on you do you know what to say next? The easiest way to keep a conversation moving is to agree (1st rule) and then ADD in your own thoughts or ideas on the topic. In improv, when one participant adds a new idea to the scene it takes the pressure off the first actor to come up with a new subject.  We’ve all been in one of those conversations when it’s pulling teeth to get the other party to engage in what you’re saying. Perhaps you were the person getting your teeth pulled?  Adding to the exchange to create new topics for discussion shows you’re paying attention and being active in the conversation.

Rule 3- Make Statements

Don’t ask questions all the time

Always add value to your conversation. Open-ended questions are great at keeping a conversation flowing but if your only input is asking more questions, your conversation may seem more like an interview to everyone else. Remember, you’re more interesting than you give yourself credit and others want to know something more about what you’re thinking or your own insight. This gives room for the conversation to grow and develop.

If you can’t think of anything to say try building from information earlier in the conversation. For example, if you asked where someone is from, add your opinion about that city. Have you been there? Did you ever want to visit? Maybe you read something interesting about the pizza there. Keep talking until whoever you’re speaking with has found a topic in which they can expand. This approach provides more information from you and will keep the conversation moving forward in a more natural manner.

Rule 4- No mistakes only opportunity

Learn to adapt and stay positive

Sometimes conversation don’t go as planned. This is okay. There are so many variables involved in each conversation and you can’t control everything. You have no control over the emotions of the others involved, or how their day has been going up to this point. Remember that there are no mistakes, only opportunities and each experience can provide a new learning opportunity. Stay positive and adapt to new situations. Just as an improv comedian needs to adapt and change direction to get through a scene, using these tactics help to maneuver difficult conversations.

Enjoy each opportunity to practice. Regardless if you feel like it was an unsuccessful conversation, it should provide lessons that can be taken into your next situation. Learn the rules, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and know that trying is better than avoiding the situation!

Using the 4 rules of improv to help guide your choices throughout a conversation leads to more flow and less likelihood of awkward pauses. Just like the professionals in improv comedy this skill takes practice. You won’t become a professional conversationalist overnight. Everyone makes mistakes along the way, even if you have been doing it forever.

To learn more about conducting meaningful conversations, ridding yourself of social awkwardness, and building bulletproof confidence in any social situation visit out site Life’s Secret Sauce. Just for joining our community we will provide you with a FREE E-book of 5 ways to always have something interesting to say in a conversation.

(Note from Travis:    We're excited to feature this article from Life's Secret Sauce - Sam Field is a camp friend and former Camp Big Canoe staffer!)

Life’s Secret Sauce, founded by Brandon Slater & Samantha Field, has been designed to teach young urban professionals how to have engaging and meaningful conversations as well as increase their networking skills. As public speakers in the Cruise industry they have learned what it takes to build relationships, connections and engage in great conversation without distraction. Currently they live in Miami with their Shiba Inu puppy, Azumi, and enjoy hiking in Alaska throughout the summer months. To learn more click here!