Improv Exercises to Sharpen Your PR Game

June 12, 2009

You’re an argumentative giraffe bickering with a snooty post office worker over sending bananas to your cousin in the African savannah. Sound familiar? Unless you’ve dropped by an improv comedy show recently, the scenario above probably sounds like nonsensical ramblings.

Absurdity and occasional crudeness aside, parallels exist between PR and improv. Story telling, expressive communication, thinking under pressure and deftly drawing emotions from audiences are hallmarks of effective communicators, professional or comedic.  

To drive home the point, two improv exercises are included below with PR parallels . Beyond humor, the exercises galvanize players by honing communication and timing skills while fostering camaraderie. If you’re in an office, consider calling a meeting with colleagues to join in some “professional development” and clear your heads with a few laughs. They also make good drinking games.

These exercises and more are available at:

Machine – The first player starts with a repetitive activity and an associated noise. The next players add to the machine with some activity that fits into the previous player’s activity. This continues until a machine is created. The machine is sped up and slowed down. Certain players can be asked by the audience or “engineer” to malfunction, and the whole machine must respond. There is no leader in the creation of the machine. It is important that all the players reflect the changes in each part of the machine.

PR Lesson – As traditional media becomes social and technology expands, you can no longer be an “expert” in everything. Roles are evolving, and while some folks excel at telling a relatable story, they can’t effectively do their job without information from the trendspotter. In building and maintaining brand identity, each part of the machine (agency) performs an equally important function allowing the other parts to keep operating. 

The machine also must be able to adapt on the fly. In PR, the traditional President down to junior account executive model is evolving as social media feeds the 24-hour information/news vacuum. New titles are emerging and Brian Solis of PR2.0 offers a few in his blog post, The State of PR, Marketing, and Communications: You are the Future.  He talks about Digital Sociologists, Digital Ethnographers, Research Librarians and Community Managers filling roles in the next generation of “New Media communications and marketing organizations.” It’s good reading.

Digits – All players stand in a circle. One person starts by saying a single word and it goes around the circle with each person saying a single word to make a story. The story is not over until a reasonable conclusion of some sort is achieved and someone says “End.” It’s harder than it sounds.

PR Lesson – Listening is a vastly underrated skill. This is a fun exercise that sharpens the mind while cultivating creativity by forcing team members to engage as listeners and story tellers at the same time. Because we love to pontificate, the One Word aspect can be difficult since everyone wants to drop $10 words or give a description making them the funny guy or gal. In order for it to work though, players have to be willing to sacrifice a chance at wittiness in favor of boring articles such as “at” or “the” giving story flow priority over self-gratification.

To continue growing, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that PR isn’t always glamorous and zero words is better than 140 characters, especially if it allows you to listen and absorb.

Posted by: Nick