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Matt Matheson

The three golden rules of Improv

On the first Friday of each month we invite a guest speaker to come and present to us – topics can be anything – ranging so far from generative art to comedy improvisation. In April, John Cremer, improvisation expert and business improv coach, kindly agreed to facilitate an improvisation workshop for the team – and fantastic it was!

Throughout the course, we took part in a number activities to help us understand the three golden rules of improvisation and how they can help us at work – Listen, Say Yes, and Commit.

Whilst it’s massively fun taking part in Improv exercises (I do it every week!) these three principles are also mega important to us in the workplace – why? Let’s explore them!


We sat in a circle and tried to count to 20, as a group. Someone starts at one, and nobody know who will say ‘two’ and ‘three’ and so on. Whilst this may sound simple, it’s incredibly tricky to get right. If two people say a number at the same time, we have to start again – and this happens often! After finally making it to 20, we asked for feedback from the team about how they felt when taking part in the activity. ‘Tense, quiet, alert, concentrating and conscious’ are the key themes that came out.

Listening is important. It’s a core offering here at NixonMcInnes for our clients – we help them carefully listen to what’s being said about them and advise them how to respond. The best thing you can do for your clients is listen carefully – *very* carefully. In doing so, you’ll pick up on those elements that might not be obvious at first and through this process we can understand their needs better, accurately relay what we have learnt from them back to them, and deliver more effectively and successfully for them. Don’t try and rush the next step – listen carefully and the next step will become clear.

Say Yes.

In the workshop, we formed groups of three, with two people having a conversation and one person observing. In this conversation, every sentence has to start with ‘Yes, and…’ until the allotted time was up. After all taking turns to have a conversation in this style, we then tried it again saying ‘Yes, but…’. It’s amazing the different directions the conversation can go with a simple change of one word…

Saying ‘Yes, and’ opens up a world of possibilities and puts your mind into a positive state that seeks out possibility. If you accept what is given to you, after listening carefully, you can take that offer and build it to heights you never thought possible. If you respond with ‘yes, but..’ this imposes a negative direction to the conversation and closes down the opportunity to build upon prompts and ideas.

When having conversations with your team-mates or clients, try putting yourself in the ‘yes and…’ mode of thinking and you’ll see your collaboration build no end. Try to avoid the word ‘but’ – this encourages negative thinking!

T-Mobile’s strategy team have these three rules on the wall in each of their workshops and we’ve been trying to incorporate similar rules here at NixonMcInnes and it really helps. A few simple rules to guide people will allow ideas to develop and grow, comfortably. We try not to allow the use of ‘but’ in our brainstorms and it’s surprising what a difference this makes.


In groups of three, we were asked to sell fictional products to the rest of the group in a two minute window, in a QVC style. Suggestions from the group of what to sell came in – with one being ‘An iron, made of Jelly, that transports you to the future’.

To do this, we ‘listen’ to the product given to us, we say ‘yes’ to that offer and build that product into something amazing and outrageous and in ‘committing’ ourselves to sell this crazy product without any inhibitions, we create a solid performance – regardless of the product nature!

If you’re going to do something, give it your all, 100% and nothing less. Even if you are unsure of yourself, commit to the delivery 100%, follow through on your actions and this will pay dividends for you.

So there we have it, the three golden rules of Improv. Listen, Say Yes, and Commit. Whilst simple, they really do get forgotten too often. So give it a try – Listen, Say Yes – and COMMIT!

Thanks to teemow for the photo.

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