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Improv Isn’t Just Funny Business

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Although training programs are designed extensively, facilitators need to be prepared for anything. Learners who continuously interrupt others. Learners who try to lead the class in a different direction. Learners who show disrespect to facilitators or other participants. These behaviors can affect learning outcomes. The facilitator, therefore, has a responsibility to manage them effectively. Enter improvisation.

Improv is the act of creating or performing spontaneously, without preparation. Sound familiar? It should come as no surprise that L&D professionals have taken an interest in adding improv training to their facilitation toolkit.

“Improv training isn't just for actors, it is for professionals who want to strengthen their communication, collaboration, and agility,” says Viet Hoang, a partner at Pint Size Ideas, a creative training group that explores the intersection of business, science, and art. “The competencies for successful improv are the same skills needed for the successful trainer.”

Hoang is facilitating the upcoming ATD LearnNow: Using Improv in Facilitation, March 8-9, in Alexandria, VA. I recently spoke with Hoang about how L&D professionals can use improv exercises to strengthen their facilitation skills and promote self-awareness. According to Hoang, competencies trainers can strengthen through improv training include communication, adaptability, collaboration, and creativity.


But Hoang notes that improv isn’t just a way to boost a facilitator’s skills and resiliency, they can apply the improvisation experience to their actual learning design. He explains that with skillful inquiry from a facilitator, improve-like activities can help participant reflect on their own behaviors and apply what they’ve learned. He recommends using everything from basic games that fortify specific skills to complex scenes that require co-creation. Several website, such as, provide comprehensive lists of improve-style games that trainers can use.

Hoang offers a few tips for L&D pros to learn improv. For starters, he suggests simply trying it out for yourself. Check out local theaters and national improv schools to see what’s available near you. Next, sometimes you can even have your organization partner with a local theater to co-facilitate learning sessions. He adds that the improviser can “teach the art form” and the trainer can “keep it relevant” for employees.

And, of course, attend ATD LearnNow: Using Improv in Facilitation. Hoang says that attendees will learn how to align improv exercises to support your existing programs, explain the exercises and objectives to your participants, and give feedback on their performance. In the meantime, be sure to read the recent TD article by Hoang, “Setting the Stage for Employee Success Through Improv.”

Listen to the complete podcast for more details on how to use improv to boost your facilitation skills and take your interaction with learners to the next level.

About the Author

Amanda Smith is the Learning & Development Community of Practice manager at the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Her specialties include educational planning, PR/marketing, and project management. Amanda has more than 12 years of experience in the non-profit sector, developing and marketing professional development programs for the adult learner.

Amanda brings a diverse and unique perspective on program development. She has worked for companies in healthcare, foodservice, commercial real-estate, and media industries, including the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP), International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), and the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation (NABEF). 

She also serves as president and spokesperson for the Alliance for Women in Media, National Capital Area Chapter (AWM-NCAC) in Washington, D.C.  She resides in the D.C. Metro area with her husband and two children.

1 Comment
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I love improv. It has served me well as a trainer. Great article.
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