3 improv skills for community managers

You’re not out to get big laughs, but spontaneous interaction is paramount to successful engagement with your audience.


Successful (and hilarious) improv is more like community management than you might think.

Both require working with another person (or a group), often in the moment, to solve problems with uncontrollable factors, such as a given environment or shared and internal feelings.

Both can feel risky and scary; both benefit from the practice of essential skills to become very good.

Many improv classes teach three key guidelines that you can use—with some tweaking and practice—to become more effective in your company and your community.

1. Accept and build

The “yes, and…” method is something I learned first from one of Indy Hall‘s first members during a brainstorming session. The goal of using “yes, and…” is to be able to accept contributions from the group, even if they need to be enhanced or modified in order to create value after the brainstorm.

In a community manager context, using “yes, and…” is a powerful way to bring somebody into the community by not only accepting their contribution but immediately using it as the foundation for something new. It signals that you’re there to collaborate, not just to lead.

Instead of immediately saying “no” to a community member’s or a team member’s request, try looking for a way that you can accept and build on their idea instead.

2. Make your partner look good

Truthfully, this guideline doesn’t work very well without the “accept and build” approach.

For community manager, your “partner” is the community, and you are the community’s partner. This is a two-way street.

There’s no room for sabotage in community management. Set your partners up to win. When you work to make everyone else look good, you both win. Simultaneously, you open the door for community members to go out of their way to make you look good, too.

This works with your company as well. You’re doing double duty in a way, making people look good in your community as well as within your team. When you work to keep those two in balance, the improved results are greater than the sum of the parts.

3. Dare to be average

This guideline is the toughest to swallow, especially when you’re working for early stage companies. It’s not their fault. Their instincts (and what they’re good at) is to go for the gold, do the most, be the best. And you’re probably feeling some pressure from them to meet or beat your goals.

In improv, this instinct is what keeps you from living in the moment while you look for the “perfect line” to get the most laughs. The sketch grinds to a halt.

Every second you spend looking for the “perfect execution” for your team is a second you’re not making your partners (your community members) look good, or giving them something to accept and build.

In community management, “being average” doesn’t mean letting yourself slack off. You have a job to do and results to show for your work. This sometimes means choosing the first idea in your head so that you can work with the community using the other two guidelines. This is how you and your company can become extraordinary together.

Putting guidelines into practice

Like improv, community management should be a creative experience for you, your members, and your team—and that requires practice.

How can you start implementing these ideas right away?

Alex Hillman is the co-founder of Indy Hall and publishes the Coworking Weekly email newsletter every Thursday. He has announced an upcoming eBook on “The Business of Communities.” A version of this article first appeared on CommunityManager.com.

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