4 Improv Games That Will Help Loosen Marketers Up

Upright Citizens Brigade gives a crash course in comedy at 4A's

Two marketers play Mind Meld, which involves cooperative thinking. Jameson Fleming
Headshot of Jameson Fleming

A pair of comedians from the Upright Citizens Brigade promised a group of advertisers at the 4A’s Accelerate conference that contorting their bodies into the letters W and K served a real purpose.

Abra Tabak and Chelsea Clarke hosted the improv workshop at 4A's.
Jameson Fleming

The workshop, which UCB’s director of corporate learning Chelsea Clarke and performer and instructor Abra Tabak hosted, used games like forming letters with your bodies without communicating with your partner as ways to unlock the creativity inside.

“You can get discouraged and burnt out having to produce so many ideas for one product or a campaign launch,” Clarke said. “It is possible to rewind with your team and have a more brainstorming mindset.”

While UCB is best known for producing comedians like Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh and Matt Besser, it’s also teamed up with the 4A’s to create a corporate learning program featuring five workshops, which tackle topics like agency team building, building a mic drop-worthy presentation and better storytelling.

Here’s a taste of what the workshop taught.

The Name Game

The hosts opened the session with an icebreaker that left participants trusting the strangers seated at their tables. The task was simple: Tell the story of how you got your first name. Besides making it much easier to recall the name of everyone at the table, the game has two purposes.

First, it allowed everyone to engage each other during a vulnerable moment while admitting a truth. Second, the more the group went around the table, the more comfortable everyone got with each other, building a bond that makes sharing ideas second nature.

Mind Meld

How you play: Two people yell a word out simultaneously. During the next round, they yell another word that they think is the perfect blend of those two words. They keep going until they yell the same word.

Example: The two people yell “Christmas” and “Bruce Willis.” The next round, the most relatable word could be “Die Hard.” If both participants yell “Die Hard,” then the round would be over. If they don’t, they try again based on their latest exclamations.

These advertisers put their whole bodies into making a 'W.'
Jameson Fleming

So what do marketers get out of this game? According to the UCB duo, as frustrations mount during the game because you can go round after round without matching your partner (some attempts at this game during the workshop lasted 20-plus rounds), it’s important to not bail and lose interest. The lack of desire becomes obvious, causing everyone involved to want to drop out. When working in groups on presentations or projects, if one person becomes disinterested, the entire group can easily begin to falter.

One Word at a Time

The duo from UCB taught listening skills with this next game. On stage, five women had to tell a story one word at a time as fast as possible. A fairy tale about a princess quickly evolved into an epic about a frog-hunting princess without a care in the world about finding a prince.

The game forced marketers to listen to each other and formulate a response on the fly. A participate couldn’t get attached to a thought or funny word because, by the time the sentence made it back her, that word may not make sense and she would slow the story down.

Yes, And

As the title game to UCB’s program at 4A’s, Abra and Chelsea spent the most time walking the group through this two-person exercise. It begins with a declarative statement like, “I want to have a Halloween party at the office.” In the first round of the game, the player’s partner must respond, “No,” and then add a thought to the idea. Players respond rejecting each other’s ideas and suggesting their own ideas.

The next iteration of the game involves the partners responding to each other’s ideas with, “Yes, but,” as a way to agree, but then tweak the idea.

The final iteration is “Yes, and” where players give each other positive feedback and add constructively to the pitch. The idea behind the game is that when you respond, “Yes, and,” you’re more likely to generate positive feedback and your energy increases as you bounce things off of each other.

This strategy creates an environment that makes it easier to pitch crazier ideas that could eventually pay off (like a cookbook for human meat that tells the stories of each person used in each recipe. Things got very weird during the workshop!). Otherwise, everyone in your office becomes too accustomed to only working on what sounds like the best ideas from the start instead of turning an off-the-wall idea into a game-changing campaign.

During 'Yes, And,' marketers created a cookbook filled with human meat recipes, which took a morbid turn and the left room in tears of laughter.
Jameson Fleming