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Improv Comedy Helping Improve Communication At Work

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Many people are afraid of getting up in front of a group to give a speech, but there's a popular way business professionals are getting over that fear. More and more people are taking improv classes.

There are several courses in the Twin Cities. They're not trying to recruit actors or comedians, they're teaching business pros valuable skills to take back to the office.

Dr. William Sommers knows well the value of education. The author is considered an authority on the subject. So why would a 66-year-old retired principal -- who can't stay retired -- be taking improv classes?

"It keeps me in a learning mode, not being complacent, saying 'I've been in this for 40 years,'" he said. "I'd be a fool to say I've seen it all.  You've never seen it all."

Like many others, Sommers takes the classes for their job. They all want to be better communicators, team players, and more confident.

At Stevie Ray's Improv Company, the classes are specifically designed for working professionals.

"I'd say about 80 percent of our people are not here to perform comedy," executive director and co-founder Stevie Ray said.

The students go through exercises to get their minds going, to think on their feet and to listen.

"We find that it sharpens people's mental acuity, their listening skills, their focus," Ray said. "Things like that you'd never expect to be part of an improv class, but those are the building blocks of being improvisation in all areas of life."

Students say it works.

"My relationships with other team members have improved and we became more productive," computer programmer Glen De Guzman said.

They come to learn as well as have fun, but most likely won't be quitting their day jobs.

"I'm a principal. I'm already a comedian. If you don't have a sense of humor you're probably not going to last very long," Sommers said.

Ray is also heavily recruited to come speak to corporations and groups.      He says he's worked with almost every big company in town, and even school district staffs. The cost is $195 for an eight-week course.

We asked for some advice for our viewers. He said to warm up your brain before work by taking a different way to the office or brushing your teeth with a different hand. Never start a meeting without a warmup. Start a spontaneous conversation with someone such as a cashier.

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