How To Keep The Conversation Alive: 4 Improv Rules by Tina Fey

Why you should hone your improv skills before that next job interview!

How many times have you been in a conversation and the topic changed so quickly you never had the opportunity to say your part? You waited for that perfect moment to insert your witty joke and now everyone has moved the conversation forward. It’s frustrating; you had the perfect punchline prepared but you’ve missed your chance.  Don’t fret, it happens to the best of us!

Refining your improvisation skills may not be at the top of your to-do list but the ability to react to changes within a conversation in an instant will leave others in awe of your charisma and charm. To improvise doesn’t mean you weren’t prepared, but instead are in a situation for which you could not prepare.

Similar to comedy sketches, conversations flow and move from one topic to the next rapidly.  Improv comedians are prepared to make things up on the spot to keep a dialogue moving. This isn’t a natural gift, but a skill that is honed and perfected through practice.  They are prepared no matter what situation unfolds.  You don’t need to be ready to lead open mic night at the comedy club, but using these techniques of improv will help navigate even the most treacherous of conversations.

The following 4 rules come to you from one of the most famous women in the comedy scene, Tina Fey!

  1. Agree
  2. Yes And
  3. Make Statements
  4. No Mistakes just opportunity

But how do we use these simple rules of improve in a world of complicated conversations?

Rule 1- Agree: Show Respect for what your partner has created

There isn’t much that stop a conversation more than total disagreement with what you’ve said. A quality conversation is give and take, two or more people exchanging ideas and information.  But, any conversation will soon come to an end if neither party can find common ground.

The 1st rule of improv is to show respect for what your partner has created.  In improv scenes, the agreement is literal. The actor accepts what was said and build from it to keep a scene moving and continue the storyline.

This doesn’t mean you must agree with everything someone says, (have you seen Jim Carrey in Yes Man?) but for the conversation’s sake, agree to disagree and keep the dialogue moving forward.  Respect the ideas of those in the conversation and be willing and able to change topics to avoid a disagreement. This can help build a strong foundation for the conversation to grow.

Rule 2- Yes And: Contribute to the conversation

Whether it’s a sketch comedy scene or a conversation in the boardroom, when all eyes are focused on you do you know what to say next? The easiest way to keep a conversation moving is to agree (1st rule) and then ADD in your own thoughts or ideas on the topic.

In improv, pressure is taken off the first actor when the other participants add a new idea to the scene. It is not the responsibility of one actor to continue to come up with new subject matter every time.  We’ve all been in one of those conversations when it’s pulling teeth to get the other party to engage in what you’re saying. Perhaps you were the person getting your teeth pulled?  Adding to the exchange to create new topics for discussion shows you’re paying attention and being active in the conversation.

Rule 3- Make Statements: Don’t only ask questions

Always add value to your conversation. Use open-ended questions to keep a conversation flowing. However, if your only input is asking more questions, your conversation will seem like an interview. You’re more interesting than you give yourself credit. Others want to know about what you’re thinking and your insight on the topic at hand. This gives room for the conversation to grow and develop.

If you can’t think of anything to say build from information earlier in the conversation. For example, if you asked where someone is from, add your opinion about that city. Have you ever been there? Did you want to visit? Maybe you read something interesting about the sushi there. Continue to share until whoever you’re speaking with has found a topic in which they can expand. This approach provides more information from you and will keep the conversation moving forward in a more natural manner.

Rule 4- No mistakes only opportunity: Stay positive and adapt

Sometimes conversation don’t go as planned. This is okay. You have no control over the emotions of the others involved, or how their day has been going up to this point. Remember that there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Each experience can provide a new learning opportunity. Stay positive and adapt to new situations. Just as an improv comedian needs to adapt and change direction to get through a tough scene, use these tactics help to maneuver difficult conversations.

Enjoy each opportunity to practice. Regardless if you feel like it was an unsuccessful conversation, it should provide lessons that can be taken into your next situation. Learn the rules & don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Know that at least trying to converse is better than avoiding the situation!

Use the 4 rules of improve to help guide your choices throughout your next conversation. They will lead to more comfortable conversations and less likelihood of finding yourself fighting an awkward moment. Just like the professionals in improv comedy this skill takes practice. You won’t become a professional conversationalist overnight. Everyone makes mistakes along the way, even if you have been doing it forever.

To learn how to master first impressions, conduct meaningful conversations and make more friends visit out site Life’s Secret Sauce. Just for joining our community we will provide you with a FREE E-book of 5 guaranteed ways to be the most interesting person at your next social event!


Life’s Secret Sauce, founded by Brandon Slater & Samantha Field, teaches teach young urban professionals the necessary social skills to master first impressions, build meaningful relationships, & effortlessly create quality conversations with anyone. As public speakers in the Cruise industry they have learned what it takes to make connections and engage in great conversation without distraction. Currently they live in Miami with their Shiba Inu puppy, Azumi, and enjoy hiking in Alaska throughout the summer months. To learn more click here!

Picture courtesy of Vogue Magazine.