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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Hanst

Improv in eLearning? Yes please!

The other day I was doing some research to find companies to approach about voice overs. This is new territory for me and fraught with insecurities. I mean: JUST EMAIL SOMEONE COLD?? What if they don't need voice over? What if I bother them? What if they don't like me?

The whole journey is probably worthy of another post down the line, but the upshot for now is that it's actually been kind of fun to make a "game" out of marketing and learn some new skills along the way. (Have you heard of Streak? You should check it out.)

Anyway: as I was sifting through a list of eLearning companies, I found one called Second City Works. "Second City? The improv institution?" I thought. My interest was piqued. With a little investigating, I learned that Second City Works is the business arm of Second City; to quote their website: "Our professional development programs use improv-based methods to drive improvements in performance."

Immediately, I was excited. Comedy and training and business-y stuff ... together?? This was a bull's eye for me.

For years, I've been trying to find ways to make corporate videos more fun and engaging. My radio clients love it when I take their copy and goof around with it. It makes my radio imaging work the most creative part of what I do in voiceover. When doing healthcare benefits videos years back for TowersWatson (before they added the Willis), I started brainstorming with my partners... can't we make these more fun? Shake 'em up a little?

We started by writing down the basics of what we needed to cover: the healthcare plans, when to sign up, where to go if you needed help. Then, I wrote a script framework that included all the nuts and bolts, but also injected some humor about the whole benefits process. Finally, and most importantly, I got in the booth and started playing. For the first take or two, I stuck with the words on the page, but then, I allowed myself the freedom to veer away from the text. To make a joke that popped into my head. To improv!

9 times out of 10, this stage is where good things are going to happen. Even though a line might work in theory on your screen, when it's said aloud it might seem flat. When you stay in the moment and allow spontaneity to take over, inspiration will often surprise you. And surprise is a critical part of not only comedy, but keeping your audience engaged.

This is why bloopers and gag reels are so funny. You don't expect to hear or see unscripted material, so you're caught off guard and laugh. In the DVD extras for many Judd Apatow produced or directed films, you'll see "Line O Rama," where actors run line after line of new ideas or versions of a punchline. They're working it out in real time, opening the door to the magic of improv. And sooner or later: BAM. They hit on something that might not even be close to what was originally in the script.

My encounter with Second City Works ended when one of the folks I contacted told me that they use actors and students from their own troupe to provide voice overs in their projects. I was bummed, but understood. I'd have to continue to find my own way of bringing comedy and fun into projects that crossed my path.

Then-- the unexpected happened. Or maybe it was the Law of Attraction. A new client of mine and I were talking about these ideas to shake up eLearning. She had an idea that had been rolling around in her head for a while. A module about customer service and how it can impact any business so significantly. She asked if I would be open to collaborate with her to make the course more fun! Now we're putting our heads and talent together to show the world how "corporate" messages don't have to be stale and boring.

I'll be sure to post the results when we're done.

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