Four great improv comedy principles from our stage are also baked into our DNA for our events. Use the ideas of Yes-And, Humor Makes Business Better, Really Listen and Love Every Idea for a Minute to make your business more agile – and more fun.
Boom Chicago, the Amsterdam-based comedy show, venue and events business, was founded 28 years ago on the principle of Yes-And. This number one rule of improvisation supports all good scenes on stage. If an audience suggestion is ‘Ice rink,’ one performer might start warming up and say, ‘Good luck with the race.’ A second performer, silently agreeing with the reality (the ‘yes’) also starts stretching, but without a smile. In a Dutch accent she says: ‘Americans don’t know how to truly skate’ (the ‘and’). In two lines we quicky understand the scene is about rivals. Agree on the facts, then move the action forward.
Everybody in the events industry has been affected by the pandemic, but those who practice Yes-And (even if they don’t call it that) will come out stronger. First diagnose the situation accurately. Then ask what is your skill or benefit to add? For Boom Chicago, Yes-And allowed us to pivot quickly to digital events.
Back in March, 2020, the ‘Yes’ was that the pandemic hit theaters and events hard. We didn’t think the public would regularly watch (and pay for) live shows on screens which cost more to produce. Well, maybe once for the novelty. With Netflix at €9/month, it would be too hard to compete on a screen. The ‘And,’ however, was that demand for communication and creative inspiration would continue. We needed to become experts in digital shows for the corporate and conference world.
We contacted We Are Live. Would you do a one-off live theater show to learn lessons and then become our digital events partner? They, also with time on their hands, jumped on board. The first question: How do you get those with more money to pay more for the same ticket? Well, everyone likes to laugh.
Humor Makes Business Better
We sold ‘obstructed view’ tickets for the cheapskates for €5. ‘Please cover half your screen.’ For the middle spender, we offered the ‘I put real Nespresso capsules in my Nespresso machine’ ticket. For top spenders, we sold the ‘I own my own house in Amsterdam (Noord still excluded)’ or the ‘I have KLM huisjes in my house’ ticket. Those who flew business class got the reference and hopefully had €100 to support the arts. We ended up selling 800 tickets at an average of €18,75 each.
And comedy doesn’t just work on B2C and B2B. It works well with B2E: Business to Employee. Staff needs to be engaged like consumers and not just informed. Boom Chicago’s smart and knowledgeable hosts can add energy, tailored writing and creativity to any event.
This experience started our relationship with We Are Live which turned into a fruitful partnership for both parties. They got access to our creativity (writing, hosting and sometimes the venue) and we could guarantee smooth tech which was important in those early days. It still is!
Then came lesson three: Really Listen. On stage this means not missing any details. In the events world, Really Listen means paying attention and being close to your customer, your team and your suppliers. If you are on autopilot or ignore new information, you will not be nimble or flexible enough to respond to a fast changing situation.
Really Listening to our sales people led to us to also develop a more modestly budgeted digital show with our own technicians and equipment. Now we had products at two price points and were ready for a busy Christmas season doing tailored online holiday shows for companies. In a sketch we call First Day in the Office, we found we could actually reuse this joke for many clients:
New Employee: ‘If this is the parking lot, how come there are so few parking spaces?’
Old Employee: ‘Exactly!’
During the second lockdown, our sales team expressed worry about the always slow summer season. We used our closed time to plan the first Boom Chicago Comedy Festival from June 24 to August 1. Hopefully with vaccinations, performers and audiences would be ready to travel. And if theaters were going to open in the autumn, Dutch performers needed a place to try out material.
Shall we demo the possibilities of hybrid by planning Comedy Conversations with names like Arjen Lubach, Seth Meyers and Jordan Peele? Some would be in the theater and some would speak via video link, performing for an audience partially in person and partially watching from home. True hybrid! We Are Live was all in.
Indeed. We see a hybrid future where fewer VIPs fly to international events, and junior team members, many of whom would not have attended in the first place, watch live remotely. Some might rather travel, but many will just be happy to get the information and (most of the) experience first-hand. Those trying to trim travel budgets will be happy as well too.
Love Every Idea for a Minute
The final serious comedy advice is Love Every Idea for a Minute. The events business, like improv, is by definition creative. Unfortunately in both, the desire for the familiar and organized can get in the way. ‘That won’t work’ or ‘that’s too expensive’ might turn out to be right, but let the idea breathe first. Don’t judge the whole idea which rarely comes out fully formed. Instead, look for the (small) part of the idea you can love.
We can’t do indoor pyrotechnics at that location …buuuuut I like the idea of ending with a bang. What can we do to end with that fireworks feeling? Happy Birthday power sparklers and a lighter for everyone are only €3,50 per person in bulk and interactive! Let’s also roll out ten on a cart in front by the host: Fireworks!
Just like work, events have become more fluid, less formal, less focused on technical perfection and more playful. This will only continue as no one wants to go back to the stuffy old days. Luckily Humor Makes business Better! With that lesson, plus Yes-And, Really Listening and Love Every Idea for a Minute, Boom Chicago’s serious comedy lessons can help your business like they helped ours.
Beeld: Boom Chicago