How I used Improv skills to help people plan for care

About seven years ago I enrolled in The Second City Training Center in Chicago to study at the world famous Second City.  Second City has produced many amazing performers from Bill Murray to Tina Fey. I took the classes because when I auditioned in junior high for Milwaukee’s North Shore Childrens’ Theater, the director told my mother that I had a flair for comedy. I have always loved acting but never pursued formal acting classes. While  I did not sign up  to hone my LTC Insurance sales skills,  I recently began to wonder if learning improvisation skills can improve one’s ability to sell LTC Insurance?  After taking over 600 hours of classes and workshops, performing in three training center graduation show cases – Second City, IO and Annoyance Theater  and founding my two person improv team Iguana Lounge,  I have enough  evidence to  say the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Of course, with so many factors influencing LTC sales over the past few years, such as the great recession, market consolidation, tough medical underwriting, and rate increases there is no magic solution to increasing sales. However, my Improv training has helped in many ways.

First, my Improv training enriched  and probably extended my projected life span. I feel  younger and get to hang out with so many young talented actors who think I am kind of cool and funny!  More important,  in these past seven or so years, I have ‘my thing’ outside of being a Mom, Spouse, and LTC Insurance nerd.

Secondly, I realize that I have accumulated a treasure chest of tools and experiences to which I can turn to and draw from making conversations about long term care planning easier and more fun!  (Which might result in more sales and thus, making more money!) I’d like share a few of  these ideas and techniques with you today.

First, a little “inside baseball”. Improv (short for improvisation, duh) is not stand up comedy. Improv lays the groundwork for scripted sketch comedy such as is seen on Saturday Night Live (SNL). Throughout all the different approaches-short form (games) and long form  philosophies of Improv you don’t learn jokes or one-liners or go for the laugh. Instead, Improv  teaches you  to tap into the part of your brain that censors the truth for fear of being judged – and it is always with at least another person. To be performing Improv takes a scene partner- two or more people (the Improv team) to make “something out of nothing”. Improvisation is spontaneous and unscripted.  It is listening and being in the moment.

Compare this to the training that LTC sales professionals often get -which is often a scripted monologue sales presentation- a powerpoint or flipchart leading the prospect to the one visit “close”.  Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorkton propose in their 2015 book Yes and: Lessons from The Second City: (How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” and Improves Creativity and Collaboration that we are most successful when we are working as improvisers. “When we fiercely follow the elements of improvisation, we generate ideas both quickly and efficiently; …our interactions with clients become richer or more long standing;… we weather rough storms with more aplomb, and we don’t work burdened by the fear of failure. When we are in full improviser mode…we hear things that we didn’t hear before because we are listening deeply and fully in the moment.”  

Probably being fully in the moment and not ten steps ahead of a prospective client leading them to a “close” has been one of my greatest challenges and area of improvement. The authors go further:  “The more critical the message, the more you actually need comedy to cut through the clutter, grab attention and make the issue safe to talk about. ….the higher the stakes, the more you need to create space for honest conversation and few things do that better than comedy.”

So I would also suggest the journey into the world of Improv, late as it is in my life, is, and will continue to have a positive effect on my LTC sales career. Perhaps not easily measurable in terms of sales revenue but certainly in quality of my interactions. It involves sharing stories, some  laughter and humor. I can’t think of a worse start to a a Monday morning than to talk about LTC planning. Right?!!

There is a saying that we buy from people we like. We are selling ourselves as much as the ‘product’ or even the ‘need’.  I am learning to make the conversation ‘mine’ with the person on the other end of the phone or across a table. Is it appropriate to inject  humor about long term care and planning for this not so easy or happy time in our future? I think it is.   I am finding more and more that  during my sales calls it is easier to talk about this difficult part of our lives with a little bit of humor which  provides  with a safe place to speak and hear the truth. To be ourselves.

Things I’ve learned that have helped me:

  • Take an Improv class: they are offered nationwide. Listen to Susan Messing’s brilliant 20i4 Ted Talk below to learn what improvisation really means in life.
  • Yes, And: This is a primary idea of the conversation.  It avoids arguing with someone saying “No But”!  For example, someone may have an objection to LTC Insurance because there is a chance of having a rate increase.  Instead of arguing that point the “yes, and” opens up a conversation to how current plans are more stable.  Or when there is an objection to paying premiums versus self-insuring. Of course I usually send a Blueprint of LTC Planning. But now I also try to use the “yes, and” and see where we go. “Yes, And” is my comeback everytime a wife or husband complains about paying annual premiums that may never be used. I now respond “And I hope so! And now we have some new options that may not seem like a waste….”
  • Authenticity: Comedy and irreverence are lubricants that encourage people to reconsider long-standing beliefs that may be holding them back. Authenticity is key! Its okay to be yourself in the conversation.  Most of if not all of our conversations when meeting people and really listening are not preplanned or scripted.
  • Listening is a muscle (thank you Susan Messing) : know the difference between listening to understand and listening to respond. Hearing and listening are different. If you are having difficulty listening make sure you are hearing!!
  • See Improv Shows.If you  live in or near Chicago, – this city is the mecca. But there are training centers throughout the country now.


Here’s great Ted Talk by Susan Messing about Braving the Unknown