Improv Tip: Our Invisible NameTags

Shawn Westfall
Category : Improvisation March 20, 2013

This month’s improv tip is written by Shawn Westfall, the Get Real Project’s improv guru.

There’s a popular short-form improv game called “Here Comes Mr. So-And-So,” and here’s how it’s played: you ask the audience to suggest a bunch of personality quirks or annoying character traits or habits, and then assign them to the improvisational actors. The quirkier, more annoying, more challenging, or more outrageous the better. Some of my favorites from past shows I’ve either been in or hosted include:

Mr. Guy-Who-Talks-Only-In-Sports-Metaphors

Ms. Gal-Who-Speaks-in-Rhyme

Mr. Guy-Who-Can’t-Get-Over-His-Ex

Ms. Gal-Who-Talks-To-Everyone-As-If-They’re-Children

Mr. Guy-Who-Plays-Air-Guitar-All-The-Time

Ms. Gal-Who’s-Weirdly-Obsessed-with-George-Clooney

Once their quirks have been established, the actors begin a scene, seeing the world and every action in the scene through the unique perspective they’ve been assigned. Two actors might start the scene, but they’ll soon begin cueing other actors on stage: “Oh, look, if it isn’t Ms. Gal-Who-Always-Thinks-She’s-In-A-Beauty-Pageant.” Soon all the actors are in the scene, each processing his or her experience through their respective character’s lens. It’s a fun game to play, and practically every audience I’ve ever been in front of has enjoyed it immensely, primarily because it does something so many of us wish we could do in real life: spot the invisible nametags people often wear before we actually engage them.

A few years ago, I began working at an ad agency, an agency that shared offices with a high-profile polling and research firm. One day I was in the office break room with a colleague when an employee of that polling firm strolled in and walked over to the counter where stacks of paper coffee cups rested. In a manner that made it appear as if he were completely oblivious to his surroundings, completely unaware that anyone was watching, he aggressively grabbed one, went over to the filtered water dispenser, filled the cup up to the brim, and then voraciously gulped it down. He then crumpled the paper cup like he was proudly crumpling a beer can and threw it into a nearby trashcan like he was slam-dunking a basketball.

From the day forward, my colleague and I had a nickname for him: “water-slammer” (in that he “slammed” water like he was a frat boy draining a can of beer, then throwing the can down in “triumph”). But it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I started connecting water-slammer’s actions to the improv game I had played and taught so frequently. In essence, to my colleague and me, that polling-firm employee wore an invisible nametag, one that read “Guy-Who-Pounds-Water-Like-He’s-Pounding-Beer.”

In life, our actions define us. And this is exponentially so in our professional lives, where “what we do” matters so much more, and more clearly and directly influences those around us. Take a close look at how you act, react, behave at work, what your ideas and attitudes are about the job, the culture, the clients, and your colleagues. In short, what invisible nametag are you wearing?

Are you…

Guy-Who-Always-Complains-About-The-Client(s)?

Gal-Who-Takes-Credit-For-Work-Her-Team-Did?

Guy-Who-Micromanages-Every-Project?

Gal-Who-Pads-Her-Timesheets?

Or are you…

Guy-With-The-Endless-Supply-Of-Great-Ideas?

Gal-Who-Cheers-On-Colleagues’-Successes?

Guy-Who’s-Office-Door-Is-Always-Open?

Gal-Who-Actually-Listens-To-Colleagues-and-Clients?

Think about the invisible nametags you might already be wearing, and about ones you’d like to wear. Chances are your colleagues and clients have already spotted the one you’re currently wearing, even if you haven’t.

Originally published by BossaNova Consulting Group, Inc.
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Shawn Westfall

Shawn Westfall

As The Get Real Project’s Improv Guru (a title that was bestowed upon me), I help bring the principles of improv comedy to life in a practical and inspiring way for our clients. I show people how being honest, truthful, vulnerable and authentic is not only necessary for successful improv comedy, but can understandably transform organizational cultures.
Shawn Westfall

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