Ever been in a situation where a deal was going south and there was nothing left to do but improvise to keep it alive? Improv acting classes can go a long way in those cases. Here’s why you should consider taking up improv.

As real estate agents, we’ve all been in a situation where a deal seemed to start going south, and there was nothing left to do but improvise on the spot to keep it alive. Anyone in that position knows it takes skill to revive a real estate meeting that’s begun to fizzle out.

That’s why the skills learned in improvisational theater (improv) translate extremely well to real estate, according to some of the country’s leading agents.

Improv is a form of live theater in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment, as Hideout Theater puts it — and knowing a little about it can save you when you’re in a bit of a pickle.

How improv adds value to the transaction

Ryan Serhant

Ryan Serhant

In his book Sell it like Serhant, New York real estate broker, former actor and current Million Dollar Listing New York star, Ryan Serhant writes about the value of improv workshops as a sales training tool. One crucial aspect of improv, Serhant told Inman, is that it makes you listen before you react, which is very important for real estate agents to master.

Experienced improv performers are trained to listen to random (and sometimes outrageous) statements from their improv partners and add to them by saying, “Yes, and …”

Do not underestimate the power and importance of listening and then responding.

“Never say ‘no,'” Serhant says. “The word ‘no’ ends the conversation. ‘No’ is the brakes on a car, and you will never win a race by slamming the brakes. It kills the momentum.”

As Serhant says in his book, “When you practice improv, your brain is always firing ‘yes.’ Not making a deal — not getting to a place of ‘yes’ — is no longer an option.

What improv does for agents

Doing improv allows agents to exercise the muscle that helps them think on their feet, handle objections and manage situations that they are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with, Serhant said.

“The improv muscle is for all of those moments which are unexpected, for all those times when deals die, when someone stops responding, when there is an issue at closing,” he said at New York’s Nest Seekers International. “The best sales people don’t take no for an answer — they figure out a way.”

The more you do improv, the more skilled you are as an agent. “When you get really good at improv, you can control the narrative. You can use this skill to control the direction of your deals,” Serhant says in his book. Additionally, you can conquer shyness.

Taking a course

Another strong advocate of improv for agents is Warburg Realty broker Elizabeth O’Neill, who took an improv course when she needed a creative outlet while in a senior marketing position at Goldman Sachs a few years ago. She has also done some stand-up, and she encourages agents in her office to take an improv course like she did.

Elizabeth O'Neill

Elizabeth O’Neill

“Life is improvisation — most of our lives don’t go as scripted,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill finds that improv has been very good for her memory. And to those who think they have to be comedians to do well in improv, think again.

“You don’t have to be funny — you just have to be quick,” O’Neill told Inman.

Her improv training helped her hit the ground running when starting as an agent over eight years ago, and she is thinking of doing a refresher.

“I know that it makes me better at pitches and decision-making, which is a key skill in life and in real estate,” she said.

Improv also reminds you that you are not the star, O’Neill added. It is very much a team activity. Anyone in improv who grandstands and cuts their partner off at the path is criticized by the group.

“And as real estate brokers, we are not the star — it’s the property or the client,” she said.

Improv also hones your listening skills, she said. “If you miss the innuendo in a scene, you might blow an opportunity. You really have to hear what are they saying — you have to pay very close attention while things are happening quickly.”

For new agents, this theater training gives them a level of confidence for pitches, and it helps with confidence in public speaking, O’Neill says.

“I think another thing many of us do is we censor our behavior as agents. We overthink things. For new agents who don’t have experience, they can really overthink a situation,” she said. But when you have had improv training, you trust your instincts more.

Don’t be afraid to make an ‘ass’ out of yourself

Aaron Wittenstein

Most main cities have improv groups going on. Keller Williams New York agent Aaron Wittenstein took himself off to Chicago’s famed Second City theater for an improv course a couple years after starting in real estate; he went on to do stand-up comedy a few years later.

He did improv for two reasons: to help with his self-esteem and to help get better at sales. He wanted to be able to think more on his toes.

“I think in general if you want to become more comfortable with yourself, there is no better way in doing that than making an ass out of yourself,” he said.

One of the things he learned from Second City was not worrying how people were going to respond to what he was doing and saying. “You want to be able to be yourself. The more comfortable you are in your skin, the easier it is to portray yourself to others.”

Wittenstein really values the “Yes, and” approach in improv, which he has adopted in real estate.

“When someone says, ‘You are a monkey,’ you have to say, ‘Yes, I am a monkey and also 2 feet tall,” he said.

He also uses improv techniques in his agent training. “What we’ll do in my group coaching program that I run is improv games — which work really well — where you get people to agree with you,” he said. “It should be a staple in all sales training.”

Agents really like it, Wittenstein said.

“The cool part of training agents in improv is some of the more shy ones tend to be the funniest because you are not expecting it,” he added.

“In real estate, you get your ass beat every day. Anything you can do to rough that up is a good idea,” he said.

Email Gill South.

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