What PR Professionals Can Learn from Improv Actors

By Madeline Lenahan

Improvisation, or 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 (Hideout Theater). But whenever I tell someone that this is one of my hobbies, I almost always get the same question: “So really none of it is planned??” I can assure you that absolutely none of it is.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t mention that improv actors do rely on some tips and tricks to get them through a performance. These aren’t extraordinary secrets either. In fact, they are the same strategies I employ in my PR writing.

Don’t have time to carefully analyze and breakdown an improv show? Don’t sweat it.

Here are three improv rules that public relations professionals can use to enhance their writing:

1. Know Your Voice

There’s nothing scarier as an improviser than stepping out on stage and feeling like you have absolutely nothing to say and nowhere to go with a scene. When you’re in that moment of panic, you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself to know your voice. Or, in other words, pick a point of view and stick with it!microphone improv PR writing

You can’t plan a scene or character ahead of time, but you can pick an emotion or opinion that will help form the rest of the details of the scene.

For example, if you don’t know if you’re angry, happy or sad about the meteor that your scene partner just said is crashing to the earth, then how can you or your partner decide what to do next?

If you’re sad, your scene partner may try to console you or save you. If you’re happy, you and your scene partner can pull out a bottle of champagne and lawn chairs to watch the end of the world together.

Depending on which emotion you choose, the scene will look totally different but will move forward far more logically than if you hadn’t chosen a firm POV. This is the same principle to apply to your PR writing. Identify your voice and be consistent. If you don’t know what your client’s stance is on the topic you’re addressing, then your story is going nowhere. Or, at the very least, won’t make sense. So, identify the point of view, the “why” of your creation, and your piece will practically write itself.

2. Understand Your Audience

After you’ve chosen your character and your scene is well underway, you can relax and become more aware of the audience in the room. When are they laughing? What is truly resonating with them? audience improv pr writing

If you’re performing for a corporate crowd, then the office jokes or work-culture references will probably kill. Or, if it’s Valentine’s Day and you’re in front of an audience full of couples, then you should play a couple or act out a first-date scenario.

Bottom line: the audience wants to be able to relate to you and the scene they’re seeing. So, understanding your audience can make a huge difference in whether or not that audience laughs or you hear crickets (and trust me, you don’t want to hear crickets).

The same applies for PR writing– whether it’s press releases, social media posts or pitches to the media; simply, do NOT write something that won’t resonate, or “hit,” with the person that’s going to read it. Make your audience your ally.

While this may require additional research into your client’s customer base or your target media outlet, that extra work can help guarantee that your story gets published and is well-received.

Be intentional with your actions and your writing, and you’ll be far more likely to receive positive results.

3. Tell The Truth

This one is huge.

I’m someone that absolutely loves experimenting with different characters on stage; being able to play someone else is challenging and exciting. BUT, the only way to effectively do this is to draw upon real experiences and TRUE emotions.

No, I have never had a near-death meteor experience. However, I do know what it’s like to feel scared, sad or angry. And, if I had to take a wild guess, the first thing I’m doing in an apocalyptic situation is calling my mom.

Good actors use what they know and apply it to the scene. In the same vein, good PR writers use what they know and apply it to their writing.

We’re not here to create a fictional reality or exaggerated version of our client’s story. We’re here to tell their narrative in the most honest, yet impactful, way.

End Scene

If you’re lucky enough to have watched good improv, you may be certain that some of the material was pre-written. Once again, it’s not! It just means that the actors have effectively applied their improv knowledge and, as a result, gave you a convincing performance.

Similarly, when writing a press release, social media post or statement on behalf of a client, the goal as a PR professional should be to give your readers a convincing story— something that is compelling but stays completely true to the client and their narrative.

Follow these three simple rules and you’ll be sure to break a leg. 😉

castle public relations team improv show
Castle team members supporting Madeline at her improv show.
Profile Picture for Author Madeline Lenahan at The Castle Group
Written By: Madeline Lenahan


Outdoors of the Castle Group office