Improv Comedy and Research

Improv comedy and research might seem like strange bedfellows, but more and more I’ve seen the two collide. The main takeaway from my work on telephone survey introductions was that being responsive to a potential respondent on the phone is the best thing an interviewer can do to improve their chances of getting that person to complete the survey. Sometimes responsiveness means answering standard questions like “How long does the survey take?” but often it requires interviewers to think on their feet. I’d love to do an experiment seeing if taking improv training can help to make interviewers more responsive (and, in turn, get better response rates).

A few weeks ago I went to the QRCA conference– a gathering of qualitative researchers from all over the world. It was fantastic, and I was especially intrigued by conversations I had with two fellow “quallies” who are also improv performers. They raved about how the training has made them better moderators– more able to roll with out-in-left-field comments from respondents and able to come up with probes and activities on the spot if needed.

Inspired, I signed up for an 8-week improv class at the Magnet Theater in New York. I’ve only been to three classes, but it is awesome. Everyone in my class is super-sharp and hilarious, and we play games that are fun while really taking me out of my comfort zone. (My last acting experience was in 7th grade drama class.) I’ve been in scenes depicting parents at a rock concert and played the part of a teenager who missed curfew. Last week we worked in teams of three to present and defend (with no preparation time) an ad campaign for a made-up product (my group decided on an extra-strength shampoo with a TV spot featuring Morgan Freeman).

Next week I’ll be on the road for my first qual gig since starting the class (focus groups with senior citizens about prescription drugs). I can’t wait to see if my new improv skills will improve my moderating abilities!

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Founder of Southpaw Insights