Business and improv: an uncommon duo

The Speech and Debate Program, Public Relations Student Society of America and Interpreters Theatre are groups that University of Northern Iowa students majoring in communication studies and performance studies join to better their communication skills.

Phil MussonImprov labsSo what do students majoring in business do to better their communication skills?

They join an improv lab.

Gretta Berghammer, professor of theatre, began the labs to teach students to respond in the moment, work spontaneously, rely on intuition and take risks through various activities and exercises.

"We played games and had activities to learn how to think quicker, speak off the cuff and be ready at a moment's notice to give an answer or a name," said Phil Musson, UNI business management major. "I can see how these skills will help me in future job interviews, when giving elevator pitches or even when contributing during a meeting later in a professional career."

Getting an outside point of view from a theatre professor gives business students a leg up on their peers.

"Having Gretta come in and help business majors is almost like having a football coach teach something new to a basketball team; it's nice to get that fresh perspective," said Musson.

"I think everyone, regardless of their major, needs to take advantage of their personal talents by tapping into their own intuition and inventiveness," said Berghammer. "In many cases, a typical curriculum doesn't provide students with hands-on opportunities like these."

These improv labs are a component of the Professional Readiness Program (PRP), which guides students' professional and career preparedness in UNI's College of Business Administration. Together, the PRP labs and other program components develop skills that help students learn to quickly make an impact in the workplace.

"Getting business students immersed in creativity, hands-on experience and quick-thinking activities are primary focuses of the labs," said Dale Cyphert, director of UNI's PRP.

Appreciating the value of trying new things is stressed in the labs.

"We want to take students out of their element, immerse them in things they wouldn't normally be involved in and make them uncomfortable so they are better prepared for their future careers," said Cyphert. "It's not supposed to be easy for them. If it were easy, it would be comfortable; if it were comfortable it wouldn't be challenging."

Business students in improv labs2Business students in improv labs