An agency’s training method for presentation skills: improv classes

Jerry Seinfeld once said that public speaking is people’s top fear and death is No. 2. “This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy,” Seinfeld said.

Afflicted marketers are hindered from progressing in their career as they need to present campaign ideas to brand clients. In order to promote team building and advance presentation skills, two ad executives at Horizon Media — Alison Joseph, TrendSights strategist, and Chelsea Ramsey, brand strategist — initiated a program called “yesAND@horizon” that will offer twice-monthly improvisational comedy classes within the agency.

Joseph and Ramsey came up with the idea around a year ago when comedian Matt Besser visited the Horizon office to discuss his experience as an improviser and how that skill could benefit ad executives. “Right after that we took some improv comedy classes and figured that we should provide our colleagues some opportunities to try improv, as well,” said Joseph.

Starting this month, everyone at Horizon Media can sign up for the class, either as an individual or as a group. Joseph and Ramsey will lead each session. In a 90-minute class, between eight and 12 participants will be divided into several groups and assigned a task where they are required to create an ad pitch, play a group game or develop a fun story together. “It’s not a presentation class so not everyone is required to present,” said Ramsey. “This is a way for people to get out of the comfort zone, listen to each other and support each other.”

Joseph and Ramsey conducted a few trial classes within the agency before this month’s official launch, and those sessions were well-received. “I personally had an amazing time at the improv session,” said Michele Donati, svp and managing director for Horizon Media. “It was a great opportunity to flex some different muscles and to be more creative – or at least creative in a different way.”

Prior to this comedy class initiative, Joseph and Ramsey piloted “yesAND@Horizon” with the “Media 101” course that asks Horizon’s new employees to put together a media buying plan in a short period of time. The duo will continue offering this comedy program to “Media 101” participants.

The ad business is a stressful one. Study shows that laughter and humor can increase happiness and intimacy. Ramsey believes that this comedy class will offer an opportunity for participants to be a little silly and relieve some stress. Aside from this comedy initiative, Horizon and other shops including Havas, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi and Big Spaceship have all developed wellness programs to keep their employees happy.

For the time being, Joseph and Ramsey don’t plan to invite any comedians as guest speakers or roll out the comedy program outside of Horizon Media. “This is just focused on internal development,” said Ramsey.

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