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How improv launched Flo and what you can learn from improv

  • Posted by Trish DiFranco | 2 min read

Flo from Progressive first showed up on our TV sets in 2008 with her helpful, cheery demeanor. In just a few years, she became America’s #1 brand icon, fully integrating into the pop culture zeitgeist. We continue to see her break new ground—whether she’s at the apple orchard or involved in a sting operation, Flo evokes passionate responses from viewers. But what’s her secret to achieving the status of longest-running spokesperson?

Five words. “Wow. I say it louder.”

These five improvised words took Stephanie Courtney (Flo) from an unknown to the most known. Building on her improvisation training, Stephanie blurted out that line to punch-up a scene and when she did, she captured the attention of everyone in the room. It was her ease in the character, her charm, and, most of all, her ability to “say yes” to the present moment.

Stephanie’s background in improv started at The Groundlings Los Angeles theater in 2004, as a member of their 30-person company. Four years after joining their main cast, she auditioned for a commercial gig at an insurance company. Lo and behold, it was her improv education that would land her the role of a lifetime—putting her in great company with Groundlings stars like Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, and Melissa McCarthy to name a few.

In an interview with Stephanie, she elaborates on her improv technique, “If you give me boundaries, then I know what I can play within.” With improv, she takes a dry product (insurance) and humanizes it, making it palatable and even pleasurable for consumers. The jokes and asides come naturally to her because she’s able to embody the scene, then give it swagger.

Improv and business: a not-so-surprising combination

Lucky for us, the foundations of improv comedy can absolutely translate to the workplace. The following tips are fundamental to improv and can be fundamental to experiencing more success at work, from collaborating to presenting.

  • Active listening: Pay attention and observe. Active listening is a crucial aspect of effective communication. It helps build relationships, understanding, learning, and empathy. By practicing active listening, we can improve our communication skills and build stronger connections with others.
  • Yes, and: Commit to what you’re creating together. “Yes, and” is a powerful technique that can help us to collaborate, be creative, remain open-minded, improve communication, and enhance problem-solving. By embracing this mindset, we can create a more supportive and innovative environment.
  • Teamwork: Support everyone in your “scene.” Have their backs. When you build trust between individuals, your team is more efficient, more productive, and more at ease to do great work.

Stephanie’s success as Flo from Progressive is a true testament to the power of improv. The foundations such as active listening, collaboration, and teamwork can be applied to every workplace to improve communication, build stronger connections, and enhance problem-solving. By taking a page from Flo’s book, we can create a more supportive and innovative work environment. “Say yes” to these improv tips today and let the magic happen!

Senior writer and marketer for Progressive. When she’s not stuck to a screen, Trish enjoys getting lost in new cities, pining over her cat Gatsby, and the occasional yoga al fresco.