December 8, 2021

Developing Leaders Through Improv and Experiential Learning with Erin Diehl

Episode 139:

Erin Diehl is a Business Improv Edutainer, Failfluencer, and Professional Zoombie. Through a series of unrelated ventures, Erin created improve it!, a unique professional development company that pushes others to laugh, learn, play, and grow. She is a graduate from Clemson University, and former experiential marketing and recruiting professional and veteran improviser from the top improvisational training programs in Chicago, including The Second City, i.O. Theater and The Annoyance Theatre.

Erin has spoken on stages nationwide for all types of events and associations including Disrupt HR, SHRM, HRMAC, and ATD. She is a member of The Chicago Innovation Awards Women’s Cohort and a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. She is also the proud host of The improve it! Podcast, which you can find anywhere you listen to pods! When she’s not playing pretend or facilitating, she enjoys walking on the beach with her husband, son, and eight-pound toy poodle, BIGG DIEHL.


Starting Out with a Vision (1:22)

Erin grew up singing, acting, dancing, and performing. She moved to Chicago where she got a few hosting gigs and decided on a whim to look into improv groups. Every time she attended a class, she could feel her walls coming down and fell in love with the improv stage. It started bleeding into everyday life; she was faster on her feet, more present in the moment, and otherwise more engaged. 

She had an idea to incorporate many of the concepts behind improv into coaching life and business skills, pitched it to a client, American Airlines, and ended up doing an employee workshop for them which they liked so much they invited her back. That’s when Erin decided she wanted to make this endeavor bigger than just herself. 

Now she has 22 employees under her in Chicago, New York, LA, and Charlotte. She also added a 5 year growth plan to help small businesses achieve their goals. They began as in-person workshops, but due to the pandemic, her company has gone virtual with plans to return to in-person meetings. However, the virtual media allowed her to host workshops all over the world.

Power Skills not Soft Skills (10:04)

improve it! is a company that uses improvisation training to improve power skills, aka “soft skills.” Erin doesn’t like the idea of “soft skills” because those are the skills that get us through everyday life, land us jobs, and are why we succeed. Her workshops focus on learning through laughter, learning, and play to improve skills on the stage that people can take with them into the world. She coaches taking risks, thinking on your feet, business 101, and more in her workshops. 

She started on this path on a whim and had no idea of the opportunities it would lead to. Erin has always been a performer; she was voted class clown and danced in college. Although Improv scared her at first, she fell in love with its transformative nature. 

The Benefits of Improvisation Training (17:35)

Improv is about truth. It’s listening, responding in the moment, postponing judgment, and not about going for cheap laughs or making a fool of yourself. You come out feeling more connected with the group you’re with because it’s impossible to stand up on stage for thirty minutes without the group having your back. 

When you’re on stage, you have to lean on your team and facilitate a conversation that benefits everyone, which transfers beautifully to leadership. We are in an employee’s market right now, and people are looking for the place where they belong. They want to feel like they’re making an impact on the world, and the work they do is essential. People want to be coached. 

Virtual vs. In-Person (28:40) 

It’s so much easier to get people to connect in person now because they’re craving those connections after the isolation of a global pandemic. Also, utilizing the chatbox on zoom reduces social anxiety for more introverted people. There’s nothing quite like in-person interactions, but connecting, communicating, and working virtually is all about effective communication. So working on those skills in a virtual space helps build them faster. 

What you say and what you don’t say affect how other people respond, so it’s essential to show up with a verbal and nonverbal tone. Listening is a crucial power skill, especially as a leader. You also don’t want to negate information the person before you gave, so practicing postponing judgment helps mold you into a better listener. With improv, you can’t think ahead. You have to be present. Many people stop listening in the middle of the sentence and to successfully engage in improv you have to listen all the way through without anticipating the end or interrupting to speak. 

Listen now and start honing your power skills to become a better leader. 


Additional resources:

Hybrid Hype Free Guide –

improve it! Podcast-




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