I first started doing Improv because I wanted to improve my public speaking ability. I had taken a number of Toastmasters classes in the past. They were great for the fundamentals, but tend to be rather dry and formal. I was looking for something more fun and upbeat.
A friend recommended that I take an improv class. I didn’t know how playing games and skits would help me with my public speaking, but I wanted to try something new so I gave it a shot. Boy was I surprised!
Improv class was so much fun, and became the highlight of my week. After a long a stressful day, there’s nothing like playing games for two hours to take your mind off of all your worries, and lift your spirits. I was a little kid again, and this was my recess.
Through these games were hidden gems that got me out of my head and helped me overcome my fear of failing. Most importantly it brought back my sense of play and discovery. As you get older and become a “professional” you stop playing and start working. When you start working, life becomes hard and serious. When life becomes too serious you burn out.
I would like to share with you how improv didn’t only help me with public speaking skills, but also taught me real life lessons that you could use on a day-to-day basis.
1) Improv can make you become a better listener
Hearing and listening are two very different things. Sometimes we think we are listening, when in fact we are only hearing just enough to make our point. When we listen half-heartedly and interrupt we end up not catching the real meaning behind what they are trying to tell us. improv has been an awesome venue for me to work on my listening skills.
In Improv, we make everything up as we go along. Thus, you have to listen very carefully to what the other person is, and is not saying. Is that sarcasm, or wry humor? How would she want me to react? How should I respond to their statement that is the most realistic? You should pay attention to body language. A flick of a wrist, a snap of the fingers, a raised eyebrow is a gift that aids you in responding in an authentic way.
In real life, when people need us to listen to them, we have to leave our pre-conceived notions at the doorstep. Our mind should be free of any judgment. We should focus on what that person is talking about with their mouth and gestures so we can respond with the most genuine answer.
2) Improv can make us deal with failures easier
Improv is like walking a tightrope without a net. You don’t have lines to fall back on, or a director to guide your every move. You just have yourself, your scene partner and the audience. Not every improv scene is going to be a hit, and that’s ok. If a scene is going bad, you scrap it and start again.
Not all audiences would appreciate or understand your humor and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that you’re not good at what you’re doing. You learn to embrace the failure as much, if not more than the success.
In real life, we put too much focus on success. Society has set expectations that we need to hit a home run every time, and if we don’t that’s a bad thing. Failing does not make you a failure. Not trying makes you a failure. If you don’t fail how are you ever going to get better? Does NBA superstar Kobe Bryant play every game flawlessly? No, he has his good days and bad, and his fans still love him.
3) Improv makes us think fast on our feet
As I mentioned, you can’t bring pre-fabricated ideas or dialogues when doing Improv. Everything has to be thought of right there and then. The beauty of improv comes from the organic discovery. Stuffing your pocket with gags and one-liners defies the core purpose of the craft. Every word you utter should be a genuine response to whatever your partner throws at you. That’s where the humor comes from. Through practice you are able to respond in a way that makes the audience thinks that the whole scene was preplanned.
In real life, there are situations that require us not only to move quickly, but think quickly as well. If you are giving a presentation and realize that your material is not connecting, you can adjust without skipping a beat.
Would you be willing to try Improv?
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Author: Gary Ware
Gary Ware is a life coach who combines the powers of positive psychology with the principles of Improv to help people unlock and achieve their full potential.