Would you agree that life can be unpredictable at times? And despite best made plans, things can go awry? Even our conversations are somewhat unpredictable. Do you always know what your conversation partner is going to say? Our lives are like improv – you never know what is going to come your way. Yet, how you handle the unknown can lead to success or utter disaster!
Over the summer, I took an improv class to take my speaking and training skills to another level. Little did I know that I would also get life lessons thrown in with an improvement in my communication skills. Here’s what I learned:
1. Presence and Listening. What makes improv work is the focus and attention each participant gives to one another in each exercise or scene. You might miss an important cue or the opportunity to add to the dialogue if your mind is somewhere other than in the moment. It didn’t take me very long to realize how often I became distracted when listening to clients, family members or colleagues. As a result of my experience of “being in the moment” during the improv exercises, practicing “presence” has allowed me to become more adept at hearing the verbal and non-verbal language of others. Honing these skills has enabled me to be more attentive and build better relationships with those closest to me.
2. Collaboration and Saying “Yes”. Another golden rule of improv is to always say “yes” to what others give to you. In addition to “yes”, always say “yes, and…”. The “yes” rule establishes openness and acceptance of what is offered to you. The “yes, and …” rule requires building on the offering that is given to you. This builds trust, which is the key for successful collaboration and teamwork. By learning to say “yes, and…” I learned to become less judgmental about others’ ideas, and have taken the opportunity to take more risks and be more creative when building on the ideas offered.
3. Play and Creativity. A recent study found that children laugh 400 times a day, while adults laugh on average 14 times a day. Sad, isn’t it? Play is the root of our creativity, and laughter enables us to reduce our stress. The two go hand-in-hand. Most surprisingly to me, the stress-reducing benefits of laughter became apparent after my first improv class. I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed so hard and for so long. I left my classes each evening feeling so much lighter than when I had entered them.
Challenging, uncertain, and even hesitant at times in letting my true self come out from behind my “mask”, improv stretched me to develop my confidence and a stronger sense of who I am. And I have to say, that the benefits and lessons learned are well worth any of the discomfort I experienced while going through the process.