Almost a year ago I started attending an improvisation theatre class. The improvisation was first used as a technique from Viola Spolin, the well – known mother of improvisation theatre, who used some impro games to teach actors how to relax before going out on stage. It took some time before improvisation got famous and nowadays the techniques are used not only in theatres but also in schools, personal and business development trainings, psychotherapy, brainstorming sessions among others.
I have never wanted to become an actress or perform in front of people. However, I decided to join the class, because all my friends, who had attended an improv theatre class, used to tell me – “It helped me improve my presentation skills a lot”, “This is the best way to get out of your comfort zone and have fun at the same time”, “I have never though that an improv theatre class will improve my communication skills as well”, “I met some of the best friends in my life”.
Well, I decided to give it a shot. And now, a year later, I want to share some of the main principles that I learned and how they help me be a better person every day not only in my business life, but in my personal life as well.
Warm Up and Be Prepared
The first thing that we do at every improv class is to warm up with some quick and fun games. The aim of the games is to boost our energy, get us into the “improv” mood and prepare us for the class. The whole class after that consists of short and long games that focus on a certain skill that we need to practice. And here is the key work – we practice during the whole time, we don’t rehearse. And this is the point of the improv theatre – to concentrate on practicing certain principles, to be consistent with what you do and not to repeat one thing over and over again. This helped me a lot in my preparation for different presentations – I focused on practicing the skill of presenting regularly and not just on the current topic that I needed to present.
In improv theatre, you have to be willing to fail, to look foolish, to take part, to take risks. There are no mistakes and you should not be afraid of failure, because even if you fail, someone from the group will immediately save you and even if you look foolish, another person will join you and you will both look foolish. This helped me get out of my comfort zone, not be afraid to act and just be myself.
Stay in the Moment
In all improv games, we have to communicate in present tense and stay in the current moment. Don’t think about tomorrow or plan what you will say in 10 minutes, because you never know where your partner in the scene will take you. Thus, you have to learn to stay in the current moment and be focused on what is happening now. Don’t think about the future or the past but only respond to the current situation.
It is important to focus on what is happening around you, not what is happening within you. Focus on the details, on how others react and what they say, don’t think of how you look or what you will say. This is called external focus and not internal focus – on our own needs, beliefs, or fears. For example, when I am doing a presentation I used to focus on myself, my presentation skills and my pronunciation but now I think more about the audience, the topic, and how I can engage them more. It is the same when you communicate with other people – focus on the positive side of the conversation, on what you can bring out of that person and how you can relate to them.
One of the most important principles in good communication not only in improv, but in life as well, is to listen, understand and then respond. In our games, we have to hear what others are saying actively and then try to build up on their ideas – not ignore them or oppose them but accept them and build up on them. A great lesson for any brainstorming session.
Action beats inaction
One of the most difficult things for me in the classes was to learn how to start doing what I want to do immediately, without talking about it beforehand. I was always told by the instructor – don’t talk about it, just do it. Don’t tell me what you want to do, show me your actions. Specific actions build up the situation, not words stating your intentions. There might be no chance to actually do what you want to if you wait for the others to understand what you are saying.
Read more for the principles of improv theatre in part 2.