Self IMPROVment: lessons learned from IMPROV class

When I started to talk to people about the improvisational theatre class that I was taking – they inevitably asked: Do they teach you how to be funny? Well, no, not really. It is mostly a series of games that you play that provide a framework to set creativity free and allow a scene to thrive.

Tina Fey describes the laws of IMPROV* and how they relate to life lessons in her book Bossypants.

I also began to notice that the tools of IMPROV could be applied elsewhere in life. It has helped me to improve my self and how I interact with others. In a lot of ways, my class felt like therapy.

1) Really listen. Starting your next sentence with last word of your partner’s last sentence forces you to listen. You are literally hanging on their every word, and like musical chairs, wondering when they will stop and where you would begin. We have all had moments where we are waiting to talk or have just spaced out a bit when someone is talking to us. I realized that most of the time when I feel like I am not getting anywhere in a conversation with someone it is often because I am not listening (sorry friends, co-workers, family, Dave). When I am really listening, the conversation moves much more quickly towards solutions.

2) Say yes and provide new information. For example, if your scene partner limps into a scene and says – my leg is broken. Don’t say – It doesn’t look broken. (This is called blocking and it basically kills the flow of a scene). Say something like – your leg is broken and we need to get you out of this cave. The new information are offers for your partner to build on. This comes in handy for brainstorming an ideas wherever you are. By saying yes, those involved are encouraged to continue and take the next step. Watch how quickly ideas can build and become something better than what you started with. Who knows where a broken leg can end up – the hospital, a bathtub of ice, a snowstorm.

3) Be consistent because the audience sees and hears everything. Once you have decided that you have a certain point of view in a scene you must be consistent. For example, if you say at some point in your scene that you are a vegetarian, you cannot suddenly be interested in a roast beef dinner. This transitions to life because there is often an audience in life and those around us are watching for inconsistencies. A co-worker of mine noticed that another co-worker who suggested we meet, did not show up to the meeting. Be consistent between what you say and what you do. There is always an audience and it is important to be consistent to build and maintain trust and integrity. This is especially true for leaders whose audience tends to be larger and more heavily scrutinized.

4) Turn off your filter, don’t judge and commit to something. When I started the class, I found I was often second guessing myself in scenes on what to say and in the end not saying anything at all, thereby leaving my partner hanging and killing the scene. Over time I realized that whatever I said, it would be ok and it was more important to commit and choose something than to leave my partner hanging. This has made me realize that getting my ideas out there is just as important as having them. If you don’t take the first step of making your ideas into an action, it’s as though your ideas don’t even exist. Let’s turn off our filters, stop being our worst critic, and commit to sharing our ideas. Just do Something.

There is more so I think I am going to have to write my first 2 part blog to cover everything I learned…

What activity got you out of your comfort zone? What did you learn from it? 


* I love how improv keeps spell-correcting to improve.

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