Improvisation, or improv as most people call it, is an activity that is performed with no planning or script. It can involve props and often involves humor but not always. It is a spontaneous performance based on a word, theme, prop or other triggers.
It scares the hell out of most people. Why would anyone want to do this and what are the benefits?
It is often used by actors and comedians but there are benefits for everyone from all walks of life. Improv is a powerful tool and while it can be intimidating or downright frightening for most people, it is a powerful practice that can benefit you in many ways.
There is no script for day to day life and generally, there is little time to prepare. We talk, well most of us anyway, many times during each day. It could be with our partner or family, the boss, a colleague or a client. We bump into old friends or attend a dinner party or have a few drinks after work. All of these engagements and many others require spontaneous conversation. Being an engaging speaker, thinking on your feet and talking confidently is an important life skill.
Sure some people are naturally gifted in this way but they are the exception. Many people struggle with conversation, especially in certain circumstances. Being able to confidently talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime is a great advantage. Improv is a perfect way to develop this ability.
Here are 16 reasons you should start doing improv:
Build your confidence
A lack of confidence is one of the main reasons people struggle to talk to others. This is particularly true of public speaking but also applies to a group chat, a meeting, an interview or even a one on one conversation.
The first time you try improv it will most likely be terrifying. This is the experience most people have unless they have some sort of prior experience or are naturally gifted in this way. Many people that have been doing improv for years still get nervous when they have to do something new. This is quite normal.
The fact is that the more you do it, like most things in life, the easier it will become. Most people will struggle initially but with practice, you will have a few minor victories and this will improve your confidence. Even if you are terrible at first, just getting up and trying is an achievement so give yourself credit. Carry on, force yourself to do more and more. Before you know it, while you might still get a bit nervous, your abilities will improve and your confidence will grow exponentially.
Always remember that most of the other people doing improv with you are probably equally nervous. Some are better at hiding it than others but many will have the same fears and doubts as you.
Remember that pretty much every conversation you have ever had in your life was a form of improv.
Come to terms with failure
You are not going to get it right every time, especially in the beginning. Even seasoned improv artists stammer and struggle at times. Learn to cope with mistakes or failure. The fear of failure is the main reason people lack confidence. Accepting that it happens from time to time will help you cope with it better.
This is something that the top sports people know very well. They will not win every time. The idea is to learn from failures and grow from them. This will help you improve. Don’t let failure make you nervous, it happens.
Another important point to remember is that you are normally your own worst critic. You might stress about small mistakes that others did not even notice. Try to look for the positives in what you did and learn from the mistakes. AS you practice and your confidence grows, your improv will improve.
Learn to think on your feet
One of the other great benefits of practicing improv is that it teaches you to think and respond quickly. Often you will be given an obscure topic, scenario or prop and suddenly you have to come up with something relevant and appropriate to say. This type of scenario happens in daily life.
Practicing improv will improv your ability to think quickly and, once again, improve your confidence in challenging circumstances.
Improve your ability to communicate
I understand that sounds very basic but communication is at the very core of our existence and all relationships. Practicing improv will improve your ability to communicate at all levels and in all situations.
The majority of us spend a great deal of our time communicating with others. Perhaps there are a few accountants or computer programmers that have to talk less than the majority but they still have to communicate. Where would the late Steve Jobs be if he could not present his vision? Where would people like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates be if they could not stand up and address the public? They are not great speakers for the most part but they are able to handle the situation and present their announcements.
Imagine if they had done a bit of improv training. They could probably achieve even more. Given their status, I am sure they all had some form of training but simple improv is all they really need. The same is true of all of us. We can only benefit from the exercise.
It can be a lot of fun
Let’s not forget about enjoyment. While we work towards a goal it is important to have fun along the way. While improve can be frightening at first it will soon become something really enjoyable. If you work within a group you will all be learning and developing at the same time. A great camaraderie will develop between the members of the group. Enjoy the experience and embrace it. You will have fun and meet some amazing people.
Improve your mental dexterity
The brain is no different from a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better it will become. Improv is a brilliant way to exercise your brain, your imagination, and your vocal skills. The more you do it, the better you will become.
If you expose yourself to uncomfortable situations where you have to think on your feet and practice improve, your other daily interactions will naturally improve. There is no easier or faster way to achieve this and it is a valuable asset.
Improve your decision making
A large part of daily life is decision making. Some times you have time to mull the situation over and other times you need to make a quick decision. Often, these are important decisions that can have a significant impact on your life. Practicing improv will help you to make better decisions with greater speed.
Improv trains your brain to think and act quickly in a wide range of situations and environments. This is a skill that will be beneficial in every aspect of your life.
Learning to listen
A large part of successful communication is the ability to listen properly. Improv practice will teach you to listen effectively. You cannot communicate clearly if you have not heard the instructions or directions. Improv will train you to listen attentively and understand what the other party is saying. Again, this is a skill that will help you in every interaction.
Learn to work with others
Teamwork is an important part of life and an essential skill. Some are better at collaboration than others but it is an essential skill in the modern environment. Improv will often require you to work with and interact with one or more other people. This is a big challenge as you have no idea where they are going or what they might say. Learning to deal with such situations will give you a great foundation for real-world situations that occur daily.
Change your perspective
Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have a fairly limited range of beliefs and ideas. Improv will force you out of that comfort zone and make you deal with situations or concepts that are out of the normal. This is a good thing. Life often throws curveballs and the ability t deal with them well is a major asset.
Improve your understanding
Improv will often force you into an unusual space. It will drive you to read between the lines and establish an opinion or an idea on a topic that you aren't familiar with. This will serve you well as such situations happen to us all the time. Someone with improv experience will be better equipped to deal with these obscure challenges.
Learn to relax
One of the major issues with public interactions is stress. Apart from building your confidence, improv can help you learn to stress less about the basics. If you are not anxious about an interaction or a presentation you will already be better at it. Practicing improv will make you more relaxed and therefore more effective in all your communication and interactions.
Improv will help you develop patience. This is something that many people struggle with. While you need to respond, react and talk promptly, improv training will teach you to assess the situation and rake a deep breath before shooting your mouth off. It is great training in that regard.
Improve your creativity
As children, most of us had wild imaginations. As we get older, most of us lose this ability. That is not to say it has gone, merely that we suppress it. Improv will spark it up again and release the amazing creativity and imagination most of us have inside ourselves.
Learn to adapt to different roles
No matter what we do in life, sometimes we are leaders and other times we are followers. You cannot always be number one. Improv teaches you to accept different roles and different situations.
Improv will also allow you to learn from others. If you are humble and listen, you can gain a lot of guidance from other people that you improv with. Look, listen and learn from others.
Develop your comedy
Ok, so improv does not have to be funny. However, it always helps. Again, this is something that comes naturally to some people but most have to work at it., Even the top comedians in the world spend a lot of time resear4ching and developing their script. Many have teams of writers that create the dialogue and they simply present it. Either way, humor is a powerful tool and it takes practice to master. Get it right and you will captivate your audience. Improv will help you accomplish this.
Having said that, never force comedy. If it is not your skill rather do not try. With time and practice, it will develop naturally so rather allow for that than forcing a poor line or joke that does not go down well.
There is no doubt that improv will benefit you. Communication is the cornerstone to life. Be it at work, with friends, strangers or personal relationships, we communicate daily. You do not need to be a public speaker or presenter to benefit from better communication and some improv is sure to improve your skills. This is something that will benefit you in every aspect of your life.
Summon up the courage and take a chance on improv, you will not regret it.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.