How Improv Can Help You Improve

Tips to make you a better performer, communicator, and perhaps a better person.

Lisa B. Marshall
6-minute read
Episode #84

Improve Through Improvisation

About a year ago Stever Robbins, the Get-It-Done Guy, suggested that I take an improv class.  I thought, “Why should I take an improv class? How’s that going to help me?” I decided to marinate my decision. I’m the kind of person that likes to do research and think through my decisions.  For example, when I was in school, I was always the last one to turn in my test. Or when I go to buy something, I read all the online reviews first.  I'm just not a spur of the moment kind of person. As you might imagine, the idea of taking an improvisation class was something that quite frankly I found a bit scary. 

But I’ve been working on trying to make decisions faster, so last week, after thinking about it for an entire year (yes, an entire year) I finally took a four day intensive intro to longform improvisation workshop (I mentioned I like to marinate on my decisions, right?)

Oh, man, I AM SO GLAD I took this class from PHIT (that’s Philly Improv Theater)! It's one of those things--you don't know what you don't know--until you know. Not only did I learn about improvisation, I learned (and was reminded of) several important life lessons.  So, today, I'd like to share with you some of my "ah-ha" moments. You probably already know this stuff, but I figure it never hurts to be reminded of the important life lesson stuff, right? Honestly, I’m hoping this article might persuade you to take an improv class or at least go see an improv performance.

What Improv Can Teach Us

So what exactly did I learn or relearn?

Lesson #1:  Laugh More

Most importantly, I was reminded that fun, play, and laughter are equally important as serious work. I laughed more in those four days than I had in some time and it made me feel better. Laughter stretches muscles in our face and body, raises our pulse and blood pressure, and causes us to breathe faster.  Some researchers say the benefits of laughter are like a mild workout! I know for me, it was great to spend a few days laughing and having fun with other people.  It gave me a boost.  It definitely put a spring in my step. 

I've decided to play more.  I'm committed to having more fun. I hope that’s why you’re reading this article—because you find it fun (and informative).  

Lesson #2:  Commit 100%; Sell It!

I was reminded how important and helpful it is to commit to something 100%. In fact, the bolder I was and the more committed I was to my improv character choices the EASIER it became. Kristen, my teacher, said several times, "Make a choice and commit. When you are able to commit you can settle into the character and then you'll just know what to do."

When I was able to commit 100% to a choice, it reminded me of the feeling I have when I'm been “in the zone” --it gave me that feeling of energized focus.  You know that feeling you get when you are so completely absorbed and immersed in the activity that you don't even notice that you’re hungry or that time is passing. 

When I committed 100% I was able to shake my feelings of self-consciousness and just have fun! And when I wasn't fully committed, I was shaky.  I was nervous and struggling with what to say and do. I was full of self-doubt. It was a horrible feeling.

So whether you're singing in the shower or delivering a presentation, give it your all.  Enjoy the process. Participating fully and relaxing into the activity is what leads to success--no matter what your skill level is. Being bold and committed, regardless of what you are doing, is what makes you a standout.  So, I’ve decided to commit to commitment!


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.