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

Lesson #3: Make It About the Present Moment

Speaking of which, toward the end of the last day I found myself not participating. I was thinking about the activities we had done in the morning and I was also worrying about the final performance our group was going to have to do.  In essence I wasn't focused on the present moment; I was too busy thinking about the past and the future. 

Unfortunately, my distraction caused me to not participate at all in the game we were playing at that very moment.  I later realized that not only had I let myself down, but in a way, I had let the rest of the class down too.  Because, I wasn't participating they needed to work that much harder. It reminded me of that John Lennon lyric, "Life is what happens when you're busy making plans." 

Lesson #4: Listen Fully and React

During one activity, I missed a big offer.  What does that mean?  My scene partner said, "Yes, we've had five deaths at these waterfalls."  That was a very interesting statement that screamed, "Ask me more about THIS, Lisa!"  But, I didn't ask him about it.  Why?  Because I wasn't fully listening. I was only half-heartedly listening. 

The irony is that I wasn't listening fully because I was trying to come up with something creative to say.  Had I just been fully listening to my partner and not worrying about my response, I would have naturally and easily been able to respond to his big interesting offer with something creative. 

Not listening is a common problem.  I think many of us, obviously including me, sometimes start thinking about our responses instead of really listening to what our conversation partners are communicating.  And we can miss really important stuff when we aren’t fully listening to what is actually being said. I was reminded that listening requires focus and is critical to team creativity.

Lesson #5: Be Specific to Build Connections and Relationships

One of the rules of improvisation is to be as specific as you can be.  That should be a rule for all communicators.  Think about how much more you are able to communicate when you are specific.  Why should you say, “I enjoyed the party last night,” when you could say instead, "I had so much fun singing Karaoke at my sister Maria's baby shower."  By being specific you are revealing significantly more information about yourself and this helps your conversation partner to find and make a connection with you. 

Improvisation, like life, is a team sport.  To be successful you need to connect with the other people around you, and then focus and heighten the relationship. Whether you are trying to close a business deal, talking to your significant other, or performing improv, you can build strong connections by being specific.  

Originally, I wasn’t going to write an article on this. I thought it would be best to improvise a show.  So, during the workshop, I recorded a short interview with my improv teacher, Kristen Shier. But I realized after we recorded it, that I didn’t fully capture why I was so jazzed and energized. In fact, I’m still not even convinced I’ve fully captured it in this article. So I plan to wrote a short blog piece on my website about how the class helped me to think differently.

I can’t express how strongly I would like to encourage you to take an improv workshop.  It doesn’t really matter what you do day in and day out, it doesn’t matter what your profession is, you will gain significantly. Improv can definitely help you to be a better performer, a better speaker, and a better communicator--perhaps even a better person!

This is, Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.

P.S. I asked, Dan our sound editor, to include the improvised interview I did with Kristen Schier, as part of the iTunes feed. (Unfortunately, there’s no transcript of the interview, so if this is of interest, you’ll need to download and listen via iTunes!).   

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If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

Microphone image courtesy of Shutterstock


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.