Turns Out, It Ain’t About Being Funny
When I started taking Improv classes four years ago, I started for the same reason most people deal…
I wanted to be funnier.
I had no idea improving my humor would be the least of the benefits I gained.
Since getting involved with Improv, I’ve improved in three specific areas of communication. This has created better relationships with the people I’m closest to. And it’s also made me better in my work as a speaker, consultant, and trainer.
There are many benefits I’ve picked up from Improv, but these three stand out the most:
1. Be in the moment
A key to a good improv scene is to build upon what your scene partner(s) has just said. Because we live in such a frenetic and distractible world, this is a difficult skill to master.
Most of us go through our day reacting to one situation after another or managing the distractions of texts, emails, or phone calls. Because of this, many people have adopted the habit of anticipating what people are going to say.
In general, this is not a good habit because it leads to wrong assumptions, miscommunication, and conflict.
How Improv Helps This Problem: Improv forces you to slow down your brain so you’re not anticipating the direction a scene will go in. Sometimes the last word your partner says changes that direction.
If you’re anticipating where you what the scene to go and miss that final word, it can kill the flow because what you’re saying doesn’t make sense. And that will ruin the scene. It takes practice and repetition, but when you can turn off your little voice and be present, your improv skills greatly improve.
This leads to the second key…
2. Better Listening
Each of us lives with two sets of communication,
1. The one with other people, and,
2. The one in our head
This was alluded to in the first key. It’s difficult to pay attention to others when you’re dealing with the constant chattering in your head.
This also creates miscommunication and conflict. Being present in any conversation is dependent on your ability to focus on the other person’s words. You must carefully listen, not just with your ears, but with your eyes and your emotions.
Improv helped me to improve my listening skills by paying closer attention to tonality, inflection, and rate of speech. It also helped me watch my scene partners and sense the shift in their moods.
If you’ve ever been in a romantic relationship, you know this skill can make or break said relationship.
And this leads to the third benefit…
3. Yes, and…
If you’re not familiar with this concept, it is the bedrock of Improv. It’s the foundation because memorable scenes are built upon the idea of supporting what you’ve just heard and adding to it.
The opposite concept, “Yeah, but…” is the Scene Killer. No matter how outrageous a suggestion an idea you are given in a scene, you must take it and add to it. That’s what makes Improv fun, unpredictable, and challenging.
“Yes, and…” has been the key to improving my personal relationships. I’m embarrassed to write this but, for a good part of my adult life — come to think of it, even when I was a kid — I had a big problem…
In virtually every situation, I knew, with great certainty, I was right, no matter what the topic or my lack of experience with it. I always had the right answers.
Fortunately, in my 40s I started to see I wasn’t as brilliant and insightful as I had led myself to believe. The “Yes and…” concept lit a fire under that insight. It helped me open up my mind and hear the wisdom and insights of others.
Turns out, I’m often the least qualified person in the room to be making comments. And I’m now okay with that.
When I hear new ideas or ones which are contradictory to my beliefs, I now attempt to slow down and at least hear the other person’s perspective. I might not agree, and I don’t have to change my point of view, but it makes for more engaging and enjoyable communication.
And it’s all thanks to “Yes, and…”
Want to learn more about Improv?
If you want to improve your communication skills, I can’t think of a better forum than Improv. Fortunately, Improv clubs have sprung up all over the world, even in our new virtual environment. I host a twice a month improv group and we have a blast. If you’d like more information, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.