Improv Isn’t About the Humor
A common myth about Improv is, it’s all about being funny.
This is false. Humor is a byproduct of well-delivered Improv. Funny is born from the foundations of this skill. They give you the ability to:
- Be present at each moment
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Listen to others around you, accept their suggestions, and take the scene wherever it leads
- Use your experiences to add to the scene you’re participating in
How a Famous Speech was Born From an Improv Moment
No one better demonstrated these abilities than Dr. Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963. Many people are aware during his speech at the March on Washington legendary singer Mahalia Jackson called out to him, “Tell ‘em about the Dream, Martin!”
What most don’t know is for the previous nine months, and probably longer, Dr. King had been sharing his Dream to much smaller crowds. The first recorded version was captured in a high school gym in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in November 1962. A lot fewer people fit in a gym versus the lawn in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
He honed his message in gyms, churches, and any location which would host him. Through repetition and adjustment, he deepened the connection to the core message and his delivery flowed from that emotion.
That is also how you become better at Improv.
Dr. King Demonstrates Essential Improv Skills
So when Mahalia Jackson urged him to share his Dream on the big stage, he used Improv skills:
1. He was present — he understood the significance of the moment.
2. He was aware of his surroundings — the size of his audience and their state of mind. Not just the topic of the day, but their physical comfort. Although it was a mild August day in Washington, the heat generated by 250,000 people packed tightly together made it physically uncomfortable for many. It wasn’t easy for everyone to hear or for them to stay focused on the speakers. He knew he needed to change his message to meet their needs.
3. He accepted his ‘scene partner’s’ suggestion. By several accounts, there was a lot of friction in Dr. King’s camp about what he should say at this monumental event. It seems unbelievable today, but his Dream wasn’t planned to be in the speech. He was delivering his talk from typed script with handwritten notes scribbled on it.
During an unexpected pause in his delivery, Mahalia Jackson prompted him. It was as if the two of them were in an Improv scene. Following the key tenant of Improv — “Yes, and…” — he accepted her suggestion, didn’t refuse it, and took his speech in a new direction.
4. He pushed his script to the side, used his experiences from the previous nine months, and launched into a sermon — born from the words he had honed in those gyms, churches, and small venues all across the country. This took him in a direction that resulted in one of the most memorable and impactful speeches in American history.
It’s safe to say Dr. King demonstrated all of the best Improv skills that day in Washington D.C. to leave a lasting impression on the American conscience that’s felt today more than ever.
You and I will probably never be in the position of Dr. King, but we can certainly follow his example. Master the skills used in Improv, and you will have a memorable impact on your next audience, no matter what size it is.
On a side note, there is one aspect of Improv Dr. King failed at. Most scenes are short and quickly forgotten. Dr. King’s was neither, and for that, the world is a richer place.
One Skill to Help You Become a More Impactful and Influential Speaker and Leader
I’m frequently asked if there are opportunities to learn and practice Improv in an online environment. Contrary to popular belief, yes there is, and it works!
If you want to become a better listener and more impactful speaker, join me for Stage Time University’s Drop-In Improv. Twice a month, I host this group which is led by a longtime Las Vegas entertainer and comedy veteran
If you’ve never experienced improv, join us on the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month, 8 pm EST / 5 pm PST. Click here to check the time in your area: https://bit.ly/CPRTimeZoneConverter.
There’s no better way to spend a Friday night (or morning, or afternoon, wherever in the world you are).
For more information and to register, click here: https://www.stagetimeworkshops.com/improv-workshop
To receive a 25% discount, enter MIKE25 in the coupon code box.