One of the biggest life changers for me has been learning about improvisation and bringing those principles into my life and into my work. I am not an actor in any sense and have never been part of a stand–up comedy troupe – in fact, as an introvert the very idea of that would be terrifying to me! What I do know about improvisation is that the actors on stage have to come up with a compelling storyline and plot without any script and at the same time somehow be funny. When I first saw this years ago in action at Comedy Sports in Denver, which one of my greatest friends does professionally, I immediately assumed they were just incredibly amazing actors and comedians and had some kind of hidden talent for doing this. I went several nights in a row and realised that actually, they are highly trained and use techniques and principles that allow them to get on stage night after night and build something new. It would be many more years before I would even consider that I might be able to do this too. In my life I mean. After all, when you stop to think about it – all of life is improvised. What I also know is that by bringing these principles into my life I have more opportunity, I’m more relaxed and easier to get on with, I take more risks and I am definitely happier and more productive.
What would your life be like if you knew you could expertly handle any random situation the world threw at you? How much confidence would it bring to trust you’ll know exactly what to say the moment you’re saying it. That’s how I live my life now.
Here are 4 principles that improv actors use and the ones that I feel have made the most difference to my life. If you want more why not hop along to my webinar later today – 25th September 1pm GMT? Click here to sign up
Principle Nr 1: Listen – you’ll always know what to say next if you listen which is what improv actors are really really good at. To know what to say next you have to know exactly what was said before. Not just the words, but the meaning and the context behind them. The only way to do that is being totally and completely in the moment and 100% present – something most of us find really hard to do. Do this by single-tasking – the research behind this is overwhelming: we are rubbish at multi-tasking! So when you are engaged in a conversation, be engaged – no distractions. Make eye-contact. Whenever you feel tempted to pay attention to other things going on around you, push them out of your field of vision. The easiest way to do that is to make eye contact and focus on the other person’s face. Unlock understanding by using empathy – that means really trying to get inside someone’s head to understand their motivations for doing something.
Principle Nr 2: Say Yes – maybe one of the hardest things for me to “get”: at the core of great improv is the understanding that you can only be in control by surrendering to no longer be in control. You have to be willing to say yes to everything that comes to you. That sounds funny, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it. So say “yes” more – to the unexpected, to opportunities, to offers and even to things that might make you feel a little uncomfortable!
Principle Nr 3: Commit – improv actors fully commit to whatever part they are playing whether that is being a drainpipe or being a mother-in-law they commit 100%. This is all about not second-guessing yourself and doing things wholeheartedly bringing the very best of YOU. You are either all in or all out but once in you are focused and ready to instantly respond.
Principle Nr 4: No Wrong – Perhaps this is the most important principle of mastering improv and living in the moment. There is no right or wrong. There is only action and reaction. This is because, for improvisation to work, there’s no room to worry about such silly and subjective things as “correct” or “incorrect.”
The best way to use these principles is to practise them in your everyday – the very next time you have a conversation or the very next time someone makes you an offer. See what happens!