I took an improvisation (“improv”) class this summer. Why? Speaker Darren LaCroix advised once in an interview that speakers should take an improv class. LaCroix is a Speaking Champion, and I trust his advice.
I took the course in Toronto where I live through a company called Oakville Improv. I had an amazing teacher by the name of Amy – but I was still sceptical. I knew that it would be an interesting class. However, I was unsure about the class' applicability for speakers. I would now HAPPILY recommend that any speaker take an improv class. In fact, I would recommend improv for anyone who wants to improve their confidence as well.
In the last few weeks of the class, I was trying to narrow down why I would recommend Amy's class for someone to take. I came up with numerous reasons, but for speakers, I think it comes down to 7 specific ones.
Reason #1: It's about PRESENCE
In class, our teacher always advised us to STAY PRESENT. The best improvisation comes when you are just in the moment. Live NOW. Be here NOW. And just go with the moment.
The same goes in speaking. Have you ever heard a speaker that just talked through an audience comment, moment of laughter, or another unexpected moment during a speech? These are missed opportunities to show presence and connect. When you stay in the “now” as opposed to worrying about what you are going to say next, the impact on your audience is so much greater. As a speaker, watch for those moments. Here are 3 ways to practice staying in the present as a speaker:
Reason #2: It's about EMOTION
The more emotions that you can evoke in your audience, the closer your connection will be with them. The best improvisation scenes have the most emotion. The best speeches have the most emotion. In improv class, I learned that the scene doesn't even have to make perfect sense, but if I could turn up the emotional level in some way, the scene just became better. Speeches are the same. Maya Angelou said that we don't remember what people do as much as we remember how they make us feel. Thanks to my improv summer I was reminded that, as a speaker, how I say something is often more important than what I say.
Reason #3: It's about RELATIONSHIPS
One of the main reasons that I think I became a better improviser by the last class is because I remembered a VERY important rule that Amy gave us about improvisation – it's all about RELATIONSHIPS. When you are making up an acting scene as you go along, the fun for your audience is not as much about the actions in the scene, but more about the relationships between the characters. For instance, if we were creating a gardening scene, the “juice” of the scene is not in the gardening, it's in the relationship BETWEEN the people in the garden. When you come up with a relationship between the actors, the scene immediately becomes more fruitful.
That gem of a tip reminded me to remember the importance of relationships when speaking. When you speak to an audience, the relationship should not just be seen as speaker to listener. Instead, ask yourself one question - “How can I close the gap between us?” How can you make yourself similar to your audience? What common problems have you had that you can share in your stories? Most of our problems are similar, it's really only our solutions that differ.
Focus on relationships when speaking. Thank you for the reminder Amy!
Reason #4: It's about EYE CONTACT
One of the scenes in the summer's improvisation class involved sitting next to your partner in silence, doing nothing but looking directly into their eyes. The instructions were to just look at each other, feeding off of the emotional variations given non-verbally through the eye contact. When the silence builds to a point that one of you feels that there is a lot of emotion and something needs to be said, then the speaking in the scene begins.
The scene is fun to act out, but the key is the eye contact to start. Looking directly into someone's eyes when you speak is very powerful, in improvisation and in speaking. Many speakers “glaze” over their crowd with their eyes, never making direct eye contact with anyone. This is a mistake. When you scan the audience while speaking, stop from time to time and look directly into someone's eyes for a few seconds. Don't stare for too long, but do this with many people throughout your speech. They will feel like you are speaking directly to them.
The eyes ARE truly the window to the soul. Eye contact is key!
Reason #5: It's about IMPERFECTION
Most people suffer from a disease called “Perfection Paralysis”. They want to do everything right – in fact they want to do everything perfectly. I still struggle with this one. The problem with striving for perfection constantly is that when they can't do it perfectly, many don't do it at all.
People are not looking for you to be perfect. They are just looking for you to be you. They are looking for someone real that they can relate to. Showing your imperfections, ESPECIALLY when speaking, actually draws you closer to your audience. Trying to be perfect repels them.
Do you want to learn to embrace imperfection? Take an improv class!! Nothing will remind you that life is about “just going with it”, more than making up a scene as you go along. In class, it didn't matter what we said or did, the point was to just KEEP GOING. Embracing imperfection and continuing with a scene, actually made it BETTER!
Just go with it, in life and in speaking.
Reason #6: It's about HUMOR
You will never laugh more than when you watch an improv scene! Victor Borge once said that “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” Very true! Improvisation reminded me that laughter is the best medicine, and to uncover humor in all of my speeches.
When you make people laugh, they will accept any message that you want to deliver.
Remember to laugh, to make people laugh, and to laugh at yourself.
Reason #7: It's about FUN
As adults we sometimes forget to have fun.
The average 4 year old laughs 300+ times daily. The average adult? Four times.
Improvisation class, above all else, was fun! There were weeks that I walked into class in a morose mood. But as soon as Amy got us “playing” with some warm-up routines, I couldn't help but feel better! And by the time the class was over, I was ALWAYS in a great mood. It was like a great workout – you may feel down when you start, but you will feel up when you're finished.
Remember that when you speak. Even if you have a serious message, leave your audience on a high note. When you have a humorous message, have FUN with it.
And finally, enjoy the process and marvel in your imperfections.
You can't get out of life alive anyways, so have FUN!!
Thank you Amy for a fun summer.
For more on Improvisation classes, go to www.oakvilleimprov.com
Share and Sign up Online at www.CommunicateToCreate.com
Speak. Share. Serve.
Kwesi Millington helps speakers, presenters and youth to connect with their audiences and master their messages using the power of storytelling in their speeches & presentations. He is a Certified Public Speaking Coach & Youth Mentor.