10 Reasons to Learn through Improv

This post was originally found on my business blog and has been reposted here in May 2015.

Recently I blogged over on my personal blog about my journey into the world of improvised comedy.

Since writing that post, I’ve been thinking about all the reasons why I think learning through improv is great. Here are ten of those reasons.

1. “Yes, and…” is a great mantra

Anyone that knows anything about improv, will know that the fundamental principle is “Yes, and”. In practice, this means you have to listen and observe what has happened, accept it and build upon it.

Although simple in theory, this can be a challenge for some people. You have to resist the urge to forge ahead with your own idea or to shout down your partner. Instead you must think about how you can take their idea and improve upon it. Accepting other’s ideas and building upon them is an important lesson in business. No one wants to work with the negative person that ignores or criticises every idea someone else puts forward. They want to work with people they can collaborate with to build something great.

2. Be generous with your ideas

Improvisers need to make ‘offers’. The improviser who stands in the corner of the stage in silence is rarely very funny and doesn’t bring anything to the scene. The improviser who steps forward to greet someone on stage and says “Hi Dad, I’ve brought my fishing rod and waders, you ready for our trip?” starts something. The person on stage already knows they’re a father and are taking their son fishing, what happens next is up to them.

If you’re in a brainstorming session trying to find a solution to a problem, you get no where unless someone comes up with an idea. Don’t be the person in the meeting that says nothing. Put forward your ideas and see where they take you.

3. Accept mistakes and move on

Technically in improv, you can’t make mistakes. Everything that happens does so because someone made a choice and making a choice is good. It doesn’t matter if there was a stronger choice or a more interesting choice they could have made. You don’t stop and worry about it – doing so will kill the scene. The group accepts what happened and moves on. Often what you think was a mistake, becomes a happy accident, as someone creates something better.

Learning to accept mistakes in business is important. People are flawed and sometimes mistakes happen. How you react to them is much more important. Do you stand around blaming others or dwelling on what could have been, or do you accept what happened, do something about it and make things better?

4. Learn to adapt

One of the scariest things about improv is you just don’t know what is going to happen. You have to think on your feet and adapt as a scene develops. Living with this uncertainty can be daunting, but you learn to accept that improv doesn’t come with a script.

The business world is ever changing too and learning how to adapt to uncertainty is critical for anyone in business. Work doesn’t come with a script either, so accept this and deal with it.

5. Learn to perform

Stepping out on stage is daunting for most people. Improv really helps you get over your fear of performing in public and can strengthen your presentation skills. Once you have stood on stage having no idea what will happen, stepping up to deliver a pre-prepared speech feels easy. You don’t need to hide behind your slides or notes. Step up, speak clearly and have confidence!

6. Trust your team

In improv you really have to trust your fellow performers. You are relying on them to support you and work with you to build a scene. As you practice and perform together, you learn to anticipate each other’s needs and even after a few hours it can feel like you’ve know each other for years. Practising improv with your team can help you create a strong bond. You will work together better than you ever have before. Like all good team-building activities, it teaches you to communicate better, trust each other and to never let each other down.

7. Ignore your inner filter

A barrier to thinking on your feet can be your inner filter. When you first start to improvise, you find yourself analysing every potential offer or choice you want to make. You reject ideas because you’re worried you will look silly or it won’t be funny enough and that hesitation means that whatever choice you do go with doesn’t have the same impact it might have done the first time you thought of it. With time you learn to tame this filter and become braver about the choices you make. You put forward more ideas and you increase your ability to innovate.

8. Make a fool of yourself

There will be times in improv where you do something very silly. Maybe you will find yourself pretending to be a goat, speaking with a ridiculous voice or you simply trip and fall over on stage. It is easy to become embarrassed by things like this, but you have to ignore it and move on. Often the sillier you are, the funnier you are.

We Brits can find this really difficult. We hate doing anything that might make us look silly, but lets face it, we all get embarrassed from time to time. Having the humility to recognise this, laugh it off and move on helps you get over disappointment and can help you handle stress. You’re in a safe environment, so don’t be embarrassed. Be bold!

9. Be active

Improv is usually an active and energetic way to learn. You sometimes find yourself running around stage chasing a shoplifter, jumping up and down pretending to be a rabbit or trying to lift scene partners into impossible positions. Learning through improv uses your whole body, not just your brain and getting your endorphins flowing can really help you to learn.

However if you’re not so mobile or have a disability that’s okay too – you can still join in. Just choose exercises or adapt scenes to suit you. When anything goes, it is easy to create something that works for everyone.

10. Live in the moment and have fun!

Perhaps the most important reason of all, learning through improv is fun! Laughing is great medicine and I guarantee that you will laugh. Sometimes you will laugh so hard you might make yourself cry. That’s okay – improv helps you to live in the moment and enjoy life. It’s a great stress buster and beats death by PowerPoint any day.

Next time you want to run a leadership course or a team building activity, why don’t you try improv and benefit from all of these reasons and more?

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