I’ve done a lot of things to improve my public speaking skills: Toastmasters, professional coaching, singing lessons, acting lessons, directing classes, dance lessons, studied foreign languages and sign language, and much more. The single most important thing I’ve studied, the most challenging, the most exciting and the most fun…has been my study of improvisation skills.
You might think that improv skills would primarily give you the skill of being funny. But that’s not the number one thing it did for me. The most important gift from the study of improv has been the skill of being connected to the present moment and, more importantly, connected to the audience.
In my opinion, the most effective speaker is the one who is truly connected to the listeners. It’s the speaker who isn’t on auto pilot. It’s the speaker who isn’t locked into speaker-voice. It’s the speaker who moves and gestures with meaning and not in a rehearsed and robotic fashion.
For me, this gift of connection was the most unexpected benefit of studying improv. What is it about improv skills that help make you a very connected speaker or performer?
Improv Comedy or Improvisation for the Theater teaches you be in the present moment. It teaches you to accept the gifts of the present moment and to react to what is happening in the here-and-now. It teaches you to avoid pre-scripting your performance. The great actors aren’t acting. They are RE-ACTING to what is happening in the moment. That is what makes them appear real and natural.
In improv we learn to work with the other players. We always want to accept their offers. We learn to avoid premeditation. We learn to listen to our emotions. We learn to have a sense of what a scene needs, and not just add what we want to add.
On the improv stage we play an assortment of games which COULD detract from being in the present moment. In fact, that is what happens to the inexperienced improv player. The game focus is often so strong that it kills the scene. It prevents the player from being in the moment. The skill that improv players learn is to play the game and really remain connected to the present moment. That’s the same skill needed by speakers. A speech is never a monologue. It’s always a dialogue with the audience, even though the audience may have a non-speaking part. Improv skills teach us to deliver a speech naturally without being IN THE SPEECH. Rather than being a slave to the speech we are free to deliver the talk in a natural and connected way.
Improvisation principles helped me to raise my connection with the audience to a new level. I highly recommend joining an improv troupe if you’re serious about improving your speaking skills.