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5 Public Speaking Lessons from Improv

Posted by Magdalena Georgieva

Mar 17, 2013, 12:27 PM

Toastmasters and improv have a lot in common: thinking fast on your feet, staying engaging to the audience and telling a meaningful story. That is one of the reason why I, along with a few other ToastSpot members, decided to take an improv course offered by Boston's Improv Asylum.

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Here are the top five lessons I learned from my very first classes:

1. Listen, listen, listen

A common activity for learning to improvise is this associations game, in which one person says a word and points at someone else, thus inviting them to respond with the first thing that comes to mind. In improv, it seems like performers can do this in a funny and witty way. Yet, what actually makes a situation truly remarkable isn't the intended humor. It's the authentic reaction to something real.

Simply listen and respond. Llistening is the foundation of effective communication, whether in a group setting or in a one-on-one meeting.

2. Don't let words trip you

If you are having trouble with listening, try something funky. Play the same associations game mentioned above, but with sounds instead of words. This will make you a lot quicker, more sponteneous and unafraid to be real. If you can react instinctively to an inarticulate sound, you should be able to do the same with words. Don't let words trip you.

3. Tell a story

Another valuable exercise in improv teaches you to focus on the actual story. Do you remember this game: one person says a word that starts a sentence, and every following player adds a new word that completes the sentence? This is a great game to focus you on telling a simple story with a beginning, middle and an end. Try playing it with a few friends and remember to create something meaningful.

4. Evolve the story through agreement

When collaborating, in order to let the story evolve, you shouldn't negate what someone else says. That will most likely put an end to the story or at least get you in a corner that you can't get out off easily.

Instead, build on the story with agreement. Wondering how to do that? Try a "Yes, and" exercise that forces you to agree with someone and see what happens. The conversation will move forward in unexpected and authentic ways.

5. Build a world using objects

We rely on shared human culture in everyday interactions and it's amazing how well we communicate with each other when we make the right references. They help us paint a picture using everyday life objects.

In improv, one can create a scene by pretending to be in a specific enviroment, like a kitchen. Opening the fridge, washing the dishes, throwing the trash, mopping the floor--these are all distinct activities one can recognize just by watching someone pretend doing them.

Using the objects around us in this way has the power to make everyone watching part of the same world. Pretty cool, eh? Try using objects in your speeches and see how the audience reacts to that!

Have you tried improv? What lessons do you have to share?

Image credit: slimmer_jimmer

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