Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Benefits of Improv

By my rough calculation, I’ve been “doing” improv for about six months. That’s what “they” call it, “doing.” 

And while having “done” it, I can’t point to one single specific instance or lesson that has changed my life for the better, I’d be young, dumb, and unplumb to claim it hadn’t done anything for my personal development.
In my first meeting with my new mentor at work – who is a VP in Information Technology – we spent almost the entire hour talking about how the keys to influencing originate in the same crafty grotto that improving was born in.
  • Make Eye Contact – If you want someone to trust you, you’re going to have to look at them eventually.
  • Pay Attention to Body Language – Smiles and attention are good, keep it up. Eating a cheesestick and turning their lower body, stop talking!
  • Be a Decision Maker – Quickly consider, make a choice, and stick with it. Mistakes are easy to learn from, you’ll only get better and making choices. Again, if you want to be successful, you’re going to have to perfect this eventually.
  • Pay Attention to Status – Know that asking a bunch of questions and looking around are a sign of deference. If you want to take charge, drop the question marks and make people give you what you want (even as you pay attention to their needs). 
  • Play to Personality (Mirroring) – Know your own personality type, and adjustments you might make when meeting or speaking to new people. Copy their language, posture, and personality.
My VP had never done improv, but after hearing of what you must pay attention to when “doing” it, he strongly encouraged that I continue. That, and to get a haircut, shave my chest, and call a lawyer, immediately.

This morning I rolled out of my catbed and into the Volvo so I could make it to Toastmasters at 8 AM. While I’m not yet an official member of the public speaking club, I have given a few speeches and have already been adopted as the club humorist.

I have ten clean jokes, and I've already used two at Toastmasters:
  1. On a Tyrannosaurs’ treasure map, Rex marks the spot.
  2. FrugaliTip: If you’re looking to save money, customize your credit card with your middle school class photo. You’ll never, ever use it.
Today the roasted Toasters asked me to give a two minute speech to a hypothetical class of 5th grade students on why I should be elected the next President. I improved the whole thing, running on the political platform that I would save America from itself by putting 5th  graders in charge of National Insecurity, renewable Razr scooters, and making sure no child read the Left Behind series.

It seemed so easy; definitely easier than the last time I gave an improved speech, last January. Be confident, move around, smile a lot, squeak a few times, and all of a sudden two minutes is up and you hear one coworker asking another what kind of mind-altering drugs she thinks I take on a weekday morning before the sun comes up.

Onward, to the benefits of weekly improv practice:
  • Toned Tweeting Muscles
  • Frictionless Friends – Great people with a variety of backgrounds who love to make you laugh. They get to see you screw up, you watch them waver, and suddenly you’re on the same team. No better way to build trust than by letting someone see you act like an idiot and make mistakes.
  • Better Working Memory – Talk about a short-term memory exercise; listening to and remembering what people say, act, and prefer.
  • Improved Spatial Awareness – “You’re standing behind me, aren’t you?”
  • Increased Work Output – When you start doing work right when it comes to you, you get more done! Multitask mastery.
  • Leading Group Conversations – A juggling analogy: It’s easier to keep multiple conversations in the air at once. Note: especially if you’re wearing the skin of a clown you killed.
  • Ideating/Initiating at Work – Having the confidence to voice ideas and take them from inception through the steps needed to reach completion.

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