Improvisation as a Communications Skill-Set: Redefining Fun

I often think about our everyday life being improv. When the pressure is on though it’s easy to get off track.

Communication is not only important, but without it, human life would be non-existent. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I discovered I would be taking a communications course called “Live Exchange” (LiveE) in the MBA Design Strategy Program at The California College of the Arts. Having taken the course, I can compose a list of valuable things LiveE has taught me about communication.

While I have taken away a lot from this course and could have an endless list, one of the most important and fun things I learned is how effective communication entails verbal and non-verbal skill-sets. Did I ever think that improv would be a non-verbal communications skill-set or even a skill at all to help me overcome my fear of public speaking?

In our cohort project “Teach Us Something in Seven Minutes” we worked in duo’s and were given seven minutes to effectively teach something to an audience. I now realize there are many ways to teach something to an individual, small group or large audience. Prior to the course, I was under the assumption that one of the only ways of teaching something effectively (especially in seven minutes) was to have a script and follow it. Never did I ever imagine, I would be using improv as an essential communications tool. Through exercises in class, I was made aware that when I interacted in this way, many great things happened.

I was amazed with the parallels that I was able to draw between improv and public speaking. I will take steps to overcome my fear of public speaking through the skill-sets that I have adopted through improv. When – and, if – I stay present in the moment and open to the unexpected, I will be able to overcome that fear more.

Like improv, public speaking is about maintaining your focus on the task at hand and refusing to be distracted or stalled by outer circumstances or your internal dialogue (to be exact, knots in my stomach). By practicing this skill on a daily basis, I’ll be able to achieve this mastery. Already, I can tell that the art of improv has already helped me develop the concentration, communication and collaborative skills I need to succeed in this. By having this improv skill-set tucked away, I will be able to perform and give a public speech more naturally, confidently, and skillfully in any situation.

My partner (who is a dad of 2 little girls) and I (who adore kids) chose to teach a lesson on changing diapers. Did I ever equate studying business with fun? Yet, throughout the project, my partner and I always made it fun. There are so many ways to define fun. Personally I recognized fun, by being able to respond unexpectedly, joke around, laugh, and keep the positive energy going.

In my TUS7M project I was also responsive to gaining a learning experience about Design Thinking, risk and spontaneity. Being authentic in the moment (through this project) was a risk that allowed me to explore more deeply, leading to unexpected solutions. More ideas were being generated after our improv exercises in class. I noticed I was more at ease, and the general atmosphere and air was more alive and positive. Even through rehearsing late with my partner the night before our performance, I was able to get to know him more, through play and trust generated by comfort and expressions being evoked by emotions.

We were able to “invent” a skill-set that allowed us to spontaneously create stories and scenes teaching the audience how to change a diaper on a baby. This non-verbal communication through movement and gestures brought flow and equality. I felt equally ranked, fair and impartial. It was the ability to exchange information beyond spoken words that surfaced and I can now use to recognize people’s emotions, and discover real intentions.

There was this sense of respect and empowerment as we created these scenes. By default we taught each other not to fail but to look brilliant! Never was there judgment made because of the empowered trust that was created. Not only did we both “go with the flow”, we also brought leadership into this equation, through guiding each other. We were able to create this environment where we both felt like we were valued contributors who were competent, respected and an integral part of the whole.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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