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  • Writer's pictureMatt Peake

“Yes, and…” – How Improv can improve your life

If I said ‘improv’ to you, you may think of TV shows like ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ and ‘Impractical Jokers’ or performers such as Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Josie Lawrence and Steve Carrell, you may even have seen an improv show at a comedy club.

And whilst improv performances are unplanned, unscripted and often based on suggestions from the audience, the players are all working within a shared set of guiding principles. It is these principles that are becoming increasingly recognised as vital skills in the workplace, in education and in life.

So, what are some of these improv principles and how can they make you a better person?

1. Be receptive

Improv relies on the giving and receiving of suggestions (known as ‘offers’). When we say “No” or “Yes, but…” we block ideas and shut down opportunities with negativity. When we say “Yes, and…” and build on offers we open up a stream of possibilities that generate options, enthusiasm and inclusivity.

2. Live in the moment

Because improvisation is unscripted, players have to be totally present in the moment and attuned to what is going on around them. This means really listening to what is being said, noticing body language, and engaging in the scene that is being created. As humans we spend a lot of energy dwelling on a past that cannot be changed or worrying about a future over which we have limited control, and we ignore the offers and the players that are right in front of us, resulting in a story that goes nowhere.

3. Learn how to fail well

Fear of not succeeding can be paralysing, so improvisors learn how to fail well. This means recognizing failure as an inevitable and essential part of growth – acknowledge it, analyse it and accommodate it. Managing our relationship with failure lets us be bolder and take more (sensible) risks, as well as demonstrating a vulnerability that makes us more relatable to others and builds trust.

4. Collaborate

Good improvisors know that the success of a scene lies in the collective creativity, diversity and selflessness of the troupe. Control and focus are continuously shared and swapped between players through the accepting of and building on offers, so that sometimes you lead and sometimes you stand back. It’s also about trust, support, and the reassurance that if one performer makes a mistake, the others will be on hand to salvage the situation.

5. Commit

To be credible and believable to your audience you need to trust in yourself and whole-heartedly commit to the character you are playing or the story you are telling. Live it, breathe it, be it so that everyone knows what your intentions are.

6. Be spontaneous

Being spontaneous is not about being wacky and random – it’s about the exploration of possibilities using your own creativity, curiosity, imagination and intuition. Children are experts at spontaneity, but as we grow up we tend to allow our self-censorship and fear of disapproval suppress great ideas and deny us the chance to explore and live amazing adventures.

I started doing improv as a hobby when I was working in the risk department of a bank during what was probably the darkest chapter of my life. Over the course of a year, I took a number of improv classes at The Courtyard Playhouse in Dubai and performed on stage whenever I could (yes, that is me in two of the photos).

As well as meeting some of the warmest, funniest and most authentic people I’ve ever known, improv greatly boosted my confidence, my creativity and my humanity in ways that I never expected – which is why I now use improv games and theory in my coaching and training.

If you get the chance, I would strongly suggest you give improv a go – you will certainly learn a lot, and you might even enjoy it!

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