Why Haven’t You Done This Yet? (Part 1)

Fear-of-Looking-Stupid1By nature I’m a shy person but I hate being that way, so I do things that push me out of my comfort zone. Whether it’s hosting conferences, critiquing strangers on the street, or reading my work in public, I truly believe that when I feel nervous I’m actually growing. Improv was on the top of my list of things that scared me so I knew it was only a matter of time before I took a class.

I signed up for an improv level 0 class. Not level 1 but level big-fat-0, a four-week introduction to the art of improv with no daunting performance at the end of the course like most improv classes. While there are lots of improv schools to choose from in NYC, I picked The Peoples Improv Theater, lovingly referred to as The Pit, because it has a reputation for being really fun. Our instructor, Taren Sterry, immediately turned the classroom into a goofy, safe environment, while also offering the perfect level of critic to help us improve.

I have never had so much fun with adults. During our three-hour classes, there were moments I couldn’t catch my breath I was laughing so hard. When you’re having so much fun, it’s hard to believe that you’re learning, but I certainly was. Over the next few posts I’m going to share with you what improv taught me.

  1. Better conversational skills.

A conversation is about listening and sharing. Until I took improv, I had no idea what a terrible listener I was.  People tend to listen to the first half of someone’s story and then they’re already thinking of what they are going to say next. This leads to a conversation that is pretty flat. But if you really listen to a story about someone’s Aunt Trudy, you might pick up on a detail that could trigger a much deeper conversation. “Your aunt Trudy dated a Stan from Riverdale? My uncle Stan is from Riverdale. Maybe they dated?!? Maybe we’re related!” Even though I was having a blast, I left every class with a headache because I’ve never concentrated so hard in my life. The better you listen to what people are saying the more you can work off the golden nuggets they throw out.

I was amazed at how easy it was to converse with the other students during the breaks and after class. It was because we were all using the golden rule of YES AND. This rule is all about giving the other person something to work with. You affirm what they say and you add something to it. I have a terrible habit of giving short answers when making small talk. A part of me believes that if someone is truly interested, they’ll ask me follow up questions. I don’t want to be that person who overwhelms a stranger with my entire life story (I do that with my blog, thank you very much). But here’s a good example of a conversation that was improved with improv: Someone asked me how I was doing and my instinct was to say, “tired,” but instead I said, “I’m tired because I stayed up late doing karaoke.” See! because I added that tiny bit of info, the conversation began! We got into a big long discussion about the best karaoke songs to sing and that never would have happened if I just gave a one-word answer.

So there you have it, the first way you’ll improve from improv. Everyone could benefit from taking an improv class. I highly recommend The Pit, and more specifically my amazing teacher, Tarren Sterry. If you end up taking a class, let them know I sent you 🙂 Stay tuned for the next skill I learned from improv.

5 comments

  1. I like the “yes and” rule. It’s a good way to keep a conversation moving along. In one communications class I took, the instructor said if you were talking to someone, and your next sentence started with “I,” that meant you were turning the focus of the conversation on yourself instead of learning more about the other person. I try to remember that. I’m a little shy, too, and find it tricky to start conversations with people, but when I do, it’s generally rewarding. I love that you’re using nervousness as a path to growth. Keep it up!

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    1. I love that idea of being aware of starting a sentence with “I.” I…opps…will definitely look out for that in the future.

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  2. I spent years working in higher ed where I led parent sessions at orientations, workshops, taught classes, and led training sessions for faculty and community groups. All of those opportunities allowed me to expand the experiences of my otherwise naturally introverted nature. They were good for me, but I have to admit the older I get, the more I enjoy sinking into my introverted nature and being OK with it. I admire your attitude!

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    1. I think shyness is only a problem when it keeps you from sharing everything you know and love. It sounds like you accomplished a lot and I’m glad you are comfortable with who you are now – that is a reward in of itself 🙂

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