What I learned from Improv

The anxiety started the moment confirmation pinged into my in-box.  “I am pleased to tell you that you are now enrolled onto the Hoopla Improv Performance course.”  Hurray.  The fact I was enrolled onto a beginner’s course highlighted that I could expect to be inept.

At the door I met Ash.  He was my mirror; trepidation scribbled all over his face.  We walked to the room together.  “After you”.  “No, no, after you.”  “I insist.”  We entered the room.  It was full of smiling faces.  Sixteen adults of all ages and all walks of life had gathered for ritual humiliation……………..and we were all really excited about it.

Foot Note: This story does have a happy ending, all together in a pub forging new friendships in a way that no other course could.

Our Head of Play for the day was Sophie.  She was gentle and curious about each of us.   We warmed up; exercises to get the heart pumping and the synapses firing.  Exercises to get you out of your head and into the room.  To do Improv you need to be ‘present’, really ‘present’.  Then more exercises that would get us to offer our thoughts and our encouragement to our fellow students.  Very quickly I noticed that my communication had become clear, simple and very supportive; all essential ingredients of spontaneity.  This was my first ‘Ah Ha’ moment.

More followed. I discovered that Improv is much more than releasing the inner child.  It is about getting out of your own head and out of your own way.  It is about not trying too hard to be right.  It is about allowing yourself to fail.  It is about listening.  It is about not saying no.  Above all, it is about accepting and building on what others offer.  As a trainer and a facilitator these are important skills if you are going to empower others.  The language of Improv matches the buzz words of L&D today.  They are synonymous with Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness.

I have done acting workshops before.  They highlighted that I not very good at it.  What Improv taught me is how to get better.  When I train people my mind is alert, my brain working overtime to make sure I am thinking ahead of them.  The more I practice, the easier this becomes.  After 15 years at the delivery end of L&D I have heard all of the questions and I have many of the answers.  Sometimes I can be so far ahead of the delegates that I am not really ‘present’.  Improv taught me how to be ‘present’ all of the time.  This is where Mindfulness begins.  It is a quite beautiful place when you arrive if you can roll with it.

And you will have to roll……..on the floor; jump and skip around the room; mimic one another as you make up nonsense stories; let your mind merge with others.  But go with it and you will arrive in a place where you can really be ‘present’.

As the course drew to a close I saw clear links with my work.  It appeared like a light at the end of Santa’s grotto.  If you now come on a course with TheTeamWorks you may well find Improv integrated in some way.  Not least Sophie’s finale; the Improv version of PowerPoint.

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