Rules of Improvisation can help all of us in work, life & love. My mentor and improvisational guru Del Close once said to our class, “First, there are no rules. OK? Now, Rule number one….!” …and went on to discuss the rules that make an improvisation scene work. (I believe what he was saying was that there are rules to Improvisation everyone should follow, but sometimes, those rules can either be broken or not used at all in certain situations. But I digress). What follows are, to me, the BIG 3 RULES OF IMPROVISATION.
Rule #1: Agreement
Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re doing improvisation, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun. Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you. As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?
Rule #2: Not only to say yes, but YES, AND…
To often we either hear, “No” or “Yes, but…” They actually accomplish the same thing: disagreement. For an improvisational scene, business project or relationship to work, you must agree then add something of your own. If I start an improvisational scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere. To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
Rule #3: Actively Listen
You know the saying –you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Remember, the silence is okay. Enjoy the silence and listen to your partner and react. In communication the most important tool we have is the tool we discard first: the ability to listen. Truly listen. Strongly listen. Heartily deep-tissue listening. When someone we’re communicating with goes off the “script” we thought they’d participate in, we go into our “heads” and pull out of the moment we’re in. In other words, WE STOP LISTENING! Immediately. We’re no longer present. We may be hearing the words they’re saying but we’re certainly no longer engaged in the conversation. If we’re not engaged in the conversation, we’re unable to pick up on cues, to move fluidly, to respond honestly, to hear what our client is “saying,” either with their words or with their actions. My biggest pet peeve (something I work on continually) is knowing that the person I am conversing with is just waiting for me to stop talking so they can say what’s on their mind. They’re not listening, just waiting to talk. Thus, no connection. Active listening connects us, inspires us, moves us, and because of that we’re an active partner in troubleshooting, problem solving, empathizing, and partnership building. This muscle, the “listening muscle,” is built through practice. Only because you’re listening!
So, thanks for AGREEING to read, don’t forget to LISTEN and always say YES…AND!
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