The Practical Benefits of Improv Training

Author’s Note: As most of you who know me personally or have followed/read me for a while know, Improv’s become a huge part of my life this year. I’ve been a long-time Improv fan and this year I came into the unique opportunity and privilege to study Improv under one of the best. For this two-part post I’d like to take an opportunity to share with you a bit more in depth about the Fundamentals of Improv with Shannon Winpenny training center and the impact it’s had on me in hopes of perhaps inspiring you to give the program a try (assuming you live on O’ahu). Previously in Part One I talked about the program itself. In this post, Part Two, I talk about some of the practical benefits I’ve gleaned from my Improv training which has helped me in my daily life.

Prelude

My journey into Improv began this past April with a mere fascination and hopes of learning how the pros on TV do it. Whose Line Is It Anyway was one of my all-time favorite shows and each week I was oohed and aahed at how folks like Ryan, Colin, Wayne, Gregg, Brad, and Chip could literally come up with funny stuff off the top of their heads and not look completely stupid. Over the past few years I’ve been following the local Improv scene through my good friend Sharon Garcia-Doyle who is actively involved in it alongside her husband, local performing arts deity R. Kevin Garcia-Doyle. When the Doyle’s informed me about a new Improv training program being started up by big-time Improv pro Shannon Winpenny I was like, “Sign me up!!!”

My intent was to learn more about Improv. The resulting effect was a lot grander than I ever imagined it could be.

Improving Your Communication Skills

The biggest benefit you as the average person will develop as an Improv student is an overall improvement in your communication skills in general. The necessity of developing ones communication skills can never be emphasized enough (hence why we all take years upon years of English and Speech classes in school). Communication is the foundation of any solid relationship: romantic, platonic, brotherly/sisterly, parent/child, professional, etc. Communication skills (and the lack thereof) are the one thing that can often make or break a relationship, a career and a team. Typically speaking, most people probably do not communicate as well as they should in any environment hence the cause of frequent misunderstandings, hurt feelings and set-backs in productivity. By sheer force of necessity, as an Improviser, you will improve your communication skills ten-fold. Here’s how and here’s why.

Improved Listening

As an improviser you are forced to listen to and react to what is said and done to you on stage. As there is no script to follow you are strictly forced to rely on and react to what your partner says and does to you. You are forced to “tune out” everything else around you, “be in the moment” and actively listen and react to what your partner says. Communication theory and research (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication if you’re wondering) shows that most people are poor listeners and listen passively or hear things through filters because their minds are distracted with the “noise” of daily worries. Eckhart Tolle’s best-selling book, “The Power of Now” speaks to the same effects. As an improviser you will improve your listening skills ten-fold. How has this helped me in my daily life? I “hear” my friends, loved ones, classmates, and colleagues better when they share things with me. As a result I can better address their concerns or simply just lend a better ear and support. On the job and in school I take improved notes at meetings and classes and my colleagues have noticed and thanked me for my detailed notes following meetings and class when I send them minutes and notes via e-mail. If you’re a student taking classes or a professional who attends multiple meetings a day you will notice your note taking skills improving for the better. This stuff helps and it will get you immediate results!!!

You Will Learn To Deal With and Handle All Kinds of Characters

One thing Shannon’s mentioned time and again in class is the fact that the world contains 5 billion people. In Improv while on stage you will deal with hundreds of characters in literally hundreds of situations. In a world with 5 billion people it is not beyond reason that these characters can and will interact with one another. Improv is basically like life on steroids in that respect. In our daily lives we come across all types of characters in our daily interactions. Some of these characters we’d rather not meet (ie – the belligerent types, tweaked out druggies, the jerks and/or other assorted weirdos we come across) but we must nonetheless learn to interact and deal with them. Improv, believe it or not, is good training for that as on the stage you have no clue what kind of curve ball your scene partner will through at you and you must give a reaction nonetheless. On stage I’ve interacted with a caveman, a pirate, a gay lover, a talking cat, etc, etc. How has all this playing with make believe characters helped me at work or at school or just in life in general? In my regular day I too come across many types of characters and personalities. They may not be as colorful as the characters I come across on stage but like anywhere else in life you have to learn to work and deal with all kinds of people and some people are more difficult to work with than others. Improv has taught me the patience and helped develop within me the interpersonal skills to handle the multiple types of personalities I come across on a daily basis and as a result I find I can interact with people better, especially the ones I’d rather NOT deal with. The types I’d shy away from working with in the past I find I can handle them better now as a result. This stuff works!
Think On Your Feet

With your improved listening skills, improved speaking skills and ability to handle whatever stimulus (character, situation, etc) that comes before you you will literally be able to think on your feet and handle whatever comes your way both on stage and in real life. In real life the benefits are obvious. If you find yourself in a difficult situation (ie – angry customer, angry parent/spouse, emergency situation) you will be able to keep composed and react appropriately. Improv, as Shannon puts it, teaches you to use different parts of your brain muscles, and the ability to think on one’s feet and react appropriately to any given situation is as valuable a skill one can have regardless of any situation you find yourself in.

Developing a Silver Tongue

Despite having a degree in Communication and having had years upon years of public speaking experience through my roles in competitive speech and debate, student government and workplace leadership roles as well as classroom teaching experience I too, like most people, often find myself tongue-tied and have difficulty expressing myself, particularly when the subject matter was either difficult, touchy or of a delicate nature. The one thing Improv has really taught me, above anything else, is to “get out of my head” and simply let the words flow. The one thing I can remember Shannon always saying, when it comes to Improv, is that it’s really not “what” you say that is important it’s merely the fact that you say “something, anything.” For myself this has really benefited me both on the job, at school and at home as I no longer find myself as tongue-tied to say things anymore when people ask me things, especially if it’s things I either know nothing about or am uncomfortable addressing.
Most people who know me would either say I’m a shy person or that I’m not overly talkative. That’s true to an extent. I’m actually an INTJ (read up on INTJ’s here and here) which basically means I don’t care to talk much unless it’s something I feel is important that I need to address and have a need to share my opinion on. INTJ’s are known for being people of few words but when they do speak it’s usually important otherwise they wouldn’t talk. For myself, having gone through Improv training I find myself definitely being more open and assertive about my viewpoints which is important and typically speaking, people tend to understand my views once they listen. Having a silver-tongue is a key critical skill anyone can ever possess. Being able to communicate your ideas clearly and eloquently and have people understand and act upon them is a treasured skill that will always take you far in life. You will have better relationships and you will have better success in whatever it is you set out to do. Being up on stage speaking passionately on any given topic will help you find that voice and develop that ever important silver-tongue (it took Ronald Reagan to the White House).
All That and a Bag of Chips
For me, regardless if I make it big on stage or not as an Improviser, the benefits I’ve reaped from my Improv training in such a short time has far outweighed the time and money I’ve invested in it. Through Improv I’ve met a ton of cool people, had a lot of great laughs, enjoyed a lot of fun experiences and have developed critical lifelong skills which have already translated into life successes for me which can only continue to get better over time. I’d love to see the same things happen for you my readers.

The next two sections of Beginning Fundamentals of Improv with Shannon Winpenny start on October 1 and October 4, 2008. The course runs 8 weeks in length on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. (section one) and Saturday afternoons from 12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. (section two). Tuition is $175.00 for the 8 week program. To register call (808) 384-3392 or email: info@laughtracktheater.com

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