You’re in a staff meeting when suddenly someone asks for your opinion. Or you’re in the elevator with an exec you’d like to impress. Or a co-worker asks you a brazen question.
And you’re at a loss for words.
Learn to improvise in any situation by using these tips from the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), a highly respected training center for comic improv in New York City.
Move the conversation forward by saying “yes.” For improv performers, this is critical to creating a scene. The minute you reject a fellow actor’s idea, the scene breaks down. The same thing applies in the real world.
Example: A colleague says, “The copy machine is jammed again.” You say, “Yes, that happens so often, I thought everyone would benefit from a step-by-step guide for troubleshooting the machine. I’ve posted it above the copier.”
Don’t second-guess yourself before speaking. When you’re struggling to come up with the perfect response and critiquing yourself as you talk, you might start sounding like this: “Well, uh, I believe ... let’s see ...”
Instead, listen to and trust the voice inside your head. Your response may not be perfect, but it will be just fine. And your confidence will say more about you than the most perfect words ever could.
Tip: “Watch ‘Desperate Housewives’ or ‘30 Rock’ and assume you are one of the characters,” suggests Mike Ross, a student at the UCB. “Respond out loud to whatever is going on with whatever comes into your head. Be outrageous, be crazy, but keep the scene going.” In improv, even when you put your foot in your mouth, you go on as if that’s what you meant to do.
Make everyone else look good, and you’ll look good, too. In improv, the more you trust others and invite them to shine, the stronger you get. In the real world, practice acknowledging others and make an effort to promote their ideas.
Example: In a meeting, shine the spotlight on a co-worker by saying, “Yes, I like your idea. It reminds me of something Kim was discussing yesterday. I’d be interested in hearing her talk more about that.”
— Adapted from “How to think on your feet,” Gail Blanke, Real Simple.
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