Don’t Overthink. Improvise.

Communicating better through improv

Credit: Daily Quotes

Do any of you have an “overthinking” problem?

I’m pretty sure “stop overthinking” would be one of the main pieces of advice a life coach would give me.

After all, I created an entire channel devoted to overthinking “for all that stuff spilling out of our heads (and hearts) because we can’t turn our brains off” in one of my Slack groups.

Communicating better through improv

That life coach may encourage me to get some improv training to learn how to shortcircuit the overthinking and ramp up the decisive action.

I did take an improv class recently. This is a post I wrote for Spin Sucks based on my experience.

Before I get to the post, I want to encourage you to check out the upcoming Kimprovise sessions in Tallahassee on July 28 and 31 if you’re local. If you sign up for one of the $15 sessions, I get to come free, so we could abolish (or at least diminish) overthinking TOGETHER! Here’s the link (just mention I referred you).

On with post:

From the World of Improv: Five Ways to Rock Your Speech

Think about the most memorable speech you have ever heard.

If you’re like me, your list of remarkable speeches is short.

But, your list of forgettable speeches goes on and on, like a keynote speaker in a dimly lit hotel ballroom who doesn’t know how to stop even after the rubber chicken has been consumed.

Not All Speeches Occur in Ballrooms

Being able to speak well is a skill that extends beyond formal speeches.

Knowing how to get your point across can make a difference.

It can make a difference in getting an initiative approved in next year’s budget, or convincing your partner to have trout instead of salmon.

And it can make all the difference in nailing down special testing arrangements for your child who has unique sensory needs.

Lessons from Improvisation

We are sometimes limited in the flexibility we have regarding the words we say.

Our time allotment may be too short to allow us to elaborate on points we think might make or break our success.

But no matter what we say, there are intangibles behind our speaking process that can make a difference.

I was sharing some tips with a friend recently about how to keep the essence of her originality while presenting information she needed the listeners to act on.

The power of improv training was one of those tips.

Because I love all you Spin Sucks people, I immediately (and spontaneously—this is improv we’re talking about after all) signed up for an improv class to refresh my memory.

Here are three classic improv principles and how they can help you present more effectively, even if you can’t change a word.

Go With Your Gut

The teacher’s exact instructions were “say the first thing that comes to mind” and “do the first motion that you feel.”

We played the classic improv game, “Zip Zap Zop.”

In the game, the participants are in a circle.

The first participant throws “energy” to a recipient of their choice, saying “ZIP” while clapping.

That participant then throws the action to another recipient, saying “ZAP,” and so on.

We didn’t know each other. We had just walked into the room as strangers 15 minutes prior. It was clumsy and awkward.

Maybe saying “zip, zap, or zop” alone is easy enough, but add to that making eye contact, clapping to indicate your intended recipient, being prepared to catch the energy again, and now you have a recipe for hesitating.

Unless you keep playing.

When you keep on playing, you learn to trust yourself.

Likewise, when you practice speaking, you learn to trust your words and body language, and you are that much closer to getting your message across clearly.

Yes, And…

Sometimes our message is one which we anticipate our audience will disagree.

An exercise we do at Toastmasters is to give a “speech to convince,” and we are encouraged to adopt a position we don’t personally hold.

I gave my speech as though I were a pregnant anti-vaccine woman speaking to a committee of extremely pro-vaccine pediatricians and family practitioners.

(In my real life, I am an advocate for vaccines.)

It was my job in those moments to try to find some common ground.

In improv terms, I was looking for the “yes, and” opportunity instead of a “no, but” brick wall.

In an improv exercise, “yes, and” enables us to learn to help each other.

What not to do:

Paula: I just found out I’m off work tomorrow!

Partner: Too bad you’ll get behind on everything.

What to do:

Paula: I just found out I’m off work tomorrow!

Partner: Yes! And the Greek Food Festival will be taking place.

The second response provides a whole lot more latitude to extend the conversation.

It’s a stretch, I know, with my pregnant mom/pediatricians scenario, to find the “yes, and.”

However, I know that what I gained from “being an anti-vaxxer for 10 minutes” was that at the core of my motives was the love for my child.

It’s easy to blow off someone who feels differently or believes inaccurate things as ignorant or uncaring.

The “yes, and” concept is something that should underpin anything we do as communicators.

For the parent headed hesitantly to a tense IEP meeting, is there something they can bring to the table to help their child’s teacher better understand?

Perhaps by making accommodations for the child’s issue, it will make classroom management easier all around.

This TEDx talk discusses how “yes, and” can be part of your organizational approach.

Mistake? What Mistake?

The third principle of improv taught is “there are no mistakes.”

(However, we did receive a warning that it’s poor form to “pull a gun” in an improv scene because it’s the ultimate power imbalance. And I have to agree.)

Once, at a school board meeting, I had exactly three minutes to give a speech about a matter that was intensely significant to me.

I sat there debating whether to take my “cheat sheet” post-it with me to the lectern. Ultimately, I decided not to.

The school board members wouldn’t know if I didn’t say what I had planned.

I would be much more able to make eye contact and try to reach them non-verbally if I wasn’t fussing with a little slip of paper.

I would also be able to give the speech without my glasses on, which felt like a small liberation.

Mistakes and the fear of making them can be our biggest inhibitors.

They aren’t fun. They can be a bit embarrassing. But the world does, indeed, keep turning no matter what we do.

This time, the improv game we played section involved singing (yay).

The leader started off with a song about stars (let’s say “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”).

From there, another participant had to jump in with another “star” song or something that played off the Twinkle Twinkle lyrics.

(Like, “I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight” by the Kinks playing off “how I wonder what you are.”)

Our class struggled here, too.

This activity required thinking, hard, while frantically reviewing songs in our brains, then having the courage to jump in and sing them.

But we did manage. And our teacher learned that run-of-the-mill, non-musical theatre people *may* not have quite the encyclopedic mental song libraries your typical theatre nerd has.

Your audience can’t read your mind and doesn’t know what you rehearsed five times last night.

Take a deep breath, and remember the motivations that brought you here in the first place.

Your Speech is a Gift

Just like the best conversations, a speech isn’t so much a one-way entity as an exchange, even if one person is behind a lectern and one or 1,000 audience members are facing them, just listening.

When our improv class exchanged imaginary “balls,” some people “golfed,” some shot “marbles,” and others pretended to struggle to heft heavy “medicine balls.”

The balls weren’t physical. They were in our minds. And the recipients immediately transformed them into what they were planning to throw.

Only you have the exact idea of what you plan to share.

Even if in theory it has repeatedly been presented throughout history, your version is uniquely yours.

The recipient is going to turn it into something new and different anyway. So, you might as well leave them recalling what made yours so memorable.

Do you have a presentation coming up, large or small, that has you anxious?

Think about applying these principles, and I’m betting you’ll walk away with a Zip (and maybe even a Zap or Zop) in your step!

Back to the Tallahassee Offer

Communicating better through improv

Our Kimprovise class.

Imagine the freedom that comes with slicing some “overthinking” out of your psyche.

Dip your foot in the world of improv at a Kimprovise session at All Saints Culture Club on Railroad Ave. on July 28 (noon) or 31 (6:30) for just $15 and try it out! Click here to sign up (and please mention I referred you!).

Other great thoughts on improv

I also encourage you to read my friend Molly’s post, Improvise Our Way to Common Ground, about improv and how everyone can benefit. I especially like the way she encourages readers to use improv techniques to achieve better outcomes from difficult conversations and increase collaboration when it seems elusive.

Communicating better through improv

I have linked this post up with the Kat Bouska site for the prompt “What advice would a life coach give you about how to improve your daily life?”

Communicating better through improv

A version of this post was originally published at Spin Sucks as From the World of Improv: Five Ways to Rock Your Speech.

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Guts, Glitter, and The Birdcage

la cage banner

Over the past three weeks, I have seen Theatre Tallahassee’s production of La Cage aux Folles four times, including opening night and the closing performance. And I am happy to announce that I have finally figured out how to pronounce the title!

That’s enough, right? Goodbye.

…..just kidding….

I don’t know how I missed watching The Birdcage in my lifetime. Because I had not seen the Birdcage, the storyline and music were all pretty much “new” to me. I found myself repeating to people “I didn’t know there was so much life wisdom in La Cage aux Folles/The Birdcage.” It’s really not that complex:

RESPECT (Look Over There)

There is a point where Jean-Michel is explaining to his father the many disappointments of life with Albin as his other parent: the school shirt request that resulted in a blouse, the beatings from those who looked down on his parents’ lifestyle, the “lack of respect.” How many of us can look back at a time in our lives when we felt disrespected by someone who actually had only our best interests at heart?

How often is someone concerned
With the tiniest thread of your life?
Concerned with whatever you feel
And whatever you touch?

GUTS

I (as the Optimism Light) ended up using this lyric as a hashtag in a tweet congratulating Theatre Tallahassee on its sold out final weekend:

GutsGlitterThe only thing I would change is: I saw a lot of guts (not just a little) displayed over the course of this show. Actors who brought everything they had (and more) to the stage. Legions of people behind the scenes who brought the show to life. A storyline that reminds us that it takes courage to stand up for being exactly who each of us is meant to be.

We face life though it’s sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter;
Face life, with a little guts and lots of glitter.

THE BEST OF TIMES IS NOW

Admittedly, I have been struggling with embracing that this is “the best of times.” The demands of parenting, caretaking for an elderly relative, finding myself at a professional crossroads, and life in general have threatened to erode my usual optimistic outlook. All I can say is that four 2.5 hour shows gave me a total ten hours of powerful reminder that I am indeed fortunate to have the opportunity to keep forging ahead, and to remember that “now” is not something to take for granted. It is, for all its imperfections, “the best of times.”

Because the best of times is now,
Is now, is now.
Now, not some forgotten yesterday.
Now, tomorrow is too far away.
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love
As hard as you know how.
And make this moment last,
Because the best of times is now, is now.

I AM WHAT I AM

If there is just one thing I want my children to take away from a lifetime of being raised by me, it is to be happy with who they are, and to respect who everyone else is. These lyrics speak for themselves ….

I am what I am
I am my own special creation.

**

There’s one life, and there’s no return and no deposit;
One life, so it’s time to open up your closet.
Life’s not worth a damn ’til you can say,
“Hey world, I am what I am!”

Lyric hopping aside, a few more thoughts:

There may be other “show must go on” moments that I was not privy to, but I give the maddest of props to J. Brown, the actor who took over as Jean-Michel on less than 8 hours notice for the closing weekend. I know that can’t have been easy, but he pulled it off well. And displayed why it always is a good idea to be prepared to learn something on very short notice — you never know when your perfect opportunity may present itself.

Lastly, I am so thrilled that Tenley (my daughter) had the opportunity to work with this phenomenal cast, and the opportunity to hone her acting skills in the company of these people. The minute amount of acting I have done has convinced me that being in the company of others doing what they are passionate about is an energizing and affirming place to be. I have to admit that try as hard as I could to keep my mouth shut when I was seated next to someone I didn’t know, I usually couldn’t resist sharing “that’s my daughter.” Mom’s prerogative, right? Just proud and happy, that is all!

after la cage

Kudos to Director Naomi Rose-Mock, and all the cast and crew for a wonderful run. It may be a while before I can get this earworm out of my head … and that’s just fine with me!

cagelles

The Cagelles
Photo Credit: Caroline Sturtz Photography

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Faster, With More Energy

I love being an extra on film sets.  When I try to pin down exactly why I love being an extra, I find that the reasons refuse to define themselves in a linear list.  I enjoy having a “bird’s eye” view of the production process, the great people I meet, and the sense of common purpose shared by cast and crew.  Because my full-time job is filled with tasks that will not show any type of defined outcome for years (if ever), it is nice knowing that putting in hours on set now will result in something to watch at an appointed time.  Here is me in a “jazz club” scene for Waking Eloise, an MFA thesis film I know I’ll get to see in August.  Hooray, a defined outcome!  (And note the look on my face because it applies later on in this blog.)

I have been auditioning at the FSU Film School twice a year for about five years now.  Until today, I chose one of the “sides” provided by the film school for each audition.  With these sides, one of the FSU Film students reads a part and I read the other while being filmed.  After the first reading, one of the students gives direction about how to read the part differently, and I read it again.  This time I did a monologue that I had chosen; doing so gave me the opportunity to memorize the part in advance.  I have found that trying to read material I am not that familiar with while also trying to emote and make eye contact with the other “actor”/the camera is disconcerting.

As much as I love being an extra, I discovered when I had an opportunity to have a speaking part in an FSU Film (Water Wings), that I love that too, and that the experience rocked my “I -want-to-express-myself-in-addition-to-being-a-mom-of-two-kids-with-a-full-time-job” mindset out of dormancy. (Read about it here.) When I prepared for Water Wings, my role was a monologue with several accusatory questions in a row:  “Why did you do this? Why did you need to hurt me? What was so wrong? What couldn’t you take?, etc.” When I practiced this at home, I spoke them as I read them, with pauses in between each question. As it turns out, the Director wanted more of a rapid fire delivery. Check.

It was in giving me feedback about today’s first monologue delivery that Aaron Nix summarized in four words an improvement I need to make in my acting (foreshadowed by Shane Spiegel’s direction in Water Wings) that I also want to make in my running (and in my life).

Faster, with more energy.
As of noon today when the audition occurred, I had not decided what the subject of tonight’s blog was going to be.  I still want to write about the “scientific so,” but that requires more research (pun intended) as does the reason that several convenience stores I frequent feature men’s undershirts and clean “tshirts” near the checkout (apparently sales are brisk, even at a significant markup).  But Aaron’s four words crystallized a great blog topic, so here goes.
Last night, in preparation for today’s audition, I decided to record myself delivering my monologue.  Someday, when my acting improves and if I accumulate additional credits, I’ll get a good laugh out of this.  There’s only so much you can do with your point and shoot camera when you are holding it at arms’ length and recording yourself, but I saw enough to decided that a) my glasses create a barrier that doesn’t help me engage and b) my delivery was so low-key that I wouldn’t want to watch me! 
With Aaron’s feedback about my second delivery today, the direction I received in Water Wings, and my own observation from my self-recording last night, I am starting to detect a theme!!  Furthermore, what’s with that de-energized look on my face in the shot from “Waking Eloise”?
It’s exactly what I want out of my running:  Faster, with more energy.
For running, getting to that sub 30 5K is obviously going to require “faster,” but the “more energy” part is something I can tackle.  I think sometimes I apply restraint to my running on the premise that I need to conserve energy when there’s more need to push myself, and to apply more energy to the things in my life that can improve my running, like better eating habits and more challenging cross training.
As for acting, I love it therefore it’s time to figure out how to get to “faster, with  more energy.”  As Seth Godin says in his blog about the dangers of the category of “neither”, “If you spend your days avoiding failure by doing not much worth criticizing, you’ll never have a shot at success.”
As the week begins, I encourage you to look for that territory beyond neither.  As Godin says, opening yourself up to taking the risk of being criticized may lead you to “encountering the very thing you’re after.”
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers.  I’ll be the fast, energetic one!
Some of the wonderful friends I have made on set — this one is “Banoffee Pie,” and FSU Media Production Narrative Project film!

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.