4 lessons improv can teach you about communication

Who knew improvisation could improve your career?

Signing up for a few improv classes seemed like nothing more than a fun, personal challenge, writes Mike Proulx, chief digital officer at Hill Holliday. But he "learned way more than [he] expected to" and stuck with it for 14 months, he writes. In a recent article for Fast Company, Proulx shares four lessons he learned about communication—both on and off the stage.

1: How to listen. "I absolutely hate small talk," Proulx writes (and he's not alone). But improv taught him that being a good conversationalist is really about being a good listener.

When you're on stage, you can't just think about what you're going to say next, or your lines won't relate to whatever your partner just said, Proulx writes. Instead, in improv and other conversations, you must pay attention to your partner's words, so you can pick up on anything unusual or interesting and build on it in your response. 

2: How to make quick decisions. Improv actors have just a few moments to consider a prompt and decide how their character will respond to it, Proulx writes. This helped him get more comfortable interpreting information "on the fly" and showed him that it's possible to make a well-grounded decision quickly, he writes. 

3: How to engage an audience. "Show, don't tell" is a familiar adage for writers, actors, and speakers, but improv will teach you what it really means, Proulx writes. On stage, you can't narrate your actions for the audience. You have to act them out—without props.

The same skill applies to any other presentation or conversation, Proulx writes. Don't merely describe your ideas to your audience. Bring the idea to life by showing them what it looks like in action.

4: How to embrace the unknown. Because improv artists don't have a script, they have to plan in real time for the unexpected. Each moment, they must be able to imagine possible outcomes and notice when new opportunities appear. Proulx writes that this experience taught him to look for the opportunities during uncertain times, reducing his stress overall (Proulx, Fast Company, 11/30).  

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