Improv Lessons: Pay Attention!

One of the most basic principles to great improvisation, on stage or off, is to simply pay attention! Even though it is simple, it is so hard for people to grasp.

In an improv comedy sense, paying attention means listening – and fully hearing – what your fellow performers are saying and doing, observing the audience’s reactions, and being aware of the environment and reality you are creating on stage. Most new improvisers (and, sadly, many experienced ones) pay attention to only one thing: their own thoughts!

It’s understandable. There’s a lot going on during an improv game. And if you are a beginner, you are going to feel a certain amount of stress and not really trust the process. So, out of stress, fear, inexperience, and a desire to succeed, you start thinking a whole lot about what you can do, or what you can say, or where you can take the scene. Unfortunately, this destroys the collaborative nature of improv and lessons the overall effectiveness of the scene, your partners, and ultimately yourself.

In the “real world,” the same rule applies. The key to great communication – be it in the form of teamwork, leadership, customer service, sales, or even public speaking – is to pay attention to the people and environment around you.

If you are with a prospect, stop thinking about all the things you want to sell him and pay attention to what he really needs. If you are with a customer with a problem, stop trying to deflect blame and start paying attention to what her real issues are. If you are with a loved one, stop thinking about the work you have to do later and start paying attention to how they are connecting with you.

This is a simple principle, but a powerful one. Start paying attention and watch you improvisation and ability to connect and be effective explode!

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