Improv Lesson: Make the Other Person Look Good

My improv group had a pre-show chant we would do every time right before taking the stage. The person leading would yell, “what are we going to do?” Everyone else would respond, “Have fun!” The leader would then say, “What else are we going to do?” to which everyone would yell back, “make each other look good!”

It was our way of reminding ourselves right before going on stage what the two most important factors were in having a great show: having fun, and helping each other out.

Having fun should be pretty obvious (if it’s not I’ll write more on it later!), so for now I want to focus on the second part, “making each other look good.”

An improv comedy show can be a nerve wracking affair. You don’t know what the audience is going to be like or say, you don’t know what your fellow performers will do or say, and you don’t even know what you will say! It is very easy to get stressed out or focus overly hard on yourself.

The best improv happens when people put aside those nerves and simply focus on helping each other. If you make an offer, I am going to accept and build on it. If you are taking the scene somewhere, I am going to support and go with you. If you are struggling, I will help you out and pick up the slack.

This doesn’t mean you never get to lead or make jokes or get laughs. With experience, you are able to do all this while supporting the other people on stage. Also, when everyone in the group adopts this mind set, then everyone sets everyone else up. That is a beautiful thing…

Could you imagine what things would be like if you and everyone around you (at work, at home, at your volunteer association, etc) adopted this mentality? If one everyone’s primary goals was to have fun and make each other look good? Would that make things more fun, more productive, and more successful? I would think so!

Give this a try. Go about the world seeing what you can do to have and make others look good. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results you see.

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Improv Games: One Sentence Stories

“One Sentence Story” is a simple improv game where you and a partner will work together to build a story, each contributing one sentence at a time. Unlike some other improv story-telling games, this one allows you to contribute more than you ordinarily would (a full sentence instead of just a word or two). As you’ll see when you play it, this could be a good thing or a bad thing…

Purpose

To practice communicating, listening, and building off other people’s ideas.

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Improv Lessons: Don’t Fight Fire With Fire

There’s an old saying to “fight fire with fire.” Nice idea with some occasionally correct applications, but usually it just amounts to “stooping to the other person’s level” and accomplishes nothing…

Once in a rare while, two performers will have a problem that manifests mid-scene. This is bad, because in order to do a successful improv scene, the performers really need to work together and support each other. When they breakdown mid-scene during a live performance, it’s not a pretty thing to see. To an audience member, it might not be immediately obvious what exactly is happening. They just might feel that something is wrong.

What often happens is that in the middle of a scene, one performer does some “bad” improv. This annoys the other performer, so they respond with some bad improv of their own. This solves nothing and only serves to escalate the problem. The scene continues with the two people not working together, not happy, and not doing anything good at all. At this point there is nothing left to do but end the scene as quickly as possible.

Even though this does happen, it’s really kind of a stupid problem. This is improv comedy we’re talking about! There’s nothing really at stake other than a good show.

And yet people often let their egos get in the way of their success. Sure, the first performer did something wrong. But then the second performer, out of annoyance, ego, or a desire to “punish,” responded in a poor way. And it is this second performer I want you to think about…

How many times does someone do something wrong to you, and you feel justified, if not compelled, to respond in kind? This doesn’t work in improv, and it doesn’t work away from improv. All you get when you fight fire with fire is a much bigger fire that hurts everyone.

There is a time, place, and method to dealing with problems. That time is occasionally right now, the place is rarely “right here in front of customers or observers,” and the method is pretty much never to respond with the same problematic behavior. Instead, take the person aside and address the issue calmly and rationally. If they did something “bad,” let them know without emotion or anger. Try to fix the problem, not punish the person.

Do this, and your life will be much easier and more successful.

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Effective Speaking – 7 Ways to Be a Funnier Speaker

Even if you are not a humorist, or maybe especially if you are not a humorist, if you can add a little humor to your speeches you will reap some major rewards. Humor can loosen up the audience, get them to like you, engage them, and actually improve the audiences learning and retention. Many people don’t think they are funny, but by using the following seven tips you can add humor to any presentation.

1) Use Humor You Find Funny

This one seems obvious, but in your quest to add humor you may try to think of lines that your audience will laugh at. While it is important to consider the audience, you must first start with things you think are funny. If you try to tell a joke or tell a story that you don’t think is all that great but you think the audience will like, chances are it will bomb. Find the intersection between what you find funny and what your audience will find funny.

2) Use Humor You Would “Offstage”

This point builds off of point #1. If you are thinking about telling a story (funny or not, quite frankly), think about whether you would ever tell that story in that way to your friends or family when you are just hanging out. If the answer is yes, and you think your audience will like it, then go with it. If not, let it go, no matter how much you think the audience may enjoy it.

3) Watch Funny Movies and TV

It’s very hard to be funny if you don’t feel funny. Exercise your funny bone by watching TV shows and movies that make you laugh. Not only will you be in a more playful and fun state, but you will learn a tremendous amount about comedy structure and timing, even if accidentally.

4) Ask “Humor Questions”

The one thing that separates comedians from the rest of the “normal world” is that comedians process the world by constantly asking themselves, “what’s funny about this?” It may be so ingrained that they don’t realize it, but that’s what they do. Good, bad, happy, sad, whatever; their first response to everything is “what’s funny about this?” Start asking that question a lot. Not only will you start finding more humor you can use, but you will also be training yourself to be a more naturally funny person (and yes, that is possible!)

5) Pause

You can have the best material in the world, but with bad timing it still won’t get a laugh. Comedic timing is an art that can take years to master. To start, just remember to pause at the moments when you expect the audience to laugh. It doesn’t need to be too long a pause, but give enough time for the audience to catch up and laugh. What if the audience doesn’t laugh? Well, that leads us to…

6) Don’t Care If You Get a Laugh

Perhaps the hardest tip of all. Watching a speaker or comedian not get laughs is uncomfortable. Watching a speaker or comedian be flustered or bothered by not getting laughs is deadly. You are not a comedian, so if you don’t get a laugh, that’s ok. Just keep going as if everything is a-ok. Chances are, if you don’t get flustered the audience won’t even notice. The best way to do this is to tell your jokes in the context of stories. That way if you don’t get a laugh you just keep telling your story.

7) Commit 100%

Humor takes commitment. If you are uncertain about a joke and don’t tell it with full belief that the audience will laugh, the joke will fall flat. (this is why points 1 & 2 are so important). Some speakers have the self-delusion, “if I act like I don’t think this is a great joke and people don’t laugh, then I won’t look as bad.” That never works. Tell your stories and jokes with 100% confidence, and you are much more likely to succeed.

Use these seven tips and watch as your speeches and presentations quickly get bigger and bigger laughs!

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Improv Games: Blind Line

“Blind Line” is a great and very funny improv game uses the critical improv skills of “justification” and “incorporation.” Interestingly, the gimmick of this game makes it fun even when it is not played well. When it is played well it can bring the house down.

Purpose

The purpose of this game is to practice reacting to changing circumstances quickly and powerfully.

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Improv Lessons: Be Willing to Fail

Let’s face it: failure stinks! Nobody likes to fail, and failure is very rarely rewarded. And yet, if you are unwilling to fail then you may never ever really succeed.

Improv comedy is an art form that is wrought with the potential for failure. Every time you take the stage, you have no idea what to expect. You don’t know what kind of suggestions the audience will give you. You don’t know what your partners are going to do or say next. Heck, if you’re doing it right, you don’t know what you are going to do or say next.

With all that uncertainty, it is easy to get stressed out and get overwhelmed by the fear of failure. Novice improvisers often let this fear get the better of them. Even experienced improvisers sometimes spend too much time being afraid of failure.

In my experience, the best improvisers are those who realize that every time they take the stage they might mess up (maybe even mess up big) but then let that fear go. They’re willing to take risks and do their best, and if they fail they simply get up, brush themselves off, and try again.

When you accept the very real possibility of failure, you release yourself from the chains that fear puts on you. Ironically, once you let go of that fear, you are able to perform much more naturally and relaxed, and your chances of success actually go up.

The same principle applies off-stage. If you are speaking, you need to let go of the fear of failure before you take the stage. If you are about to go on an important sales call, remind yourself that if it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world and you’ll move on. Whatever is making you nervous, simply tell yourself, “I’m going to do my best, and if I mess up I’ll figure it out and move on.”

This is not to say that failure is ok. Failure can have real consequences – financial, physical, relationship, etc. However, once you are committed to a course of action, worrying about failure will accomplish nothing other than make you more likely to fail.

There’s an old saying, “what we resist, persists.” Once you accept what you are resisting, it loses its hold over you and washes away. Whether you are about to do an improv performance, give a speech, go on a sales call, or have a difficult conversation, accept the possibility you might mess up, let it go, and then go out and do your best.

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Effective Speaking: What’s Your Point?

When you are putting together a presentation, it is absolutely critical that you have a “point.” That is, you must make certain that you and the audience know why you are speaking, why they are listening, and what they can expect to take away.
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Improv Games: The Expert Interview

In “The Expert Interview,” a performer acts as an expert on some topic. The audience then asks them any question they want on that topic, and the expert must answer immediately, without hesitation, and with confidence (i.e. as if he were the expert…)

Purpose

The purpose of this exercise is to tap your creative flow while starting to direct it and control it.

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Improv Game: Paper Cups Are Great

“Paper Cups Are Great” is a fun game that forces people to stretch their minds, work together, and tap into their creative flow.

Purpose

The purpose of this exercise is to tap your creativity by practicing saying things that are ridiculous. This game also develops teamwork.

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Improv Games For Kids

When speaking to groups about applying improv ideas to business and life, I pretty much always speak to adults. What I find interesting though, is how many people come to me and later and say, “oh, you know that game you had us play? I did that with my kids and they loved it!”

Playing improv games with your kids is a great way to keep them occupied while also teaching them some fundamental skills and helping them develop their creativity. Below are the three games I most often here people tell me that their kids enjoy, along with video clips and explanations:
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