The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

Posts tagged ‘improv’

Yes, And…

Yesterday I had my first improv class at DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro.  I decided to enroll in an improv class to help improve some of my presentation skills.  It also might help a bit with the free association mindset used when brainstorming new ideas.  Furthermore, I figured it couldn’t hurt to push myself outside of my comfort zone a bit.

My initial impression of the class is pretty positive.  The instructor clearly knows his stuff and is very supportive and encouraging.  Everyone in the class seems really nice too.  I think we’re all there to have some fun and learn something new, which is good.

I did find the class a bit intimidating, however. I’m really not scared of making a fool of myself in public, so getting up on a stage and trying to free associate a bit isn’t that scary to me. What is intimidating to me is being social and meeting new people.  I’m in the category of people you might call “slow to warm up”.

The class opened with a few warmups where we had to move in odd ways and make a unique sounds.  For example, we stood in a circle and, one by one, made some sort of movement and made a noise.  We all did it – and I can’t actually remember what I did – but I felt like perhaps I could have been more creative.  I think I held back a bit because I wasn’t really terribly comfortable. This was true on all of our exercises.

If I’m honest with myself, I hold back in social situations a lot. I’m pretty paranoid about saying something outlandish or acting oddly and creeping people out. So, that leads to me stuffing my hands in my pockets and keeping quiet. Once I start to feel like I know the people I’m around, I’ll relax a bit, but that can take a while.  The class is six weeks long, so I figure in about seven weeks I’ll be perfectly comfortable!

After the warmups we learned the basic tenet of improve, “Yes, and…” This is improve at its’ simplest.  You just agree with whatever the person you’re working with says, no matter how outlandish, and then try to build on it.

So, here’s an imaginary improve situation I made up on the fly:

The scene: Two people are at a park sitting on a bench.

Person 1: Man, it is a seriously beautiful day today!

Person 2: It is a beautiful day today, yes! And, I’m sure glad they’ve cleaned up the toxic sludge in that river down there.

Person 1: You are glad that the’ve cleaned up the toxic sludge, yes! And, I’m surprised you didn’t land in jail for dumping it there!

…. the scene continues like this until the it ends ….

In this example, the participants always restate what the other person said, then say “yes”, and add then build on the previous thought.  “Yes, And”.

Agreement and building onto a thought is the core essence of improv.  While I found it awkward to do this on stage, in front of people, the core principal has direct applications in business and entrepreneurship.  Rather than shooting down new ideas before they’re fully formed, we should all build on them.  You never know what you might end up with, maybe the next great idea! Or, at least, perhaps something to laugh at.


And Now for Something Completely Different

I’ve decided to enroll in an improv class at DSI Comedy Theater in nearby Carrboro.  There are a few reasons why I decided to do this, but the initial inspiration came from a video clip I watched recently about QR Codes.  I’m working with a few other people from Alagad to launch a new non-profit that will make use of QR Codes to facilitate charitable donations.  While researching the idea I came across this clip from a presentation by a guy named Scott Stratten from a company called UnMarketing about where to use QR Codes.

I give talks a couple times a year.  Mostly these are on technical topics like building mobile applications or the finner points of web development frameworks, etc.  I’ve also given the odd Pecha Kucha talk.  I’ve been known to sneak the occasional one-liner into a presentation and love getting a laugh from the audience.

But, improve is supposedly much more than that.  Here’s how DSI Comedy Theater sells the classes to business people:

You won’t survive the business world unless you are able to communicate and collaborate in the workplace. Key improvisation techniques help business people to think on their feet, creating new ideas effortlessly, actively listening to others, and working productively inside team environments. Workshops will help you learn to read any audience and will heighten your professional flexibility, making it easier for you to accomodate clients, customers and manage conflicts in the workplace. You will make more money.

And that’s… The Bottom Line!

I like to think I’m pretty good at thinking on my feet and coming up with new ideas and interesting connections between not-obviously related things.  But it can’t hurt to practice and learn more.  And, maybe this will help improve my presentations.

Beyond that, I’ve been a bit of a cynical curmudgeon lately and avoid doing anything out of my tiny little comfort zone.  I used to pride myself on doing things I wasn’t comfortable with.  So I’m hoping I can find a way to let down my (remaining) hair and relax a little bit and have some fun.

I’ll post updates here and rehashes of the classes here as I take them.

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