I’ve been taking improv classes for almost two years. They’ve helped me in a number of ways.
Improv taught me that sometimes it’s okay to do things poorly. I mean, sure, I’d rather do things well, but doing something poorly isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t make me less worthy as a human. And it’s certainly no worse than staying home and not trying at all.
Since improv culture emphasizes supportiveness, I receive more positive feedback in two hours as the worst improviser in the room than I get in many years of Ph.D. study. This taught me that life is actually quite a bit more pleasant with some sources of positive feedback, which inspired me to make an effort to be more supportive of people in real life like my friends and my students.
Improv has given me a safe space to work on losing inhibitions. A big part of learning to improvise is learning not to worry about what others will think of you if you say this or that. That’s a useful skill in real life, too. Inhibitions can be useful if they prevent me from harming myself or others, but a lot of inhibitions aren’t useful. Improv has helped me to cut down on the needless worrying about what people will think. It’s made it easier for me to just go and do things.
Improv has made me more confident and better at thinking on my feet. This means I spend less time preparing seminar talks and feel more comfortable standing up and teaching a class. It’s also made me better poised in high-pressure situations like meeting with my supervisor or dealing with students who are trying to cheat.
Improv has also made me a better conversationalist. My improv teachers often talk about “making offers” which refers to bringing out new information. When an improv scene begins, it’s important to bring information out quickly to establish what’s going on. What are you doing? How do you feel about the other characters on stage? How do you know each other? And once somebody makes an offer, you don’t forget about it. Not every offer will play a central role in the scene, but the more things you can incorporate, the better.
So how has that helped me in real-life conversations? Real conversations are obviously different in that it’s better not to make up everything on the spot, but I think the idea of making and following up on “offers” has some application to real life. Like an improv scene, a conversation fizzles when nobody has anything to say. I used to be a very private person, so I was very good at making that happen. Improv training helped me to figure out that by revealing a bit more information, I’d make it easier for others to continue the conversation if they were so inclined. And it made me more aware of little tidbits that others had mentioned, which I might follow up on.
Improv has also made me much more aware of body language and subtext. It’s made me more comfortable doing silly things. It’s given me one more thing to talk about with people in real life. And it’s found me new friends, in my teachers and fellow improvisers.
There are probably many ways to make these things happen. But I can say that improv did them for me. And it’s a lot of fun.
This question originally appeared on Quora: How can improv classes help you in life?
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