There's no getting around it. We live in an unscripted world. You can rehearse in front of a mirror til the cows come home - for the job interview, for that meeting where you'll be expected to speak, for that moment when you find yourself in the elevator with that incredibly attractive guy or gal you've been wanting to meet ...but the minute there's another person involved, the script goes out the window. If you really want to make an impression - even be unforgettable - you have to be able to think on your feet, hurl yourself into the moment and...improvise!
A few years ago I attended an improv class at the Upright Citizens' Brigade Theatre. The UCBT, as it's known, is a highly respected training center for comic improv in NYC and a "feeder" of talent into many of the great, late night comedy shows. I had a ball (once I got over the fear of looking like a complete idiot..) And here's the first thing I learned: You've got to "advance the dialogue" or as they say in the acting world, "move the scene forward." And that rule holds whether you're onstage, in a boardroom or simply trying to get your point across at a PTA meeting. "Dead air" is verboten in acting - and it doesn't work all that well in life, either. You've got to take the conversation into new territory...or you'll kill it. And it's not all that hard. Plus, it's fun (once you get over yourself...) At the very heart of the art of improv is one very basic technique to "moving the scene forward" and it works - whether you're out for a promotion, a new relationship...or simply a delightful conversation. It's called, "Yes...and." Here's how it works:
Okay, so you're in that elevator with that very cute person, right? And he/she says, "Hot enough for ya?" Now, you might be tempted to say simply, "Yup" and leave it at that. But this time, you don't. You say, "Yes...and it reminds me of a year ago when it was so hot people were pouring their water bottles over their heads as they walked down Fifth Avenue, remember?" And he/she says, "I do actually. I might have been one of them now that I think of it.." And you say,"Yes..and I'm thinking very hard right now of a nice cold, pina colada, aren't you?" Hey, maybe the conversation will be so compelling (and delicious) that one of you will have to get out on the other's floor just to keep moving the scene forward....(to an outdoor cafe?)
"Yes...and" can also help you direct a conversation to where you want it to go. Let's say your son says, "I hate my math teacher!" And instead of saying, "Well, that's silly." You say, "Yes, you hate your math teacher and that reminds me of how much you hated your history teacher - until you really started to love her. Remember? Funny how things can change, right?"
"Yes...and" can also help you make other people look good which is a key element in improv. Imagine you're at the first meeting of a newly formed book club. You've read the book. You've even made notes about what you liked and didn't like. You're really prepared to look smart. But is that what you're here for? No! So when the host asks, "Did you like the book?" Instead of running through your list of critiques, you say, "Yes, I loved it, except for the ending...and I was really impressed when our friend, Karen, told me how she thought the ending could have been much more moving. Karen, why don’t you tell us more about that..."
One more thing about improv actors: They wing it. They trust that their first intuitive thought will be the best one. They don't second guess themselves before they speak or critique themselves as they're speaking. So look, when you're in that job interview and your prospective boss doesn’t ask the expected question, "Tell me about yourself" (which, of course, you'd prepared for) and instead asks, "So what in the world would make you want to join a crazy company where people work around the clock and everything changes by the minute?” you say, “Well, I guess if you really love what you're doing, it doesn't matter, does it?!” And bingo! Yes, you’ve broken the ice...and maybe made the sale.
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns©2013 All Rights Reserved
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