Improvisational Public Speaking Finally Made Easy
If you want to feel 100% confident thinking on your feet, this may be the most valuable thing you'll ever read!
Here's an excerpt from my book Improv Manifesto: 7 Simple Steps to Unstoppable Confidence, Powerful People Skills and Unlimited Creativity! You can get it from Amazon.com here. (That will also supports my site - thanks!)
The 1st section of this excerpt will explain the basic idea. The 2nd section will show how to use it for public speaking. The 3rd will show how it applies to regular conversation skills. Enjoy!
Ever tripped up over what to say? Did you get asked a question on a date or job interview only to feel clumsy and awkward? Do you clam up and get tongue-tied in stressful situations? Do you get writer's block? What about public speaker's block? Imagine you're asked to do a speech last minute. They just grab you, throw you on stage and expect you to talk confidently to a group of people. Can you? How do you even begin? Would you sputter and cough? Would you say, "I'm sorry, I can't!" What would you do?
My goal is that my students can confidently handle exactly that kind of situation. By the end of their first class series with me, I want them to be able to come in front of the group and do an improvised speech on any topic. This chapter contains one of the biggest secrets of making that easy to do. It contains a simple tool to guarantee you sound as smooth, classy, confident, and sophisticated as you are inside.Plus, if you get derailed and can't think of what to say, it will be a lifesaver to rescue you from distress.You may be surprised to find it starts before you say a single word.
Let's take a detour first. Right now I'm sitting and looking at the bookshelf I got today. Do you know how to build a bookshelf? Simple. You take two pieces of wood and put them together. Then, add another piece. Then, add another. Eventually, you've made a bookshelf! What color will the bookshelf be? It depends on what color the wood is you're using to build it. You can't expect dark redwood to suddenly be bright white when it's all put together.
How is that connected to improvisation? It will be obvious in a minute. To start with, let's play an improv game that will begin to demonstrate how this concept works. I'm going to start a sentence and you fill in the blank for me. Got it? Good!
The watermelon is _______.
Did you fill in the blank? Great! You're doing awesome! Let's have another go, fill in this blank:
The weather is _______.
Excellent! Do it a few more times:
I'm feeling ______.
My cousin is a _______.
I once went ________.
I love to __________.
You were able to fill those in, right? Yay! That's all you had to do. Pretty simple, isn't it? Now, read on.
I don't know if you said the watermelon is fresh, ripe, green, tasty or rotten. I also don't know if you said you love to kayak, skydive, read, rest or eat. I don't know any of your answers. But, I know that once you got going, your brain kept going.
"A person in motion stays in motion.
A person tends to continue in the direction they started."
Wayne Newton's Second Law of Improv Dynamics
It's unlikely you said, "I'm feeling table." Or, "I once went mirror." Because that wouldn't make any sense. (If those were your answers, please let me know!) You also probably didn't say, "I love to be stung by bees." (Unless you were trying to be funny, which we covered in the last chapter.) Why? Because you'd already started in the direction of things you love. You'd have to go, "I love to... I don't know. But, I hate to be stung by bees. Heck, I'll say I love to be stung by bees!" And, even without being beside you as you read this, I know you didn't do that! You finished each sentence in the same general direction as it started.
Now that we appreciate this simple law of human physics: how can you apply this to improv scenes, public speaking, getting jobs, and finding romantic partners? Elementary, my dear Watson! (Did you know Sherlock Holmes never said that? It's true.)
The first words out of your mouth will set the tone for what comes next. Those first words, and how you say them, will influence everything that comes after. It will influence both what you say and what people expect.
If you're in the middle of an improv scene and you want to send the scene in a powerful new direction,you can say, "I've got an important revelation to make…" What do you think is going to happen? After you say it you pause, which to the audience is a dramatic pause and to you is a pause to figure out what your revelation is. Because you said it, you're mind will begin to come up with useful ideas. You may end up revealing that you're a murderer, a ghost, the devil, or about to die. You could reveal thousands of things. The important aspect is you took charge and bravely said, "I've got an important revelation to make…"
As long as you know some simple phrases that generate interest and good ideas, you'll always be able to get things moving again when you become stuck. Here's a simple list:
- "I'm learned a terrible secret…"
- "I've just discovered a mystery…"
- "I've just discovered a mystery…"
- "I've got an amazing idea…"
- "I've done something disgusting…"
- "I know an embarrassing secret from your past…"
- "We have to stop a disaster from happening…"
- "I have a wonderful surprise for you…"
- "I've done something I regret…"
After you say one of these, you've set the direction you're about to go. The courage comes from being willing to say it even when you don't know what you'll say next. But, you'll soon enjoy surprising yourself with how easily you fill in the sentence fragment with the missing information. For example, "I've learned a terrible secret…" can be finished by saying:
- "My family is cursed!"
- "There is no God!"
- "Cats are taking over the earth!"
- "My husband is actually my long lost father!"
- "I'm dying backwards!" (Yeah, I don't know what that means either. But, we'd find a way to make it work!)
- "I'm on the FBI's most wanted list for a crime I didn't commit!"
- "Jesus is unemployed!"
- "My heart is 3 sizes too small!"
- "My family has been abducted by aliens!"
- "My spouse is having an affair!"
You see, it doesn't matter what you say. What matters is how you carry it off. Many people would just look foolish or apologize if they couldn't think of what to say. That advertises it to the world! Don't do that. Just grab one of those simple sentences and find out where it takes you. There's an element of bluffing involved. That's fine. Bluff!
What happens if you can't think of anything even after you say the initial sentence fragment? First off,that's unlikely. You'll almost always have something come to mind. It's more likely you'll think you didn't because you're editing and what you really mean is that nothing came to mind you thought was good enough. In that case, you have two main options:
- You can let go of editing yourself and just say whatever comes to mind, even if you think it's lame.Know what will happen? People will admire your courage.
- If you really can't think of anything you're willing to say, you can pause dramatically and say, "I can't speak of it!" Then, another person can help you by saying something like, "You don't mean you've discovered the orca bodies!" Of course, you must totally agree with them at that point and state that's exactly what you've discovered. (They are saving your ass after all!) This means that you made a blind offer verbally (which we'll cover more, later in the book.)
The essential point is that whatever you start with will determine your direction. Even the first word can make a difference. For example: "Sadly…" "Luckily…" "Bizarrely…" The listener knows after the very first word that they're about to hear something sad, lucky, or bizarre. This saves you from the need to know exactly where you're going because you don't have to know everything that comes next. You can just set the direction and find out where it leads you. It's a much more adventurous and daring way to live.
This is important from the very first moment you're in the spotlight. If you walk up in front of an audience in a timid, scared manner, you'll set the stage for timid and scared. People will form low expectations. If you walk up confidently with good posture and a smile, you'll set the stage for confidence and fun. People will get ready for that. You create a direction for yourself and set expectations for the audience right at the start. The audience forms ideas of what to expect based on their initial impression of you - based on how you move, speak, and act.
Sometimes people will be apologizing to the audience before they even make it to the stage, both physically and verbally. Their own fears are setting them up for failure. Remember that you literally think and feel different based on how your body moves. If your shoulders are slumped and you've got a frown on your face, you'll feel worse and be more constricted in your thinking. If you've got great posture and are breathing fully while smiling, you'll feel better and have a better flow mentally.
It's vitally important that when you go up you exude confidence. Act as if you were 100% certain this would be the best experience of your life and they are lucky to be here for it. Then, make sure anything that comes out of your mouth sets you up for success. We'll go into more detail in the next chapter on how the start of each sentence can set in a productive direction. For now, the starter fragments above will help guarantee you always have something to turn to when you get stuck or want to drive things forward.
One additional aspect of starting powerfully is the timing for when you start. When I ask for volunteers in an improv class, most people are very timid and hold back. They want to wait until others have gone first before they'll think it's safe to go up and try it themselves. I like to knock that habit out of people very quickly. There are numerous reasons: 1. The longer you stay seated, the longer you can build up fear.You just give yourself time to get stuck in your head. 2. Just like in life, if you wait long enough, you may not get a chance. When you jump in immediately, you guarantee you'll get an opportunity to do it. 3.Jumping in early gives an impression of confidence, even if you aren't feeling that way. Even if you make a mistake, people will admire your courage in going first. 4. The more experience you gain, and the faster you gain it, the more you'll learn and the better you'll get. 5. You'll get done first, so you can just sit back and watch everyone else.
All 5 of these reasons play an important role elsewhere in life, too. If your boss asks for volunteers to do a speech or anything else, you'll be noticed if you're the first one to enthusiastically agree to do it.Especially if everyone else holds back and looks intimidated. Over time, this habit will build up your image in their mind as a proactive go-getter. And, while you may not view yourself that way at first,you'll gradually gain enough experience to change your self-image and feel much greater confidence in your abilities.
In fact, let's now take a deeper look at how you can use all of this in business.
Utilizing This for Success in Business and Public Speaking
This same skill is useful in your business and personal life in a multitude of ways. It's especially useful in public speaking, and can easily be utilized in job interviews, regular conversations, business meetings,and even dating.
Let's pretend you're in a business meeting and your boss asks you for suggestions. How do you start off strong? You turn to strong phrases that send you in the right direction. Things like this:
- "Here are the top 3 ways we can increase profits."
- "There are 2 mistakes our company is making again and again that we must fix."
- "Let me share a strategy that could transform our company."
You say these with a strong, confident body language and tone of voice. What's going to happen? If you start off with a strong opening statement of what you want to talk about and project confidence, you'll set the odds in your favor. You'll be likely to continue in that strong, confident direction. And, you'll influence how people view the rest of what you say because now they've got positive expectations.
This is much better than if you start by saying, "Um, well, I don't know if these are very good ideas."That sets negative expectations and becomes a hole you have to try to crawl out of later. It's a very difficult challenge to turn things around after that. After that kind of opening, nobody is likely to pay much attention - even if you present the best ideas in the universe! (People aren’t listening to you when they are asleep, and that kind of start is a sure way to put them into a deep coma.) You're better off starting confidently and positively, with things you know people are interested in.
It will take a little practice to have these kinds of starters available to you to use whenever you want,but it's well worth the slight effort. You'll enjoy the confidence that comes from know you can always create a good impression right from the beginning.
"But, wait!" You say to me. "What if I'm not thinking of 3 ways to increase profits?"
Naturally, you want to utilize something that fits the situation. Generally, you'll be talking about a topic you have some useful ideas about. It doesn't matter if you don't have 3 ideas clearly in mind at the start, because you can keep putting one foot in front of the other.
In this example, surely you can think of one way to increase profits. So you talk about that and, as you're presenting your first idea, other ideas will come to mind. Soon, you'll be ready to present great idea #2. Obviously, as you present that second idea, you'll find amazing idea #3 popping into your brain. POOF! You've made it through your presentation with flying colors. At the end, you can simply do a quick recap of what you covered. Then ask for some sort of action, if that's required. And, finally, walk away confidently!
It's like that bookshelf I mentioned earlier: you keep adding pieces until it's complete. You start off with individual pieces that are attractive, so by the end you've you've got a beautiful finished product.
"But, wait!" You say again. "What if I pick the WRONG ideas?"
They don't have to be "perfect," "right," or the "best." They just have to be good. What determines if they're good? A large part of how you're ideas are perceived will be from your presentation of them. If you present them confidently, they are likely to be viewed positively. If you present them in a fearful and nervous way, people are likely to think they must not be good. (Why else would you be nervous about them?)
Your first impression will impact everything that comes afterward. If you confidently say at the start, "This is going to be mind-blowing!" People will view everything you say after that as more impressive, important, and exciting. You're body language, voice tone, and eye contact - the nonverbal aspects of your presentation - will also make a greater impact on how your ideas are accepted than what you say. Any mistakes you make will be viewed in a more positive light if you've created a solid platform for yourself with these simple steps.
The specific numbers in the above examples also helps prevent you from wandering all over the place while you're speaking. After you've established that you've got 3 points you're going to cover, it helps keep you directed. You won't start talking about irrelevant information. You do idea 1, idea 2, and idea 3. Then, you wrap it up. It's a very helpful strategy.
Fortunately, you can utilize this whether your speech is extemporaneous or you're planning it. Either way, you will become more successful in capturing your audience's attention, exuding confidence, and communicating your ideas effectively.
How to Make Conversations and Dating More Fun and Exciting
If you'd like another example of how this works, let's go on a date. Let's imagine we're at a nice Italian restaurant together. We're looking romantically into each other's eyes. I ask you, "What do you do for a living? How'd you get into it?"
You say, "Well, um, nothing exciting. I'm a _____. I guess I just wandered into it the way most people do..."
You are not getting kissed tonight, buster. Hell, we're not even gonna hold hands!
Let's try this again. Reverse time: whoosh, whoosh, whoosh...
I ask, "What do you do, sexy? How'd you get into it?"
You reply, "I have a job that has many fascinations for me. I'm a ________. There are a few things that make it incredibly interesting..." "And, there's a wild story about how I got into it..."
Notice: it sets the stage for an interesting answer. It will help steer you in the direction of fascinating and wild things because that’s what you said you’re going to talk about. The very first words out of your mouth will direct rest of what you say. If you want to have enjoyable, fun, and exciting conversations, set that direction from the start.
What if you don't like your job? At all.
"The funny thing is, I absolutely hate my job! I'm making daring plans to get away. Let me tell you about what I dream of doing..."
(If you hate your job, you are finding something else to do next? Right?)
But... what if you're job is boring? And, you're planning to stay? And, there's nothing you'd rather do? And, the story of how you got it is boring, too?
First, shame on you! I'm glad you're reading this, let's get you a better life. That's sad… really sad!
Second, if you say, "There's a really wild story about how I got it..." Then, you will almost certainly remember some wild aspects of how you got it and you can emphasize them. It's gonna happen. The word "wild" can go into a lot of directions. Pick one and run with it. The point is the same: start strong and keep going in that direction. Now, stop being a Debby-Downer and just try the ideas rather than finding all the reasons they might not work. Sheesh!
Luckily, you can also utilize this to help set others up for success. If you're asking another person questions about themselves, ask questions that send them in fun and exciting directions. Don't ask, "What do you do? How long have you worked there? Where are you from?" You're usually not really interested anyway and will quickly forget what they say. (Hell, you've probably already forgotten their name!) You can ask virtually the same questions and frame them very differently: "What do you find most challenging about what you do? What's the strangest thing that's happened in the time you've worked there? What's something surprising about where you are from?"
Obviously, there are many interesting directions you can go with just the change of a single word. "What's a fascinating story from when you were traveling?" "What's an embarrassing story from when you were traveling?" "What's an adventurous story from when you were traveling?" "What's a scary story from when you were traveling?" The person is very likely to tell you something much more interesting than if you hadn't set them up for success.
If they have trouble thinking of an answer to your question, that's okay. First, because you've set the expectation that this is going to be a fun and exciting conversation, that's now more likely to happen. If they have trouble answering, you can do one of two things to help them. 1. You can share a story of your own. This will give them time to come up with ideas and your story will likely spark their own memories. 2. You can broaden the scope of what you're asking. You can say, "Well, how about an adventure from a time you weren't traveling?" Altering the question slightly can help them find an answer. Like we discussed in the last chapter, focus on making them look good.
As you continue playing with this, you'll be delighted by how much more interesting and playful your conversations become. This one idea can transmit more more fun, excitement, and success to all the areas of your life.
Here are your simple steps to greater success thinking-on-your-feet:
- Speak a powerful statement of direction.
- State it with strong, confident body language.
- Trust your mind and inner resources to continue in the direction you've started.
- Help others by doing the same for them.
The related essential improv concepts are:
- You're mind and body will tend to continue in the direction you've started. If you start with a strong statement and body language, that tends to continue. If you start weak, that tends to continue. (If you hesitate and wait, that also tends to continue. He who hesitates waits and waits and waits...)
- You don't need to think of everything at once. Take it step-by-step and trust that it will come.
- Your voice tone and body language carry even more impact than what you say. There's no "right" or "wrong" thing to say. You'll be judged largely on first impressions and how you present your ideas.
- The more you jump in and get experience, the more you'll learn and the more confident you'll become.
- Commit 100% to whatever you say or do. Commit fully!
Learn Fun Ways To Practice This.
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