Improv skills lead to success

Archive for April 2012

Informative Listening

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In my previous post, I mentioned John Kline’s book Listening Effectively and mentioned that he identified five different types of listening. The first type, informative listening, is probably the first type of listening that springs to mind.

As the name implies, the goal of informative listening is to learn new information. In an improv scene, the players engage in informative listening from the start of the scene or game. If they’re challenged to a game by the other team, the first information they get is the name of the game they’re going to play. Then they get the suggestion or suggestions from the audience (more informative listening) and then someone starts the scene. From that moment on, every player must listen intently to get what they need to build a coherent, enjoyable scene.

One great informative listening exercise is to watch a scene and then recite its major actions in reverse order. Movies on DVD are great for this type of exercise because you can go back and check how close you came to getting it right. The next level is watch a movie scene and relate each of the plot points to something from your personal experience, such as a trip, a friend you knew in school, or your first job out of school. Then, instead of retelling the scene as it occurred, retell it through the associations you built while you watched it.

Except through rote memorization, you can’t remember something unless you build up associations to something you knew previously. The more associations you can build, the more likely it is the information will stick with you.

Finally, don’t forget to listen to yourself. I’m sure you’ve said something unplanned that everyone else thought was brilliant; unfortunately, you couldn’t remember what you said! Video recording performances is the best way to recall your exact phrasing, but don’t be afraid to ask audience members, fellow performers, or co-workers what you said. Even if they can’t provide the exact wording, you’ll get an idea of what you said and add that statement to your toolkit.

Written by curtisfrye

April 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Listening as cooperation, not competition

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Improvisers need to listen carefully to create effective scenes. Everything we do in a scene is based on what came before. Even the start of the scene builds on the audience’s suggestion. Listening seems like an easy enough skill – you accept input from an audio source and incorporate it into your thoughts. If only it were that simple. Listening is a lot more complex than that, especially if you bring your own agenda to the conversation. For the next couple of posts, I’ll focus on the different types of listening and how you can do a better job as a listener.

There are quite a few good books on listening, but I recommend John Kline’s Listening Effectively from Air University Press. Air University is the U.S. Air Force’s professional development wing and it produces some very interesting work of use to leaders in every industry. Kline identifies several different types of listening, which I’ll describe in subsequent posts, but he also describes what your approach has to be to listen well.

In brief, you should listen with the goal of understanding the other person’s position. That approach is in contrast to the very natural and tempting tactic of listening to pick out keywords you can use as hooks to advance your own position. If you think of listening as a cooperative activity instead of a competition, you can improve your relationships and get the information you need to make good decisions.

Written by curtisfrye

April 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Welcome to Improspectives

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Thanks for joining the conversation at Improspectives. I’ll post articles that touch on communication, improv, and business. Of course, if you’ve read my book, you already know I believe those three things are inextricably related.

I started Improspectives with a discussion of what improv is and isn’t. It’s always interesting to see how non-performers relate to improv, especially when they identify something as improv when it’s actually a scripted performance.

This February 18, 2010 article on CNN reinforces the benefits of improv in the office. One interesting thing about the article is the first image in the accompanying photos. The picture lists stand-up comedian Robin Williams as a brilliant improviser. Williams is a brilliant performer who uses improv to develop his material, but he rarely improvises during important performances. Most of his seemingly impromptu forays into the crowd during his HBO specials were planned in advance so the camera operators would know what to expect. The hilarious radio sequences in Good Morning Vietnam were improvised, but they were the product of much more work than the two or three minutes of material that made it to the screen.

Live performances are extremely demanding, but the audience also tends to be more forgiving because they know the performers get one shot and that’s it. Television and film audiences have higher standards because they know the performers have more than one chance to make something great.

Written by curtisfrye

April 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm