Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Remembering What Happens

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As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the real benefits of being an improviser is that you have no lines to memorize. Of course, the bad news is that you need to remember what happened earlier in a scene so you can make useful contributions later on.

Whenever I perform with a longform group, with performances that can last as long as an hour, I’m not afraid to write things down. For example, I often make a point of writing down character names as they are brought up or when the audience assigns them at the beginning of the show. The improvised Shakespeare group I was part of for several years let audience members define each player’s character, so it made sense to make a quick note so things didn’t go sideways during the 45-minute show.

Let’s say you’re playing a short form game such as Replay (do a one minute set up scene and then replay it several times using different suggestions to color the replays) or Forward/Reverse (the classic improv game where you start a scene and a controller can run the action forward or in reverse). The easiest way to remember what is happening is to make a strong physical and/or emotional choice every time there’s a beat in the scene. If all you’re doing is standing on stage talking, there is nothing to distinguish one moment of the scene from another; however, if you pair a statement with an action or emotion, you’ll find it much easier to remember what you said and did. In fact, you might find the words coming out of your mouth before you realize what you’re saying. The link between the brain and the rest of your body is that strong.

In business, you won’t often have to improvise something and then repeat it on demand. Even so, you can use these techniques to develop a presentation and add visual elements to your slide deck or presentation materials to cue you as to what is to happen next. As someone who focuses on Microsoft Excel, I will often build prompts into my spreadsheets to help me remember what I want cover. Friends of mine do the same thing with graphics, using images and edits to those images to guide them through their presentation.

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