How to Use Improv in Everyday Life

October 24, 2014

By Jay Hamburg

Theater Professor David Charles has no doubt about the benefits of this unpredictable art and he shares how you can use improv tactics in everyday life.

(Video by Jennifer DeWitt)

What do impromptu comedy performances have to do with your daily work, life choices, and chances of career advancement?

Well, just about everything. Especially if you believe, as does David Charles, who holds the chair of the Department of Theater Arts & Dance, that no life or career can be perfectly planned. “In improv,” he says, “every next choice is decided in the moment. That’s the same in the workplace and in life.”

Moreover, Charles is not simply theorizing; he lives his own advice. In addition to his duties as a professor, he has been a dedicated professional improv actor for more than twenty years and will give his 1,000th performance at the SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando on Oct. 24.

Long experience on stage and in academia has taught him that collaboration is key to success. You can’t compete with fellow actors in front of an audience or the ensemble will fail. This same attitude and commitment to the team is equally important in the workplace.

“It’s the group’s responsibility to have a healthy group,” says Charles.

Here then, are 10 quick tips from Charles about the positive effects of spontaneity and teamwork, whether you’re planning to improv a scene or succeed in business.

1. Live in the moment. If you’re only thinking of how to outmaneuver your teammate in conversation, then you’re not really teammates. “You’ll miss that magical inspiration in the moment.”

2. Employ active listening. “Don’t interrupt others; let them finish [voicing] their ideas.”

3. Seek and nurture connection and interconnection. “Choose to interact. Put down your smart phone and have a real-time conversation. Build relationships to build cohesion.”

4. Take the risk of saying yes to yourself. Listen to your instincts. “Don’t let the judging voice in your mind prevent you from making contributions.”

5. Take the risk of saying yes to others. Listen to your partners. “Don’t be that scolding judge to others.”

6. Give trust before it is earned. Charles admits this is difficult in a career setting, especially if you’ve been burned before, but he believes it’s necessary to success. “Don’t penalize future communications because of past bad experiences.”

7. Strive to make your partners look good. “Sometimes your most valuable contribution may be taking a step back to let someone else shine.”

8. Value all contributions, as you never know where the next great idea will come from. There are no mistakes in improv. You can’t predict creativity, so be open to all notions. One seemingly odd idea could spark a great one in another teammate.

9. Embrace the culture of yes and… “Don’t respond to ideas from a place of fear or negativity. Instead of disagreeing, add to the idea. That creates a good environment.”

10. Creativity blossoms at the crossroads of collaboration. “Being in a connected, supportive group unleashes creativity.”

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