Improv your career!

How to act like an improviser to own the room.

For most people, the idea of getting on-stage in front of an audience with the aim of making them laugh feels them with a deathly dread. Throw in the stipulation that they must have no script, and this is enough to make the run a mile. (If they haven’t disappeared already.) This, however, is exactly what improv comedians do every night of the week. My name is Max Dickins. As well as being one of these crazy comedians, I also work with businesses and individuals taking these skills off-stage, showing people how the secrets of improv can make them more confident, more creative, and able to own any room. Here, then, are some tips to help you take up more space at work. So that, rather than just showing up at meetings, you shine at them too.  


  • Give up on perfect. 


One of the reasons we come across as unconfident in meetings is that we can second-guess our self. This is because we think we have to be perfect. Bur our job is not to be perfect; it is to communicate, and they are not the same thing. In fact, our imperfections are often what make us likable to others. They show our humanity and it is this that others connect to. The trick is how you respond to your mistakes. If you own them, if you can laugh at them, there is nothing more charismatic. 


  • Bring a brick. 


We are often intimidated in meetings because we think it is on us to be the smartest person in the room. We think we have to bring the whole solution and we worry our contribution is stupid, obvious, or insignificant. There is a saying from improv that helps here. In improv we say that it isn’t our job to bring the whole cathedral, but just one brick. If everyone in the group shows up with one brick at a time, then we’ll build a cathedral together in no time. But it’s a team effort. Your small contribution is worthwhile! Without it, we can’t build anything. So, speak up. 


  • Focus on your scene partner. 


Veteran improv coach Jill Bernard says, ‘If you want to get out of your head, then get into something else.’ This is an important thing to bear in mind if you get socially anxious. Nerves soon dissipate when you realise that it’s not about you. Stop thinking about what you are going to say, and start focussing on listening to your colleagues. When improvisers begin their careers, they are super-nervous. When they realise their main job is not to be clever or funny, but to make their scene partner look good, they discover their confidence. And you can too.


  • Watch your body language.


Our status in life is not just about where we are in a hierarchy, it is about the status we play in a room. If you want to play higher status, then you need to take up more space-literally. What does confident body language look like in practice? It is chest out, shoulders back, and your head level (as if held up by a bit of string.) A quick hack to get into this position is to tuck your bum in under your spine: you’ll notice your posture changes automatically. (These body language pointers also apply when sat down.)


  • Make and hold eye contact. 


Another aspect of raising your status is changing how you make eye contact. High status people establish eye contact and hold it. Obviously, you don’t want to stare at people like a psychopath! But there is a happy medium between that and avoiding eye contact entirely. If you’re not comfortable with this, try and increase the amount of eye contact you make slowly over a month or so. You’ll be amazed at how quickly this will become an easy part of how you communicate. 

Max Dickins is author of Improvise! Use the Secrets of Improv to Achieve Extraordinary Results at Work which is out now. He is co-director of improvisation training company Hoopla! Hoopla run improv classesshows and corporate training.


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