People tell us all the time that they struggle to think on their feet, or that they’re not improvisors, as if the ability to improvise is something you’re either born with or not. Here are 5 improv techniques you can use in your next conversation, meeting or presentation to stay “faster on feet” and roll with whatever comes your way.
1. Respond Positively
Avoid going negative. Negativity is rooted in fear, so when you’re out of your element or a little afraid, going negative comes easily. Resist the temptation. Being positive keeps the doors to your creativity open. It’s inviting, and makes your thought process easier to jump onto than with negative statements.
2. Make It About Your Audience
Caught off guard? Admitting you don’t know is fine, but don’t lead with it. Instead of starting off with, “I don’t know,” try this: “I’m glad you brought that up. I know that’s important to you and I want to make sure I get you the best information. Can you tell me more about what you’ve done in the past to address it?” This takes the focus off of you to come up with an answer, and puts it on them to come up with details. It stays positive, and demonstrates your desire to be helpful.
Additionally, speak to your audiences interests: “Susan, you mentioned you went to Michigan State. You’ll appreciate this . . .”
3. Use Details
We love the anecdote in the book Truth in Comedy about how when Mike Myers (of Wayne’s World and Austin Powers fame) was an improvisor at Second City, he would say things like, “Pass the Heinz,” instead of, “Pass the ketchup.” Improvisors, storytellers and great communicators know the power of details. Details are the salt and pepper of great conversation. Sprinkle them in and they bring out the flavor of the stories being told.
4. Make a Choice and Commit To It
In other words, don’t waffle or express self doubt. Be excited about what you are speaking about. Genuinely. Excitement is contagious. Making a pitch to a client, customer or manager? Explain why it’s great. Buy into yourself and you’ll get buy in from others. Committing to a choice doesn’t mean getting defensive about it. You can be confident and flexible. So, for example, what if you’ve committed to a particular idea and your client or boss doesn’t buy in? Refer to step 2: “I’m glad you brought that up. We’ll want to consider those types of issues as we finalize this project.”
5. Respond to What Was Just Said
What most people call “thinking on your feet,” improvisors call “responding in the moment.” If you get hung up on the narrative forming in your head, you’re going to get a jolt when someone takes you off-script. Allow yourself the freedom to let go of the path you were on and respond genuinely to what was just said. A lot of the stumbling that comes with thinking on your feet is getting caught in the no-man’s-land between the track your brain was on and the track it’s being pushed into when caught off guard. Be okay with making the full jump to the new track. Your narrative will circle back around.