Improvisation is the high-wire act of comedy. Actors respond to one another without a script, spontaneously finding comedy in unrehearsed dialogue and physical interactions. It doesn’t work without commitment, relaxation and listening. Using these tools will improve your presentation, too.
Improvisation may feel far from the world inhabited by most professional women, but hang on a second. If you are called upon to speak (or better yet, raise your hand and volunteer), those folks who risk it all without a net doing improv can help. Plus it’s kinda fun to think about sharing presentation skills with women like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Kate McKinnon.
In improvisation, a performer cannot be half there. Pretending or faking it doesn’t work. Doing it, being it are required to be able to participate in an improve with another. The same is true for you as a speaker. When you present you can’t phone it in. You cannot do the speech, you must be and believe your message with your heart. When you gesture or move, mean it. Don’t be half-hearted or limp, but strong and real. Without this commitment, your audience will distance themselves from you, just as you distance yourself from them.
An audience can read tension quickly. In improv or stand up, humor disappears quickly with delivered from a place of fear or anxiety. If you, as a presenter, are tense your audience will share that tension. As performers know, discomfort spreads quickly. Give yourself time to breathe deeply, stretch your shoulders and neck, shake out the tension and do a vocal exercise before stepping to the stage. Your audience will feel your state of mind and respond with a feeling of confidence in your message.
Like an improv actor, when you deliver a presentation you are in a dialog with your audience. Presenting is not a one-way street with information streaming from you to the audience. Instead a successful presenter is always aware of how the audience is responding. Is it with interest, indifference, boredom, enjoyment, participation? Building that audience connection is vital to successful engagement. It is not all about you, it is about them. You are there for them just as much as they are there for you.
It is usually easy for women to step into the spot light as a speaker, but it is miserable to be a non-participant. Professional women who work with men struggle to find inclusion and advancement. If you are willing to speak up, you may find that your ideas are accepted and included. So the next time you speak imagine yourself as one of those dazzling women of improv: commit, relax and listen carefully. Imagine if you find yourself enjoying your connection with your audience, instead of worrying about how you might be perceived.
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