Learning to Improvise is really a lesson in communication. Listening and responding to create a story as a team we have to focus on both sending the information we want to give to our scene partner and then focus on listening to our scene partner’s follow up. This process continues to create a scene.
When I was in school there was a diagram something like this…
Lets say you are the source. You have to get a message to the receiver.
SOURCE – As the source you formulate the message in your mind
ENCODE – You put the message into words.
CHANNEL – you send message via speech, letter, email, text, twitter, facebook, etc.
DECODE – Receiver hears/reads and interprets the message.
RECEIVER – Receives the message and can now respond reversing the process.
The problem is, the message may be corrupted at any point in that process. It is the responsibility of both SOURCE and RECEIVER to do their job in sending/receiving the message.
Ever play the rumor game?
AKA Telephone etc
Stand in a line or circle. 1st player whispers a message in the next player’s ear. This continues all the way down the line or around the circle. Almost every time – if not EVERY TIME – the message changes slightly. Sometimes the message is completely changed.
When we all are 100% focused and doing are job listening and responding, the message can still get mixed up. Anything less than 100% focus is asking for trouble.
JOB OF THE SOURCE / SPEAKER
If you are speaking, it is your duty to make sure you do everything in your power to send a clear message.
Before you speak make sure you have the attention of the receiver. Everyday I see people spouting information to the universe but no one is listening. They do not take the time to have that person’s attention. Usually that same person is annoyed when there message is not understood or received.
In live interaction, eye contact is the best way to ensure you have someone’s attention. It is also the best way to demonstrate you are ready to receive information. It is a sign of respect and confidence.
Don’t fear eye contact. Empower yourself to over come those insecurities. If you can over come fear of eye contact, most other fears go away. There is always a “weird” feeling when making eye contact with another. Shying away from that leads to missed opportunity.
Take a breath and breathe in the idea of the next thing about to come out of your mouth. When I act a scripted play, I breathe in the emotion of the line. It is quick and subtle but it keeps me connected to the scene. Breathe in the subtext of what you want to say. WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT TO COMMUNICATE?
Also you cannot speak with air. A weak breathe leads to cracking voice and lack of projection.
Clearly if you are alive you know how to breathe well enough to survive life. BUT learning how to breathe is basic skill behind every performing arts, martial arts, public speaking and more.
When we de-stress the first thing do is Breathe. When we need to get pumped up for a show or sporting activity, we take a deep breath and fill up with O2.
I will post some HOW TO BREATHE like a pro tips soon. Much more of a skill that easier to teach in person.
Speaking is a skill. But basic speech is a simple activity. But this simple activity is encumber by laziness. When you need to send a message, no matter how, do it with purpose. Make the effort to make your self understood. Breathe. Annunciation your words with proper diction and projection.
It is not hard. In fact making the effort to use good speech is probably one of the easiest thing you can do right now to better your life. Learning vocabulary is a lifetime pursuit. But learning how to communicate the words you know is basic.
There are some very smart people out there that are written off because they do not know how to communicate with others. Probably more likely they are insecure – fearing judgement.
I am not suggesting we all go around sounding like radio DJs or Shakespearean actors. Simply make an effort.
In live speech this all about word choice. If you are speaking a different language than the source, the message could easily be lost.
Know your audience. In Improv we say NEVER DUMB DOWN, but if you use words foreign to your audience, you will not be understood. Similarly if you are interviewing at a Fortune 500 company and use street talk at the interview, you may not be communicating the best way in that moment.
I love when students email me using TXT – the shorthand language of teens everywhere. Shorthand of any kind is a form of ENCODING. There are entire online dictionaries of TXT speak. If your intended receiver is a 42yo artist, perhaps using 13yo shorthand is not the best idea, no matter how hip you think I am. LOL
Not an option in spoken Improvised conversations, however, if you are writing a message, take a second an review your work. Are you proud to say you wrote this?
Remember while I am all about teaching WHO CARES when judged by other, know that you will be judged by your ability to communicate. In some ways this is why I truly hate taking arts out of the classroom. Your verbal and written communication skills are far more important in life these days than practically any other skill. I was a math / science geek growing up, but it was my communication skills that allow me to be a better student in all disciplines.
The sooner you FORCE yourself to make eye contact and use better speech, the sooner it gets easier.
I still get stage freight. But after decades of practice I almost always know how to handle it. Just two weeks ago I did a short play. I had a huge anxiety attack right as I went on stage. The kind of anxiety attack that would send some to the ER in fear of heart failure (Panic Attacks). The difference? I recognized it for what it was. I thing that will pass. I deliver my lines. NO ONE knew i was freaking out. The added crazy train inside actually made my acting seem better. It forced me to hyper focus to work around the problem. AND it added a very REAL level of anxiety that my character was experiencing.
FEAR IS NORMAL. Letting FEAR rule your life is sad, but avoidable and you can overcome it. Those without any fear are sociopaths and psychopaths. So you are NORMAL for having fear. The sooner you take that first step, the sooner it gets easier.
JOB OF THE RECEIVER
1) FOCUS / EYE CONTACT
AS I stated above in various way – focus and eye contact are key to great communication.
2) LISTENING is a FULL TIME JOB
I have a very hard time with this. I wear many hats – performer, teacher, director, producer… add to that husband, son, brother, uncle, friend… Long sorry short I have a lot to think about.
The trick to being a great listener is another very important improv concept as well – BE IN THE MOMENT.
You have to be 100% present. Even then it is easy for the mind to wonder. That subconscious voice starts talking to you about what your going to have for dinner.
The real trick to being a great listener is to make that other voice inside – AKA inner monologue – repeating everything you hear. Echo the message inside as you hear on the outside.
I was a terrible student in some ways growing up, yet very successful in great classes. I was terrible about doing homework. I was worse about reading. BUT I was a killer listener. Paying attention in class better than most, I would hear other discuss a topic. I hate details but I am great with concepts. So after listening to a few speak, i would say something very profound, giving the impression I had read and understood the book better than most. And when it came time to test, I aced it. Especially essay tests. LISTENING saved my life many times and kept my GPA up – until my senior year where I was horribly afflicted by that disease senioritis. NASTY BUG for 10 months.
As great listeners, we have to listen to more than the words. We have to hear tone. Intent is not always a simple message. We have to read body language.
This take 100% focus from all of our senses. What do we hear, see, smell, touch and taste. An artist uses all of these to the point where they often seem to have a 6th sense.
We have to do both to communicate.
When I teach students of all ages, the biggest challenge they have is become great SENDERS and RECEIVERS of information.
FEAR & LAZINESS are bigger perpetrators to lack of skill. BOREDOM can be a challenge but it is up to us to fight and stay focused.
Become better speakers.
Become Better Listeners!
Stop making excuses and take ownership of your own process and life!!!
The world will be a better place for you and for all!!!