The Critical Way Improv Improves Communication (It’s Not What You Think)

By Engager Lawrese Brown.

Many people come to improv classes to improve their communication skills. Communicating is one of those elusive skills we work on the entirety of our careers and ultimately our lives. Whether our motivation is wanting to become image5better public speakers, quicker on our feet, more creative in our responses, and more direct in our intention – we all want to express ourselves better. Yet, in focusing so heavily on what we say, we easily overlook the power in how we say it.

In 1967, Dr. Mehrabian did a study on how the mind configures meaning and found that the formula for interpreting a message is seven percent verbal, thirty eight percent vocal and fifty five percent visual. Yes, that means most of how we communicate is not with our words. The fact that we convey so much meaning with our bodies is easily overlooked. Yet, when having a conversation with someone who stares at us blankly, asks questions monotonously, and never makes a gesture, we’re quickly reminded that true connection and true conveyance of our message is improv. jpgin the body. Improv is king when it comes to communication courses because it’s grounded in movement, meaning that improv exercises not only strengthen what we say, but actively increase our awareness of what we are doing when we say it.

Whether we’re playing “What Are You Doing?,” Translator or simply scene building, improv challenges us to bring words to life – and with no props, no scripts, no scenery and no judgment — we do that in the most organic way possible – with our selves. So next time you are talking to someone or preparing for a speech don’t just practice your talking points, but take a moment to look at how you move.

Consider the following:
(Tone) How are you saying it?
– Are you irritated? Excited? Uncertain? Anxious?
HUM 6(Facial Expressions) How we look when we say it:
– How’s your eye contact? Is your mouth open? Are your eyebrows furrowed?
(Gestures) How’s your body?
– What are your hands doing?
– Are you leaning? Swaying? Standing completely still?
– Is your head tilted? Is your chin down? Are your toes curled?

As Amy Cuddy proclaimed in her famous TED Talk, our body language not only shapes others perception of us, but it also shapes how we see ourselves. And that fits in perfectly with the second most important rule of improv (after YES AND of course) – no matter what happens, just keep moving.