I recently ran an evening improvisation workshop in London with Stuart Reid. I attended one of his weekend workshops about a year or so ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. What I wasn’t expecting was how relevant it was in a work context. I had expected it to be all about laughing and enjoying ourselves – which it was. But it was also a powerful tool for improving communication skills, understanding how communication and collaboration work and for building confidence. With that in mind, we trialled a more work-related improv session to get some feedback from attendees to help us develop it further so we can offer more sessions in the future – both to the public and tailored sessions for teams and companies. It was great fun and a great success so we’ll be doing more of them in due course.
Stuart opened our improv session with a very short introduction as to why it was important so I asked him to put some words together on that to share with you all. Over to you Stuart.
“In my work as a consultant, advising leaders on how to after change in their organisations, I’ve discovered that there are two practices that make the biggest difference to how well prepared I am for my work.
The first is meditation. I don’t do it as often as I could, but when I do it makes a huge difference. And the second is improvisation.
These practices have three things in common. First they both encourage me to be present, to focus on the here and now instead of unpicking what’s already happened or being anxious about the future. And by being present I am also more aware of what’s going on, what’s happening in the room, more aware of my environment and I pay more attention to what I’m feeling and needing. It’s like being more awake.
Second, both these practices help me to accept what is. In meditation I accept whatever thoughts and feelings flow through my mind. In improv, I accept whatever my scene partner does or says and it becomes my reality too – we build a shared world together.
The final thing these practices remind me to do is to trust the process. Improvisation, like meditation, is a process. At any particular moment I may not be enjoying what I’m doing, may feel out of sorts or not ‘in flow’. If I suspend my judgement, and trust the process, it will get me where I need to be.
What makes these activities a ‘practice’? It’s a bit of a grand-sounding word. Meditation comes in different forms: meditation of the breath, walking, eating, solo meditation, meditating in a group. Improvisation has games or activities with simple rules intended to teach specific improv skills. What makes these a practice is that they are activities that are designed to be repeated again and again. I’ll never ‘master’ meditation: like taking exercise, it’s something I need to do on a regular basis. Improvisers return again and again to games that are old favourites, as well as playing new games to stretch their improv ‘muscles’.
So in an improv workshop, the games we learn are designed to reach fundamental improv skills, like listening, or finding inspiration in our environment, or building on ideas from our partners. And just like meditation,the skills we learn new improv ‘spill over’ into other parts of our lives. Being present, accepting, trusting. They are skills that can be developed, and everyone can do it. And improv let’s you do that and enjoy laughter at the same time. What’s not to like?”
Thanks Stuart. Watch out for more improv workshops from Heroes of Mobile in the coming months. And check out Stuart’s other classes and workshops. I highly recommend. Oh, and we may well have some improv tricks up our sleeves at next week’s Hacklands Festival. Come and join us!