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How to Improvise Through Work and Life

Posted on the 26 August 2011 by Classycareergirl @classycareer

Did the title of this post scare you?  It scared me to write it. Why?  Because I am not an “improviser.”  When I give a presentation, I write out each word I am going to say, memorize it and practice it over.  What usually happens?  I usually do a pretty good job because of my in depth preparation.  Recently at work, I had to present something and only had 5 minutes to prepare!  This made me think about my current preparation method and do some research into how I could change my habits.

I want to be able to improvise through presentations so that my speeches are more authentic and genuine.  The book I have been reading to help me with this is called Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. I thought the book would not be for me (an introvert) but I wanted to learn about the mind of an improviser.  This book isn’t just about giving presentations, it is also about improvising through everyday life and enjoying each moment instead of being consumed by our future plans.

Here are 5 things I learned:

  1. Don’t prepare. When was the last time you spent a day without a plan?  I don’t want to answer this question because I don’t think I know.  My life is constantly being run by to do lists.  I learned that we often substitute planning and list-making for actually doing something about our dreams.  The habit of excessive planning impedes our ability to see what is actually in front of us.  Join me in spending a day without a plan.  Have an adventure and don’t consult the to do list!
  2. Trust your mind. Remember the last speech you went to where the speaker read from a piece of paper word for word?  Instead of writing out your notes exactly for a speech, you can improve by writing questions to yourself on a piece of paper and then answer the questions during the speech.  By using this question method, you can add and develop details in the moment.  You will be more authentic and natural and you won’t be nervous or hesitant when you forget the exact wording that you had planned.  Trust your mind and develop ideas as you speak.
  3. Embrace the chaos. Improvising may be uncomfortable or unsettling at first but we must embrace the wobble.  There will always be chaos in life and even if you find solid ground somewhere, eventually it will change.  In the act of balancing, we come alive.  If we accept this instability as the norm, then it becomes familiar and less frightening which is why practicing improvising is so important in our lives.  Insecurity is normal, count on it.
  4. Make mistakes. As a motivated young professional, I always want everything to have a perfect outcome.  I want people to love my speeches and what I have to say.  But, I learned that I have to let go of the outcome.  Things don’t always turn out as planned.  I must accept when mistakes happens and continue working to create the best outcome.  The next time you do something you think was a mistake, brush it off and congratulate yourself.  Become a confident mistake maker and encourage and allow yourself to make at least one blooper a day.  Mistakes are a natural and inevitable part of living and they will happen whether we adopt the way of the planner or the improviser.
  5. Start anywhere.  There is no need to find the perfect starting place.  Begin immediately using the first words that come to you.  Trust your mind and don’t hesitate.  Once you begin speaking, you have something to work with and build on.

Do you improvise or do you prepare?  Share your secrets please!!

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