When I coach creative professionals or entrepreneurs who want to bring more creative firepower to their brands, I use certain coaching skills to take them out of their heads and into their hearts. Basically, to get them to spew their guts, souls and ideas on the floor without crafting them into something “acceptable” first.
Certainly, those skills work and my clients courageously blurt amazing things. But very early in my practice, I had a realization: If I’m asking my clients to so boldly bypass their inner critics and lay their raw ideas on the line, shouldn’t I have experience doing it myself?
I’m not talking about experience sharing ideas. That’s a whole other subject. I’m referring to blurting, creating on the spot – allowing the unbaked, unhatched and unreasonable to slip through my lips, rather than thinking my way to “the answer.”
I wondered: What could I create myself if I truly let go? And, where could I take my clients if I knew what 100% not holding back was like.
I needed to stand in the place of not knowing myself – for real – to be able to hold the space for my clients to do the same.
So, I signed up for improv.
There’s a saying: What we can’t be with chooses for us.
If we can’t be with looking silly, then we will play it safe enough to never risk looking silly. We will play in our comfort zone and never know what we could have dreamed up if we just weren’t so uncomfortable with silly.
In improv, you learn fast what you can’t be with. You learn what it’s like to create in the moment, from whatever has been put before you. You learn how to blurt. Even more you experience it. As you practice with improv, you come to trust yourself and your intuition, and you easily see where you don’t trust yourself.
I think that the key to using improv as a way to experiment with raw creation is simply to notice what comes up as you move through the exercises.
Not judge. Just notice. Notice where you get stuck.
Notice what it feels like to let words and actions flow from you uncensored. Notice everything happening within and without. Then, if you want, keep holding yourself to whatever is the next uncomfortable place for you.
Here’s an improv exercise I love (and you may already know). It’s fun to play with your family and friends and is great for supporting your kids in learning trust of self. It’s called the Alphabet Game.
Alphabet Game Improv Exercise
First, blurt out a scene – or think one up in advance: Pizza Delivery Guy and Customer; Dog Walker and Policeman; if there’s multiple people playing, Rock Star Encountering Groupies. Make sure there’s a role for everyone in your group (and it’s great to begin with just two people at a time).
Next, decide who gets what role and who will go first.
The first person starts the scene with a sentence. The first word in that sentence must start with the letter “A.” The second person continues the scene with a sentence that starts with the letter “B.” The first person goes again, with a sentence that starts with “C.” And so on to “Z.”
Tip #1: Have fun. It is fun.
Tip #2: Practice opening your mouth and just allowing words to flow. You can do this by simply starting to speak without knowing where you are going, and by holding yourself to not allowing a pause after the sentence from the person before you. Notice what you feel. What’s hard? What’s easy for you? Notice what it’s like to say something brilliant, stupid, funny, loving, harsh, silly or nonsensical.
Whether you play improv games to practice blurting, to learn to trust yourself and your intuition or to have fun with your family, doesn’t matter. You’ll learn a lot if you simply notice, reflect and ask yourself: What was this like? What’s next for me? What do I
want to practice with more? And, finally, how will apply what I’ve learned to my life and creative process?
If you are interested in experiencing improv, there are classes everywhere and there are more great games online at Improv Encyclopedia.
If you do take a class, I think it helps to find a coach who is teaching the class for the purpose of supporting you in being in the pure creative space, rather than for the purpose of performing on a stage. But either is great – and you’ll know what’s right for you.
P.S. If you’re interested in Unlocked Box’s improv-based coaching workshop, here’s a note from a 2014 event:
“Susan was the featured speaker at the Baltimore Washington Power Team meeting in July. She was an incredibly energetic and informative. Through improv, she taught participants how to get comfortable taking risks and stretching beyond their comfort zone. Susan keep the participants interested, engaged and drew out the learning points from each interactive inprov exercise. Everyone left having learned something new about themselves, with a strategy for improving their communication flexibility. The feedback we received from participants was all excellent.”
– Andrea Greenwood, Host Baltimore Washington Power Team