Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Improvisation - Overcoming Fear While Building Your Presentation Skills

Many people have stage fright – and we’re sure you've heard the statistic that public speaking is the top fear in the US above death. Some people are naturally comfortable with speaking in front of a crowd, going with the flow, getting out of their head, but some people are not… and that’s okay! There are many things that you can do to ease this anxiety, but one thing in particular is going to require you to really step out of your comfort zone.

Improvisational acting

Improvisation is one of the most terrifying barriers to cross, but there is a lot to learn and a lot of benefits from it. When you are giving a presentation or speaking to people at a meeting, in the office or just casually, you always have a purpose, a voice and tone. Improv functions similarly, except well, it’s not your own voice – you create someone else’s. In this case that "someone else" is just another facet of yourself - A confident version of yourself that can speak in front of people. Is this already mind-blowing? Well it's easier than it sounds. Let us explain...

Voice                                                                                                          Purpose
Attitude                                                                                                       Audience
Posture                                                                                                       Content
Prop                                                                                                            Tone

On the left are the building blocks for creating a character in improv, on the right are the building blocks for how you present yourself in every day speaking. Notice how similar they look? No? Let’s break it down even more.

Voice – Picking a specific voice (pitch, volume, accents, AKA a combination of tone and content)
Attitude – How your character comes across to other characters, their set of opinions (overall tone and audience)
Posture – How you physically look and your mannerisms
Prop – Things that are in the environment with you
Obsession – What does your character want, what do they need? (similar to purpose)

These are what makes up an improv character but also what makes up you in real life as well. Once you explore different combinations of these attributes, you begin to see the wide variety of character development possible, and in turn, personal development.

Benefits of using improv techniques

There are some benefits to improvisational acting skills that include…

1. Self confidence
2. Public speaking skills

3. Getting out of your head and trusting your instincts (don’t think!)

4. Teamwork (you often perform in “troupes” that need a great deal of synergy)

Employers often like to hire people that can be quick on their feet and work in teams, it’s a huge resume builder

Things you can do to train yourself

There are some exercises you can do to learn these skills on your own without having to take a class. Improv (as well as all acting) requires you to be self-aware, and even just doing these exercises will improve your communication skills.

1. Character monologues – Stand in front of a mirror. Now pick a character, it can be anything from a Miss America contestant to a cowboy (it doesn't matter what gender you already are). Then you start talking. Try to figure out all of the VAPPO attributes as you talk, and figure out who this character is. Give them some detail, a name, where they live, a family, whatever you decide and talk about “yourself” (the character). You become really aware of your facial expressions, voice and purpose.

What you get out of this in real life: When you know who you are and what the point is you’re trying to get across, you suddenly realize how different you look and sound and how that comes across to your audience (and how it reflects of your own purpose). Be aware of this.

2. Rapid physical characters – This is a step up from character monologues, but focuses more on your body than your words. Stand in a room. Now look at a point in the room and be a character (focus more on physicality and voice rather than monologue/words). Now look at a new point and become a different character (dramatically change your posture). Now do this about 5 times, and then rapidly switch between each point in the room, switching between the characters.

What you get out of this in real life: Posture, posture, posture! Be aware of your body, how it moves and looks, and how it can change. Once you know how your body feels when moved in a certain way, you will always be aware of what you look like regardless if you can see yourself or not. Body language is extremely important in public speaking and just in everyday life.

3. Word association – Think of a word, ANY word. Now immediately say what that word makes you think of. Then do the same for that word. Example, you might start with fish, then say water, ocean, boat, cruise, summer, etc. Try to find a rhythm (follow a beat and say a word every 1 or 2 seconds so that way you don’t stop and think. The goal is to not think). Ultimately you want to get back to the first word without trying. It may take 20 seconds or it may take 3 minutes. It’s better to do this with a few people, but it works on your own as well.

What you get out of this in real life: Getting out of your head. Sometimes you may think too hard about something and work yourself to death. If you’re in an interview or meeting and you get thrown a question you weren’t expecting, you need to trust your instincts and internal knowledge and say what comes to mind. Being quick on your feet is a good quality to have. You soon realize how your subconscious works, and how you can trust it to inevitably accomplish your goal (in this case, going around full circle to come back to the original word).

Now go and learn some improvisational skills. There are plenty of opportunities to take a class, workshop or learn on your own. Our very own RIT campus has an improv club (RIT Improv) that has free workshops every Monday and Thursday from 8-10pm, so check them out!

Written by Tom Weekes


  1. Overcoming Fear While Building Your Presentation Skills regards sarkari naukri

  2. Excellent blog! Having stage fright is common to many and it's not easy to make yourself comfortable on stage easily. Of course it does need lots of effort. I really found your blog the most effective one to train certain skills yourself or you can say to develop a good personality. Especially the last passage reflecting points to train yourself is the most important. Thanks a lot for the nice post. I would like to share here a similar post having equal importance to develop personal skills. Read here: How to develop a strong personality.

  3. Thank you very much for keep this information.
    Personal development

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