I make a pretty good elephant.
That’s what my fellow improv classmates tell me at least. Monday night, we all showcased our 8-week-old talents in front of family and friends at a small Indianapolis theatre. And I think it went really well! Of course, my grading skills may have been a bit affected by the heat of the spotlights or the vodka tonic I downed beforehand.
It was surprisingly more fun than than it was scary. My fellow improv stars are all extremely talented in life and in improv. I’m grateful to have shared the stage and rubbed my personality against theirs for a brief time. (I’m sure they’d be chuckling at that obvious dirty joke setup.)
But back to my proficiencies in mastodon impersonations. Yes, this was one thing I learned about myself in improv, and I’ll be updating my LinkedIn appropriately. But I also learned 5 things that might help you get better in business too.
“I’d be terrified.” Nearly everyone told me this after I told them I was taking improv classes. It’s understandable…and true. It can be extremely intimidating. But it’s also extremely satisfying to face your fears, laugh at it, do an impersonation in front of it, make it laugh at you, and then kick it in the stomach. Sitting in your fear sucks. Overcoming it—by even trying to take it on—can be incredibly satisfying. What scares you? How can you kick it in the gut?
With improv, you have to be quick. You don’t have time to devise it, massage it and deliver it. Everyone’s waiting on you…just spit it out junior! And there are times like this in the business world. You want to make the perfect sales pitch, or create the perfect campaign. But there’s always that time when you cross the fine line from thinking enough about it to thinking too much about it. To obsessing over every detail and trying to make it absolutely perfect. But typically, it’s the properly-manipulated, not overly-manipulated ideas that go over best.
The safe zone’s safe…but it’s not funny. Right before I did my elephant impersonation, I could not have done a worse sketch. I was killing it…and not in a good way. My instructor stopped things and told me to “just [expletive] get into it!” Let go! Come up with something and embrace it fully! How about you? Are there career moves you could or should be making, but you don’t because you fear they’d take you too far outside your comfort zone? If you’re ready to make that move, don’t just dip your toe in. Cannonball right into it and make it your own!
At any moment, an improv sketch can go from good, to great, to horribly wrong, to good again. The crowd can be chuckling one second, rolling the next and cricket-chirping a few after that. I had to learn early on to not let it control me. Sure, I was there to make people laugh, but if that didn’t happen I had to move on quickly. If one sketch sucked, the next was a new opportunity. And I’ve seen this play out many times in the business world. The boss loves you one second, but then’s breathing down your throat the next. Or that client can’t get enough of you, right before they’re ready to cut you. You must remember, though, that your value doesn’t exist because of the last person’s reaction. You don’t have to continually rise and fall based on other people’s feelings. You get to hit the up and down buttons.
My default mode has always been to evaluate myself…and then evaluate that evaluation of myself. And so, late into the night of the improv showcase, I found myself replaying all the sketches in my mind and thinking of all the lines I should have said. But at some point I just needed to stop. Learning lessons from the past can only help so much. At some point, we all need to turn back around and face forward. We need to stop over-evaluating ourselves that we’re paralyzed the next time a challenge or opportunity arises. Take a glance back, grab that lesson and take it forward with you.
If you live in the Indianapolis area, be sure to check out IndyProv—for lessons or a show. And if you’re outside the Indy area, check for some improv classes near you. You’ll surely learn more about yourself than you though you might…like what animal you most resemble.