One thing I have been working on a lot lately when it comes to improv is the idea of specificity. When making an “offer” in improv, if the improviser creates one with specific details, it accomplishes a few things:
- It makes the scene more vivid and interesting
- It creates material that makes it easier for others to respond to and build off of
- It stimulates their own creativity and helps them move the story/scene in a new direction.
For example, if I said, “the boy and girl walked up to the house and knocked on the door,” you may have gotten an image in your head, but it probably wasn’t super clear or exciting. And if I asked you to continue the story you would either a) keep it pretty general or b) have to work hard to think of something interesting to happen next.
However, if I said, “Brock, the captain of the football team and Stephanie, the head cheerleader, walked up to the dilapidated mansion and pounded on the door,” you probably had a more vivid picture of the scene and you could generate an idea of what happens next (why are the football player and cheerleader going to the mansion? Why is it dilapidated? Why are they pounding?)
This simple shift makes for easier, more interesting, more collaborative, and more creative improv comedy.
Off-stage I found this same technique useful when it comes to the activity I hate: networking,,,
Yes, I hate networking. Cocktail hours, mingling, interacting before a presentation, I hate all of it.
But I discovered that it got a lot easier once I started using the improv idea of specificity.
Because I don’t like networking, my conversations tend to be pretty light, where I engage and chat but don’t necessarily reveal too much.
BUT, the times I have chosen to just be a little bit vulnerable, to reveal a tiny bit more, and be just a little bit more specific, some very good things have happened.
For example, just a couple of months ago I was at a networking event where I was having one of those awkward, “surface level conversations.” There was a moment where we talked about books, and I had the thought to share the fact that I like fantasy novels. A voice popped in my head, “yes, but, no one cares about that! This is a professional conference! Plus they might think you’re a nerd if you share that!”
If I stopped there I would have just said something like, “I like to read too.” Surface level.
Fortunately, I chose to say, “I like to read, mostly nerdy epic fantasy novels.”
The other person’s response? “Really? I love those too!”
This led to a great conversation, it got another person involved, and the whole networking session was a lot more fun and palatable for me.
Side-bonus: we are now in talks about me presention for his company.
Does it always work like this? No, of course not. And what if he didn’t like those novels, or worse, thought I was a nerd?!?
Oh well, we would just have stayed on the surface level.
In improv comedy, you make the offer and see what the other improvisers do with it. The more specific and detailed it is the easier it is for them to respond.
In networking, you make your offer (throw something out to the conversation) and see what the others do with it. The more specific and detailed it is the easier it is for them to respond. And if they don’t you just move on to the next offer. Or the next conversation.
If you don’t like networking or “small talk,” give this idea a try. I still don’t really like it, but I enjoy it more than I used to!