To Finish Well, Start Strong

Start strong, make your life easier...

Last week I did my first “Open Mat” Improv Practice session, where people of all levels can join me for an agenda-less improv workshop. I have a few things to work on myself and I open the floor and have people tell me what they want to work on.

In the kick-off session, I had on two people who had never done improv before, so they said they would be interested in just learning some improv basics. By the time we got to this there was less than 15 minutes left in the session, so I had an interesting question to answer:

What is the very first thing I would teach a new improv student if I could I only teach one thing and only had 15 minutes?

Hmm, lots of choices, but the answer was pretty clear to me:

Platforms and Tilts.

What are those? Simple: a Platform is what you establish at the start of the improv scene. Who the characters are, where they are, what they are doing, and some kind of motivation/objective for the characters. 

Also, a good platform starts positive. Many improvisers, in a rush to make things funny or two tell and “interesting” story, jump right into some kind of conflict or problem. This may get a laugh right out of the gate, but it actually makes the scene much harder to perform. When the scene starts positive, it is so much easier to introduce trouble and conflict, and the story has somewhere to go.

Once the platform is established the performers “Tilt” it. They introduce a problem, obstacle, conflict, etc. that upsets the nice positive balance that was created in the Platform.

That’s it. With only 15 minutes and people with no improv experience, I thought that would be the best place to start. Why? Simple:

Because so many issues I see in improv scenes can be traced back to the fact that the scene did not build a strong enough platform at the start.

It’s easy to look at a slogging middle section of a scene or story and think, “oh the players aren’t that good” or “this is a tough story to tell,” when in fact the real problem is that the performers just didn’t take the time to build a strong enough platform at the onset.

I realized this same thing is true off-stage. We all have things in our lives that are a struggle or that don’t work out well, and we look to what is happening now to figure out why the problem is occurring. And yet, so many of those issues could have been avoided if we started stronger:

  • How many employee issues could be avoided with better hiring and onboarding practices?

  • How many meetings could be more effective and efficient with a stronger, better thought out agenda?

  • How much easier would selling be with a better prospecting system?

It’s easy to get caught up in analyzing the “now.” Beginnings are boring. But if you take the time to start with a strong platform, it can pay huge dividends, just like in improv comedy.

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P.S. The Open Mat Improv sessions are ongoing and free! To see if there is one coming up (and to get more info), click here... 

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