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  • Jennifer

Spontaneity, Creativity, and Public Speaking


I used to have the worst stage fright. I was fine going on stage in a group -- in plays I would be okay, or with our high school choir -- I felt surrounded and safe and comfortable. As soon as you separated me out, though, my throat would close up and I suddenly started sweating like a rotisserie chicken on a spit, and I would eek out little frog noises.

The first year of law school, we had to defend an appellate brief that we had written in front of a real judge. It was supposed to only go for about 15 minutes, if I remember correctly, but they had let me opposition go on for almost 45 minutes without stopping him, and they decided that, to be fair, I'd have to go for 45 minutes, too. I was mortified and terrified and deeply questioning my life choices up to that moment. I remember that I was wearing a gray pantsuit, and I learned that night that when I am nervous, I sweat profusely from behind my knees, and, also, that gray shows sweat really well. I sweat so much that the back of my pants from the knees down was an entirely different shade of gray when I left that courtroom.

I started doing stand-up comedy a couple years later. The first time, I was just an emcee of an event, but I threw in some jokes, and they went so well that I felt an intense rush. That fear remained as I moved forward in comedy, though, and sometimes I would flub a joke or forget a punchline. Sometimes I was shaking when I got on stage. I kept pushing, though.

This Friday, I am giving a lunchtime keynote speech on career development, and I am not nervous. I'm invigorated and excited. Public speaking has become one of my favorite things -- along with internet cat videos and roller coasters. What changed?

I took an improv class.

One single improv class changed my entire life and helped me find and develop my passion. That Improv 101 class at a theater in North Carolina led to joining an improv team, then two, doing competitive improv, then my creating and leading a series of classes for law students on improv comedy for career development. Those applied improv courses led to me finding the Applied Improv Network, which opened my world up even further. I attended and presented at the AIN Conference in 2012, and in the sessions there, I learned about all of the ways that applied improv can make a huge difference. People from all over the world presented on how they were using improv in the classroom, in emergency response preparedness, in helping veterans with PTSD, in networking -- all kinds of things beyond what you might initially imagine. In fact, improv is now used in hundreds upon hundreds of applications.

What are some of the skills that applied improv can teach or help develop? Here's a small samping:

1. Spontaneity

2. Creativity

3. Positive Communication Patterns

4. Teamwork

5. Mindfulness

6. Cooperation and Collaboration

7. Acceptance of the Situation

8. Spotting Successes

9. Leadership

10. Story Telling

11. Negotiation

12. Presentation

13. Public Speaking


It certainly changed my life, and I've seen it change so many other teams, groups, and individuals. What do you want to change? Whatever it is, applied improv can probably assist, and I'd be happy to help with that!

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