To succeed, planning is not enough. One must improvise as well.
— Hari Seldon
I spent some time with Jessie Shternshus, the owner of the Improv Effect, which helps people become better listeners, team players, leaders, and communicators through improvisation workshops and classes. Improvisation has been around for years as a method for actors to “stay in the moment;” it helps them listen intensely and react to the other person(s) on stage. Jessie Shternshus has been studying and practicing improv since she was 11 years old; she’s a professional actor and performs regularly at the Comedy Zone. But she insists that you don’t have to be a professional actor or comedian to use the skill; you already use it every day in conversation. “You don’t walk around with a script as you interact with people at home or at work,” she says. “You listen and react on the spot. So this is not a new skill – it just isn’t one you might have consciously worked on before.”
Jessie’s workshops help future performers and ordinary business people sharpen their listening skills and gain confidence in their ability to react quickly in a social or business situation. She works on body language, vocal tones and, of course, what’s actually being said, although that’s just a small part of the communication process. Improv exercises are fun and interactive, which helps people forget that they’re working on important concepts. Jessie compares improv skills to athletic skills: “It’s like any sport; you have to practice to get good.”
Her clients work on making their partners in the exercises look good through a technique she calls “Yes, and.” A typical exercise might consist of two partners (strangers) assigned to take turns describing the great vacation they just took together. One partner starts: “We got into Cancun on Sunday night.” The other partner says, “Yes, and then we took the local bus to our hotel.” Each speaker in turn validates the other’s line before adding to the story. Jessie says this is a great technique for conversation in real life as well. “It gets you out of the ‘Yes, but’ mode and helps you connect to other people quickly,” she says.
If you’ve been in a job search for a while, it’s easy to lose your confidence. You may be starting to edit yourself too much – to be timid about meeting new people. Jessie will be bringing the Improv Effect to the WorkSource Professional Network on April 22. If you’re a member, be sure to attend.