Improv Can Set You Free

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Local improvisation artist Jessie Shternshus founded her company called Improv Effect in 2007. She works with individuals and corporations to help them improve communication using principles of improvisation. Shternshus believe that mastering improvisation techniques can help anyone feel more confident and be more successful in their career.

After all, she says, life is just one big improvisation. We go through life interacting with dozens of people each day without a prepared script. From “What are you hungry for tonight?” to “Give us a quick update on the project status,” you’re improvising answers and responses all the time. Practicing this skill can help you feel more confident in any situation.

“Improv frees you from needing to be perfect all the time,” Shternshus says. “If you’re focused on being perfect, you’re worried about controlling the situation and sticking to what you think is supposed to happen. It’s very hard to respond naturally when you’re stuck on perfect and afraid of failure.” Improv is unscripted performance, so there’s never a “perfect” performance – or any two that are just alike.

Shternshus says that one of the most important principles of improv is the idea that you should embrace your mistakes. “Mistakes are simply an opportunity to see things differently, to make adjustments to your plan.”

If you’re worried about being perfect, she says, mistakes feel catastrophic. If you stumble when entering the room, or misspeak, or forget a name, for example, your inner critic starts up inside your head. You begin to worry about your mistake and worry about making another mistake, while at the same time, telling yourself how stupid that mistake was.  That’s a lot of talking going on inside your head, which makes it almost impossible to do any quality listening.

Improv practice teaches you to stay in the moment, to be laser-focused on your conversation partner so you can read signals and respond quickly. Improvisation requires you to be able to read your partner quickly and look for small changes in expressions, body language, tone, and direction. You can’t do that if you’re stuck inside your own head.

Practicing improv builds great listening skills and teaches you to relax and stay poised in stressful situations. When you stay in the moment in a meeting, interview, or casual conversation, you give your partner the gift of your complete focus and attention. You listen for cues about what’s important to them, what words they use and how they think. You look for agreement or challenge in their micro expressions, posture and energy as you interact. It can help you react more quickly, more naturally, and with more confidence.

For more information about how improv can transform your speaking or your business, visit


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