I once spoke at the Arizona Society of CPAs accounting conference, arriving about an hour early for my presentation. I’ve made that my practice so that I can get a feel for the room, make sure all the electronics are working, and do one more review of what I will say.
“Can you go on now?” my contact asked me as I walked through the door. “The 8 o’clock speaker isn’t here yet—we think he got lost on the way.” And so within five minutes I was plugged in, miked up, and speaking. I did a few ice breakers to loosen everybody up, and then we dove into the material.
This was a perfect example of you’ll never know what’s going to happen. As such, you need to be able to adapt to almost any situation. You must prepare so that you don’t miss a beat. But, how do you get to that place where you can easily adapt?
Here are two improvisation tips for you to integrate into your tool kit of preparedness:
- Silence Your Inner-Critic and Silence Your Fears – We’re all familiar with it, the voice that tells you you’re not good enough, not smart enough, that you shouldn’t be here. The inner critic is always at work, but there is something about public speaking that turns it up. For many, the closer you get to the appointed time when you must speak, the louder and more incessant the critic becomes. What can you do? You have to change the lines and start programming your brain to use “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…” When you do, you develop confidence. You tell yourself, “I can do this,” and the more times you repeat it, the more you will believe it. Here are a few examples of how to incorporate this line of thinking: “Yes, I know I will make mistakes, and they will not hamper me. Yes, I will not be perfect, and that means I can only get better.”
- Being Ready for the Unexpected – Can you really do that though? The unexpected means you can’t prepare for it. However, you can put yourself in a position to more successfully deal with what comes your way. Preparing for what you do know or what you can control will help give you the confidence to adapt and wing-it if necessary. Set aside extra time to get to your meeting or event; prepare your presentation a few more times in different settings; write out possible ideas or anecdotes before meetings new people. Doing your best to prepare first, will actually allow you to be better at spontaneity.
Improv is really changing your mind-set to stay calm and stress-free with the confidence of preparation supporting your ability to adapt. As you practice these skills you’ll no doubt become even more comfortable – and possibly even crave! – the unknown.