top of page
  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

How Improv Connects Audiences

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

man and woman in theater laughing at an improv show

What does “connection” with an audience mean to you? That they aren’t asleep or playing video games on their phone?

True connection implies that the presenter and the audience are experiencing shared thoughts and feelings.

When an audience feels a connection with the communicator, when they believe the communicator understands how they feel and is aware of their beliefs and desires, they’re motivated to pay attention, to engage, and ultimately are more likely to take action.

One approach that is becoming widely used to train professionals, such as medical doctors and corporate executives to better connect with those they serve, is applied improvisation.

Yes, you read that correctly, applied improvisation – as in the theater. Applied improvisation is based on the principles and techniques used in improvisational theater. Applying improv techniques can transform the way we interact with others in real-life situations.

According to Kat Koppett, in Training to Imagine (2013), the fundamental principles of improv are:

  • Trust – is built as we get to know an audience and they get to know us. Increase the audience’s feeling of comfort and safety – to trust you and increase their willingness to participate.

  • Spontaneity – is necessary for creativity and exploration of new ideas. Being spontaneous requires us to turn off our inner critique, and to embrace failure as a way to learn.

  • Accepting offers – is accepting and building on the ideas of others. This is the essential tenet of improv when improvisers accept what others create and build on it. It keeps the scene moving forward.

  • Listening and awareness – is being fully present and aware, fully observing, fully listening. Rather than coming up with our response, listening and observing completely before responding.

  • Storytelling – is a proven method to engage and reach an audience. Improv is storytelling. Likewise, we can present information as compelling stories to be better understood and remembered.

  • Performing with presence – is mastering your nonverbal presenting skills. It is fully utilizing our body language and voice to speak with confidence, clarity, and conviction. It is responding to our audience in real time – fully aware of our surroundings and the audience.

These principles can be applies to our communicating, so that we more effectively connect with audiences and bring about learning and behavior change.

“Yes, and…”

A classic improv activity is “Yes, and…” To try this out, pay attention to your next conversation or small group discussion and notice how often you use phrases such as “yes, but…” to start a response in such a way that the ideas of others are blocked. Instead, substitute the phrase “yes, and” to accept their offer and keep the conversation going. Wait until all ideas are on the table to evaluate and judge their merit. “Yes, and” stimulates creativity and collaboration.

Next week I am presenting an advanced workshop for Extension educators. We will be doing improv as well as numerous other interactive activities for engaging an audience. For more tips on audience engagement, download my free tip sheet:

I will share in next week’s blog more from the workshop. Stay tuned.

“When you, as an educator, look into the eyes of your learners, you are standing at the gateway of enormous learning capacity.”

~Dr. Joye Norris

Koppet K. Training to Imagine. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, 2nd Edition, 2013.

166 views0 comments
bottom of page