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How Does Improv Help Public Speaking?
Episode 2831st January 2023 • Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking • Kirsten Rourke
00:00:00 00:18:25

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In this week's episode of Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking, Kirsten and Kellie talk about attending their first improv comedy workshop. This has been on Kirsten’s ongoing mastery to-do list for a long time, but Kellie was definitely nervous at first. How did it go?

Key take-aways:

  • Improv is about total acceptance: anything the performer does is right
  • Improv trains you to be present in the moment
  • Improv is a great way to practice reading the room for how others react to what you say

Rourke Training’s webpage: https://www.rourketraining.com/

Ongoing Masgtery: Presenting & Speaking page: https://ongoing-mastery.captivate.fm/

RSS feed: https://feeds.captivate.fm/ongoing-mastery/

Read a transcript of this episode: https://share.descript.com/view/xAh8Bj87GFZ

For the video version of this episode: https://youtu.be/vrKWQrF9Ei0

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Transcripts

Kirsten:

Hello, everyone.

Kirsten:

Welcome to Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking, the podcast

Kirsten:

and the general life discussion.

Kirsten:

Hi, Kellie, how are you?

Kellie:

Hey, Kirsten, how are you?

Kellie:

I'm good.

Kirsten:

Good, good.

Kirsten:

So, let's talk today about our ongoing mastery journey and where we are,

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Because one of the things that we do when we work with clients is we help

Kirsten:

them look at where they are in presenting and speaking, what they wanna work on

Kirsten:

and the skill sets, and kind of make a plan, because you can't do everything.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Now, on mine was something that you were very good about, which

Kirsten:

was improv, going to an improv class.

Kellie:

Yep

Kirsten:

So, how was that for you?

Kellie:

So, we went to, Improv Boston Comedy School has intro to improv

Kellie:

workshops on a pretty regular basis.

Kellie:

It was fun.

Kellie:

It was way more fun than I thought it was going to be, I have to say.

Kellie:

It was small.

Kellie:

You were the only person in the room that I knew.

Kellie:

No one else knew anybody else, and that actually made it better,

Kellie:

because I wasn't self-conscious,

Kirsten:

Mmmm

Kellie:

Because none of us knew anything or anyone.

Kellie:

I will probably, except you, never see these people again.

Kellie:

So, it didn't matter how badly I screwed up, and so I was freed

Kellie:

from that self-consciousness, which is a big part of my stage fright.

Kirsten:

Yeah

Kellie:

And so I had fun.

Kirsten:

Good

Kellie:

How was it for you?

Kellie:

Because you have much more performance experience than I do.

Kirsten:

It was, it was fun and I had a good time.

Kirsten:

It was more, I got more in my head and I got more critical of

Kirsten:

myself than I thought I would.

Kirsten:

I noticed that I spent more time wanting to do it exactly the right way and be, you

Kirsten:

know, really on time and be all of that.

Kirsten:

Like, I got really judgmental in my head about myself, and so, when we

Kirsten:

were doing different activities, so one of them is "whiz bang," where

Kirsten:

you are just gesturing and saying, "whiz," sending it to one side.

Kirsten:

And then that person can either keep going or go "bang" and send it back to you.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And, I did that one time too many for somebody in the group,

Kirsten:

but she's like, "Oh, would you stop?"

Kirsten:

And she was joking,

Kellie:

Kirsten:

But I instantly went into my head with, "Oh my God,

Kirsten:

I'm making her uncomfortable."

Kirsten:

It was interesting to see, because the public speaking part was not the part

Kirsten:

that is what I need to work on, as much as that I wanna have the skillset,

Kirsten:

I wanna have the training, I wanna be doing it properly, as it were.

Kirsten:

But what helped me was watching, watching people do these different

Kirsten:

activities of essentially live action storytelling in the moment

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And seeing what people reacted to, what made them uncomfortable, and

Kirsten:

kind of watching how the instructor handled that to see, you know,

Kirsten:

what techniques I might adapt in working with people who are getting

Kirsten:

over their fear of public speaking.

Kellie:

And our instructor was great.

Kellie:

We each introduced ourselves, said maybe a sentence about why we were there,

Kellie:

and then we just started with the games

Kirsten:

Yep

Kellie:

And the concept of "yes and," and she didn't explain a lot

Kellie:

about the games, which at first was a little disorienting, but I realized

Kellie:

it was so that we just started doing.

Kirsten:

Yeah

Kellie:

And then as we were maybe not quite getting it right or we got stuck,

Kellie:

she would add more clarification.

Kellie:

And I kind of like that improv way of teaching improv,

Kirsten:

Mmm-hmm

Kellie:

So to speak,

Kirsten:

Mmm-hmm

Kellie:

Right, giving us that kind of minimal structure, seeing what we do with

Kellie:

it, and then giving us, she called them "notes," which, you know, she gave us

Kellie:

like, here's some notes on how that went.

Kellie:

Let's try it again.

Kirsten:

Yeah

Kellie:

I thought that was terrific and welcoming, really easy,

Kirsten:

Mmm-hmm

Kellie:

Not intimidating, not feeling like I have no theater experience.

Kellie:

What am I doing?

Kirsten:

Yes.

Kirsten:

Yeah, it was really good performance notes.

Kirsten:

It was very minimal.

Kirsten:

I liked that, what she did right off the bat, was she set up a very

Kirsten:

safe space for people to essentially work in, "mistake" is the wrong

Kirsten:

word, but essentially the permission to do it any way that it happens.

Kirsten:

There is no good,

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

There is no bad, there's only trying.

Kirsten:

And to have that be the possibility, obviously, you could see people

Kirsten:

were in their heads like I was, of, "but I don't wanna do it

Kirsten:

wrong," and there wasn't a wrong.

Kirsten:

And then when she gave a note, it's like, "Okay, now let's refine that."

Kirsten:

And I, I really appreciated that.

Kirsten:

One of the things which was a, a live action storytelling is having three

Kirsten:

people standing up that were all doing whatever poses and they were snapshots.

Kirsten:

And the two people sitting down were talking about, they're showing

Kirsten:

the slideshow of their vacation.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And when it was, I was sitting in the audience and they

Kirsten:

said, you know, "Where, where is it?"

Kirsten:

I said, "Okay, the moon."

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And again, the same person who commented before looked at me

Kirsten:

and went, "Okay, you need to stop."

Kirsten:

Because I was, I made it harder.

Kirsten:

And I was like, "Okay, I need to be careful."

Kirsten:

And I realized that one of the things is that, and she was lovely and she and

Kirsten:

I talked afterwards and, and she was great, but I could see, like, the fear of

Kirsten:

having it be too creative was definitely something that was an issue for people.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

But that rolling with that and just having it

Kirsten:

work was, you know, was fine.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Like, everybody, everybody got more fluid, everybody got

Kirsten:

smoother over the course of it.

Kellie:

And oddly, you're right, over the course of it, we did all loosen up.

Kellie:

For me, oddly, the less I tried, the better it felt, right?

Kellie:

So, the less I tried to anticipate what they were doing, or, "Okay,

Kellie:

my turn's going to come up next.

Kellie:

What am I going to say?"

Kellie:

The less I planned that

Kirsten:

Mmm-hmm

Kellie:

The better it was.

Kirsten:

Yes

Kellie:

I think my favorite game was the "Oh shit" game

Kirsten:

Kellie:

Where there are two lines of folks.

Kellie:

One person starts with what's called the "offer" and the second person responds

Kellie:

with, "Oh shit," and then follows up, and it's a couple of lines back and forth

Kellie:

where "oh shit" is the only scripted part.

Kirsten:

Yeah

Kellie:

And it was interesting to me to hear the kinds of

Kellie:

emphasis people put on "Oh shit."

Kellie:

I went for a, a sort of long, slow, "Oh shiiiiit" of disbelief.

Kellie:

And other people were more, sort of, peppy, as my grandma

Kellie:

would say, or sort of angry.

Kirsten:

Mm-hmm

Kellie:

And so that was really fun.

Kellie:

And we all knew it was going to happen, and yet, somehow, each

Kellie:

time that second person led off with, "Oh shit," it was surprising.

Kirsten:

Mm-hmm

Kellie:

I'm not sure how or why.

Kirsten:

Because it could be, it could be positive, it could be negative.

Kirsten:

You could turn it into whatever you wanted.

Kirsten:

And that really, yeah, that opened it up.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And I loved that, at various points, like, something would happen early

Kirsten:

on, and then, as people relaxed, they would do callbacks to the earlier comment.

Kirsten:

Like,

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

The first thing, you know, was someone gave another person a banana and

Kirsten:

it was, "Oh, well I saw you were hungry."

Kirsten:

And then later on, I think I handed somebody a watermelon and we started

Kirsten:

talking about, "Well, you know, it looked like you needed fruit.

Kirsten:

You gave away your banana," you know?

Kellie:

Yeah, yeah

Kirsten:

So, it was just little callbacks, and it was nice, because you're with

Kirsten:

these people, and they're all essentially putting themselves into a deliberately

Kirsten:

uncomfortable new space, because this wasn't for people who were experienced.

Kirsten:

This was all for people who were brand new, or

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

You know, felt that they were new, and that everybody was essentially

Kirsten:

just taking on doing a bravery activity.

Kellie:

Mm-hmm

Kirsten:

That's what they were there for, in, in whatever method that

Kirsten:

was, for whatever reason that was.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And it was really interesting to be surrounded by that.

Kirsten:

It was really nice.

Kirsten:

It was very welcoming.

Kirsten:

It was creative.

Kirsten:

I found it, like I said, it's, it's good for me because I, I

Kirsten:

can do pivoting in the moment.

Kirsten:

That's what I learned, and that's what, one of the things we teach

Kirsten:

in our coaching is how to do that.

Kirsten:

But, the way I learned it was by having 10, 15, 20 years of experience of

Kirsten:

rolling with whatever was thrown at you.

Kellie:

Right

Kirsten:

And I don't want people to have to have that experience to

Kirsten:

have the ability to respond to it.

Kellie:

Right

Kirsten:

So, I want to see how you can formally more structure that with people

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And, as always, grow my coaching, and my presenting, and my speaking.

Kirsten:

So, when you're working on your stuff, is there any part of this that you're

Kirsten:

going to be kind of bringing in?

Kirsten:

Anything it's made you think about?

Kirsten:

Any way you're looking at stuff differently?

Kellie:

I think so.

Kellie:

My semester starts soon, and, as I'm thinking about my syllabus and especially

Kellie:

opening day, which is critical for setting the tone of the class, there's

Kellie:

a short window of add/drop, and you want to keep as many people as possible

Kellie:

and have them bring their friends if there's still room in the class.

Kellie:

So, that first day is really important, and that first day is often a sort

Kellie:

of trudge through the syllabus

Kirsten:

Kellie:

And through the course policies, and through the

Kellie:

things you need to acknowledge.

Kellie:

But man, it's a drag.

Kellie:

And so trying to think about how to jump in and just get going right away.

Kirsten:

Mmm

Kellie:

And then maybe reset for some of the business, or, well, and how

Kellie:

to start with something small and easy to get it rolling and then build

Kellie:

up to something a little bit more and a little bit more for beginners.

Kellie:

None of my students, when I teach writing, none of my students have

Kellie:

taken a college writing class before, unless they took the first half of the

Kellie:

class I'm teaching the second half of.

Kellie:

Or none of my students have taken literature classes in the

Kellie:

subjects that I'm teaching, so I can't assume they have any kind of

Kellie:

shared background or assumptions,

Kirsten:

Mmm-hmm

Kellie:

Or American Lit 101, or whatever.

Kellie:

So, I think a lot of how our improv instructor taught the class in a

Kellie:

way that wasn't very "teachery"

Kirsten:

Yeah

Kellie:

And certainly wasn't lecture

Kirsten:

Mmm-hmm

Kellie:

Will stick with me.

Kellie:

How about you?

Kirsten:

Yeah, I'm really glad you said "teachery," because the funny thing is,

Kirsten:

I was doing videos, it was a video on Adobe Illustrator, and this is, like,

Kirsten:

10 years ago, and I submitted it to LinkedIn for their LinkedIn Learning.

Kirsten:

And, the note I got back was, it was too teachery and I remember kind of

Kirsten:

going, "I'm not sure what that means."

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

So, I kind of was looking at it and, you know, I've been

Kirsten:

thinking about that and kind of adapting over time how I'm presenting.

Kirsten:

And I realized that when I'm teaching software, there was a

Kirsten:

very specific pattern I would follow, and it would become very,

Kirsten:

a little more of a lecture style.

Kellie:

Yep

Kirsten:

And, as the two things I'm working on in my ongoing mastery is

Kirsten:

improv and storytelling, I want to be able to do what we're talking about,

Kirsten:

which is stepping off of the structure a little bit and kind of opening it up to,

Kirsten:

"All right, let's, let's look at this.

Kirsten:

Let's think about this.

Kirsten:

When would we do this?

Kirsten:

What would be this before?"

Kirsten:

and kind of open it up to giving people a broader concept to

Kirsten:

embrace, and then go into, "Okay, let's look at how we do that."

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And that that might be a more interesting and fun way of

Kirsten:

being able to teach certain things, especially things that are drier.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Because I know, like, in, especially doing elearning and trying to

Kirsten:

do software simulations, having people go through the menus, it's like, "And this is

Kirsten:

the file menu, and here you click print."

Kirsten:

You know, that stuff is basically, like, please put me to sleep right now.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

But, if instead, we can wrap a narrative around it, we can put a story

Kirsten:

in there, then you're following the story.

Kirsten:

And the logic of it helps people make those conceptual ties together

Kirsten:

in their mind for themselves.

Kirsten:

And, since a lot of the work is about essentially reducing the cognitive

Kirsten:

load that learners bring to whatever experience they have and to give them

Kirsten:

more bandwidth to play with, then that's one of the techniques that

Kirsten:

I'm gonna try to adapt a little more.

Kellie:

One of the things that will also stay with me is, it's been a

Kellie:

long time since I've been a student in something entirely new to me.

Kirsten:

Yeah

Kellie:

Even my grad work, when my very first grad class, my first time

Kellie:

being a graduate student, a whole new level of expectation, I'd still been

Kellie:

in school for mumbley number of years.

Kellie:

I know how to be a student in that context, but I haven't tried something

Kellie:

so new in my skillset as a class in ages.

Kirsten:

Mm-hmm

Kellie:

And so, remembering that.

Kellie:

What was my apprehension going in, in the weeks before the day of?

Kellie:

How long did it take me to feel comfortable and to settle?

Kellie:

How did I feel afterwards?

Kellie:

All of that

Kirsten:

Mmm-hmm

Kellie:

Is important for me to remember for my students too.

Kirsten:

Yep

Kellie:

They're 18, 19, 20 years old.

Kirsten:

Yep.

Kirsten:

Exactly.

Kirsten:

I mean, there's, there's a reason why I attend webinars and I, you

Kirsten:

know, I have to be really careful, because, as you know, I get really

Kirsten:

analytical and judgy and all, "Okay.

Kirsten:

I would do this different.

Kirsten:

I would do that different.

Kirsten:

That's good, check."

Kirsten:

You know, and I kind of go through that grid in my head.

Kirsten:

But one of the things I need to do is just be present with how I'm reacting,

Kirsten:

how other people are reacting, watching how people are dealing with

Kirsten:

approaching material for the new time.

Kirsten:

Be, you know, no one wants to be the new person.

Kirsten:

No one wants to not know.

Kirsten:

No one wants to be, you know,

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Awkward or uncomfortable or in any way embarrassed.

Kirsten:

So, what are the ways in which humans react and engage?

Kirsten:

And, what are methods that we can use to help shift, or take the hard edges

Kirsten:

off of something, or guide someone into a, a, you know, a different

Kirsten:

place cognitively, so that we can get that information across and have

Kirsten:

people learn what needs to be learned.

Kirsten:

I, I definitely find that, you know, being an attendee

Kirsten:

really helps me as a presenter.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And watching speeches really helps me as a speaker, and that's

Kirsten:

why I wanted to take on these two tasks in this year of storytelling

Kirsten:

and improv, because those are things that I have taught myself.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

And I've taught myself well enough that they're part of my

Kirsten:

coaching, they're part of the work that we do with our clients, but because

Kirsten:

it's not formally taught, I would like to see how professionals do it.

Kirsten:

Like upcoming, we have an interview with Laura, who I've known for

Kirsten:

absolutely ever, and she's gotten some of the biggest storytelling awards

Kirsten:

ever in the course of her career and has been a professional storyteller

Kirsten:

the length of time I've known her.

Kirsten:

And, that, as a career, is a completely different way of, of approaching work, and

Kirsten:

approaching the world, and approaching how you are bringing yourself into the space,

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Than what I do.

Kellie:

Yep

Kirsten:

So, that's one of the reasons why it's, like, I really

Kirsten:

wanna be bringing those things in and kind of sharing them with people.

Kirsten:

So, what do you wanna tackle?

Kirsten:

What's coming up for you that you want to, to work on?

Kirsten:

Because we worked on my improv thing.

Kellie:

Well, we are trying to get ourselves to another Moth

Kellie:

episode, not episode, event.

Kirsten:

Mm-hmm

Kellie:

Not sure which of the StorySLAMs it's going to be.

Kellie:

They're held pretty regularly, but tickets are available pretty close

Kellie:

to show release time, and so, we've missed one or two because the first

Kellie:

time we check they're not available, and when we check again, they're gone.

Kirsten:

Yeah

Kellie:

So, getting ourselves to a Moth event of some

Kellie:

kind, soon is next up for me.

Kirsten:

Excellent.

Kirsten:

So for

Kellie:

And also, I think more improv.

Kirsten:

Okay.

Kirsten:

All right, good.

Kirsten:

Because I, I know on the way out there you were, you were like, "I'm

Kirsten:

not sure how I feel about this.

Kirsten:

If you tease me, I will kill you."

Kirsten:

And I'm like, "I'm not gonna tease you.

Kirsten:

I'm not.

Kirsten:

I swear to God."

Kirsten:

And I didn't even,

Kellie:

And you did not.

Kirsten:

I did not even think of it.

Kirsten:

I didn't.

Kirsten:

I don't know if you can hear the background.

Kirsten:

Can you hear Onyx?

Kellie:

Yes

Kirsten:

Ok, so

Kellie:

I can hear, I can hear her, yes.

Kirsten:

Okay, so, for the people on audio or the people on video, so that little

Kirsten:

noise that you hear in the background, the creature that is screaming in Klingon is

Kirsten:

my guinea pig Onyx, who fairly regularly basically screams, "Give me my damn

Kirsten:

carrots, you ra-ra-ra-ra," and then curses in a string of whatever guinea pig-ese,

Kirsten:

but it basically is Klingon opera, and she's very loud for a fur potato.

Kirsten:

Very loud.

Kirsten:

So when you're presenting live, like we're doing now, these things happen and rolling

Kirsten:

with them as part of it .

Kellie:

And improv teaches you that everything that happens

Kellie:

is exactly what was supposed to and as it should have happened.

Kellie:

It is organic to the world, and it is just true.

Kirsten:

Yes

Kellie:

And it's, it's true

Kirsten:

Jesus, you are so loud.

Kirsten:

Oh my God, she's, she's seriously just a little black fur a

Kirsten:

potato going, "Give me my carrots.

Kirsten:

I will kill you and all of your family."

Kirsten:

Yeah, just chill, please.

Kellie:

Kirsten:

So, people who are watching and listening, what is it that you

Kirsten:

wanna be working on in the ongoing mastery of your work, for presenting,

Kirsten:

for speaking, for being out there, for tackling whatever aspect of public

Kirsten:

speaking is uncomfortable for you.

Kirsten:

What is a way that you can approach that?

Kirsten:

I'm looking at the narrative, so I'm going into storytelling.

Kirsten:

I'm looking at how I'm pivoting in the moment, so I'm looking at my improv.

Kirsten:

What is it that would be helpful for you?

Kirsten:

Is it a theater class?

Kirsten:

Is it watching particular shows?

Kirsten:

Is it reading specific books?

Kirsten:

Share with us on the LinkedIn Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking group.

Kirsten:

Please come on in, chat with us.

Kirsten:

We also have a new newsletter coming out and Kellie's got

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Some awesome content in that.

Kirsten:

That's great.

Kirsten:

We will be

Kellie:

Thank you

Kirsten:

Continuing to do the podcast.

Kirsten:

And I'm gonna start going and doing more live videos, because I was essentially

Kirsten:

off the air for about a month and it's like, "Oh, yeah, I'm a little behind."

Kirsten:

So, I have a whole bunch of little lives to do.

Kirsten:

So, you'll be seeing a lot of me over the next few months.

Kellie:

Great

Kirsten:

So any last notes, Kellie, on ongoing mastery as a, as a

Kirsten:

skillset to address, to work on?

Kellie:

Well, the energy level I thought was really interesting.

Kellie:

You and I were both exhausted afterwards.

Kirsten:

Mm-hmm

Kellie:

That being present is something that takes effort, and it takes practice.

Kellie:

It is not just something you can turn on and have at full capacity.

Kellie:

So, part of the reason why it needs to be ongoing is that it needs to be nurtured,

Kirsten:

Mmmm

Kellie:

Cultivated, developed.

Kellie:

You can't just dial it up from 2 to 10.

Kirsten:

And that you need to recharge.

Kirsten:

Good point, yes.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

So, building in recharging and planning for the waves of your ability

Kirsten:

to do a thing definitely are part of it.

Kellie:

Yeah

Kirsten:

Really good point.

Kirsten:

Excellent.

Kirsten:

All right, so let's go ahead and wrap and we will see everybody next week.

Kirsten:

Please comment on all the socials and I will go ahead and wrap us up here.

Kirsten:

We will see you all next time.

Kirsten:

Have a good one.

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