How often are you truly engaged in real conversations where you’re staying in the moment, really listening, and connecting? If most of us are honest, we’re formulating what we’ll say next, thinking about our next meetings, or even making shopping lists in our heads. We rely on our past experiences to plan what we will say or to check out and half-listen. And, we usually get away with it relatively unscathed. But, how could your personal and professional relationships be better if you were staying in the moment, really listening, and connecting?

If you were at Fredrickson Learning’s 2021 Learning Leadership Summit, you experienced the Brave New Workshop’s Learning at the Speed of Laughter. In short: improvisation (improv) helped us to communicate more effectively. Wait, what? How exactly does improv improve communication? Is this just the new, trendy thing in Learning and Development? Actually, it’s neither new nor trendy. 

Improvisational theatrical techniques have been around for centuries. Improv is the art or act of improvising, or of composing, uttering, executing, or arranging anything without previous preparation. The key here is without previous preparation. Improv forces us to stay in the present and respond in the moment, to respond based on what we are hearing, not on our assumptions. Another way improv helps to improve communication is that improv doesn’t happen in a vacuum – improv is a group activity that relies on and reinforces connections between people. So, two of the most important aspects of communication – staying in the moment and connecting – are cores of improv.

Scientists have a deep understanding of their own research and areas of study. However, they are not always equipped to communicate effectively with the rest of us. The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University was started in 2009 to help scientists improve their communication skills through improvisational exercises and message-driven strategies. They found improvisational exercises had a notable effect on scientists and their communication skills improved from the training. Yes, you read that correctly: improv has been helping scientists communicate more effectively for more than a decade. 

Scientists all over the world are making amazing discoveries in their fields. Search “scientific discoveries 2021” to see a small snapshot – impacts of climate change on animals, supervolcanoes, gut bacteria influencing brain development, new bacteria, neurotransmitters, and so much more. How many of these discoveries were you aware of? And once you are aware of them, how well do you understand them? Let’s face it: most of us don’t have a deep understanding of scientific research. The scientists trained at the Alda Center for Communicating Science learn how to switch from lecturing about their work to having real conversations about it. And, frankly, that’s what we all need to do: have real conversations where we stay in the moment, really listen to each other, and connect with one another. Curious to know more or wondering what to do next? Check out the Brave New Workshop’s website to learn more about their fun and engaging programs. Listen to Alan Alda’s Clear + Vivid podcast to learn more about the ways we communicate and connect with one another. And just like the scientists who learned how to use improv to improve their communication, you, too, can benefit from the improv experience. I know we did!

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