I’m an introvert so I’m very good at 1-on-1 conversations or written communication where I have the time to think through how to phrase my message.
But as I was progressing in my career, I noticed that if I had to speak in front of a bigger audience, I would get super nervous. I would forget what I had wanted to say or rush through the presentation to finish as quickly as possible.
Things were worse in groups where I would barely get a word in or remain unheard.
Time for change
Some time passed before I decided that had to change.
I knew I didn’t want to take a professional speaking course, recite lines or take acting classes where I didn’t feel a connection.
But what else could possibly help to overcome that fear and improve my presentation skills?
When I went to the 2016 Singapore Improv Festival, I knew improv was the answer. As I watched the unscripted plays unfold on stage, I felt it in my gut that it was what I wanted to do.
The excitement of watching the show and seeing how much fun the players had on stage. I wanted to have that too.
And when I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself standing on that stage playing too.
Once I set my mind to something there is no turning back. Who cares about stage fright?
The struggle is real
But shortly after I signed up for classes, I thought “What did I get myself into?
The internal struggle was incredible. Every single time I had class, I had to drag myself there filled with inner conflict.
On the one hand, I really wanted it. But on the other hand, I was tired just thinking about how much energy it took me to engage in those classes.
The stairs up to the Improv Den literally felt like climbing a huge mountain. [Editor’s note: Yes, it really is steep and lengthy.]
With every step, I told myself that I could still turn around. Plus, no one would notice if I skipped class this time or simply quit entirely and ran away.
But I stayed. Even then, while in class, I felt terrible and my stomach would feel upset.
I just wanted to be invisible. I was happy to be a spectator watching others jump into scenes.
But there’s also pressure to be in the scenes. And I was always silently debating with myself about where to jump into scenes or what to say when other players came up with the same idea.
My stress probably showed on my face as people kept asking over and over if I was alright.
I felt relief after surviving each class. I never felt more burnt out physically and mentally after only two hours.
Despite all this, fast forward, my dream to play at the Improv Festival became a reality when I was in PowerPoint Karaoke at the Singapore Improv Festival 2018.
If you’re an introvert like me and you’re thinking about taking improv, here are my takeaways:
Just do it
Now a little more than a year after taking classes, I still get sweaty palms every single time before a show.
Over and over again, seasoned players gave me one advice:
Just open your mouth and words will come out. Say or do something no matter how ridiculous it may sound or look.
Indeed, when I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?
Exactly! Life goes on no matter what.
So dare to succeed or to fail, both can lead to some entertaining scenes.
Keep an open mind
The unexpected often happens in improv.
For example, at the 2018 Singapore Improv Festival PowerPoint Karaoke show, the audience suggestion for my presentation was to sell a laundry folding robot.
I had to justify this product based on the random presentation slides, no matter how strange they were.
In other improv scenes, you can add an action, description or a question to enrich the scene and move forward in the plot.
Bounce your ideas around, let others play with it and help others to play with their thoughts. Enjoy the journey.
Explore anything you can imagine
That’s what I absolutely love about improv, this freedom to explore any gender, role or character and weaving it into a story.
I have played a professional art thief, Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, brothers, an Entrepreneur, a mistress and a child. I love to explore the non-traditional female roles, male and quirky characters.
Dream it and it will be easier to see the signs pointing you in the right road to take.
Trust is an important factor in improv.
In one of the singing games, I did what I felt was a pitiful scene. Luckily, another player jumped in and I was released from that scene quickly.
This is something I experienced throughout the Singapore Improv community. Everyone is very friendly and helpful, encouraging and non-judgmental.
This experience made it much easier to open up and try to be in scenes.
Stay in the moment
Focusing on something takes me a lot of effort, even on things I actually like to do.
The first time I felt entirely drawn into a moment was on stage during my first ever performance.
There was just us, no fast forward thinking, no fears, no audience, no looking back nor looking down from a third person perspective.
Just a smooth conversation which felt amazing, so pure and true, being one with the character.
Since I try to recreate this precious moment. It’s certainly still a challenge but with little steps, I am getting closer each time.
Connecting the dots
There are still plenty of things for me to explore in improv. It has given me built-in periods of reflection to recharge and most importantly HAVE FUN!
About the author
Anja Feller is a frequent performer at PowerPoint Karaoke, an improvised presentation show.
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