How to listen like an Improviser

Think about your favorite scene from a movie, television show, or a play. If you will, think of a scene free of visual effects and one that just focuses on the people in the story.

Why is it your favorite scene?

If you are like me, favorite scenes emerge because the characters were changed by what someone else said.

When I coach Improvisation teams, I stress the importance of focusing on the relationship between the characters, above all else. The advice can be somewhat vague so I ask students to take it one step further. I ask them to:

“Be changed by what your partner said”.  “Be changed by what you hear”.

Humans find change to be fascinating, even if we go out of our way to avoid it ourselves. I’d argue that we want and root for change when we watch our favorite shows or movies. It is that evolution of a character, and their ability to be changed by what they hear that keeps the character growing and learning, but also quite vulnerable.

The ability to let ourselves be changed by a conversation or an encounter is the key to listening like an improviser. It takes us a step beyond head nods and eye contact, and connects us more deeply to our scene partner because they know they’ve been heard.

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