How To Improvise – Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up: Interview with Patricia Ryan Madson
Today in my networking challenge I am interviewing Patricia Ryan Madson. Patricia is the Author of a great book I read called Improv Wisdom, Don’t prepare, Just Show Up and she has been teaching adults how to improvise at Stanford University for twenty years.
In case you are reading this at work and can’t watch the video, you can read all of the great advice below instead!
How to Improvise: Interview with Author & Teacher Patricia Ryan Madson
1) I am a planner and an introvert. So why is it important for us to know learn how to improvise in order to have a satisfying life?
I am not against planning. In fact, I am a planner, too, even though I am an improv teacher. Planning isn’t the problem. The problem is letting that planning get in the way of when you have to do something, opening your eyes and stepping into the moment.
For example, a presenter can prepare and prepare, but when they finally step into an audience or an interview, if you let that planning be a part of you and speak naturally and see what comes up rather than trying to give prepared answers. It is good to prepare for your presentation, but using your natural capacity to put words together, even if they aren’t perfect, shows that you are human and natural rather than a perfectly sculpted and carefully prepared applicant with all the right answers.
For planners, improve is even a more valuable skill that will help you trust your own voice.
2) Why is learning how to improvise great for interviews?
An interview is a perfect example of when the interviewer is looking to figure out how you handle reality. Another word for improvisation is the real world and things coming one after another. Improvising is not about comedy or having funny responses even though improvisation is a form of comedy theatre.
The way I have taught improv at Stanford is helping them redirect their attention right now to what is happening and to notice really what is going on like people’s expressions on their faces so I can allow my natural impulse to come through. And maybe that isn’t perfect like I just screwed up my words a little bit just now, but I don’t mind because I think it is more important to think on my feet and be natural than to have it all real smooth.
[Related Post: The 6 Best Ways to Prepare for Your Interview]
3) It’s good to know that you can make mistakes in interviews!?
You are more valued if you are able to make a mistake and work through it rather than apologize or seeing a mistake as a character flaw. This is one of the main reasons I think learning how to improvise is so important. I am convinced that we admire people who make mistakes when presenting because they seem more human. I don’t trust people whose speech is flawless and careful.
I would like you to really listen to the question and allow your own natural mind and experience to answer. The tools of improv are simple like really, really listening – because we tend to listen with part of our mind and think about what we are going to say next.
If we trust that when the camera is on us, we are able to answer obvious questions or respond to whatever is in our mind normally, then we are a lot better off. Scripts are hard. I was an actress for a long time. You are supposed to do the script as perfectly as possible but we almost never do. So why not relax and let our life be an unfolding improvisation rather than a script that we execute well or not.
4) What are some common improvisation fears that your students face and how can these fears be overcome?
The number one fear is the fear of looking stupid or of not having anything to say. Humans are deathly afraid of being on the spot and having the camera on them. What you can control is how you respond if you slip up, so recovery is the controllable part.
So we get used to making mistakes so it is no big deal. Follow your own voice, listen carefully and pay attention to what is going on. People are afraid of looking silly and that their ideas are not original.
There is this misunderstood idea that innovation is something that no one else in the world has thought of. I think creativity is thinking realistically sometimes inside the box with really clear eyes looking at the problem and the facts of the situation. I want you to stay inside the box in the room that you are in and try to keep being awake. You are really trying to live in this moment now trusting that whatever you have to say is enough and not striving after originality. We don’t want to be thought of as boring or unoriginal. But, our unique thumbprint is already original. You are already one of a kind and you can trust that is enough.
5) What is your advice to someone who is constantly keeping a to-do list and excessively planning out their days? How can we improvise more in our daily lives?
To-do lists are helpful because it keeps you on your purpose and improvisers have to have a purpose. Once you engage yourself in the thing that is on that list, you are in the world of improv. Because then you need to be awake and alert and not just doing the plan. There is a fallacy that improvisers are whatever, just go with the flow. Improvising is going with the flow with a purpose. Learning how to improvise can actually help you execute that to-do list.
6) How can we learn to improvise during presentations?
The part of improvising that can help you most with presentations is paying attention. We think we pay attention but most of the time we are off thinking ahead. I suggest that to be a better presenter, you need to keep bringing your attention back to the current moment.
Presenters need to pay attention and be willing to follow some kind of impulse. The other thing that improv teaches that is great for presentations is to trust your own voice. I sometimes have an idea but I am not sure if it is the right answer and I get stuck trying to evaluate this in advance. The self-doubt that we have as presenters needs to sit on the side of the room and get rid of it.
You have to take that self-doubt as natural but don’t let it get in the way. That would be something I would really want to tell a young person. Trust your own voice! Trust that what you have to contribute is enough. Right now, what you have to contribute is good enough!
7) What do you wish you would have known when you were a young professional woman just starting out in her career?
I think the one thing that I really really wish I would have known is to wear comfortable shoes. I’m serious, when I was young, I wore fashion shoes and back in the 50s they were very pointy toes with high heels and I ruined my feet and got bunions so now as an old woman I am hobbling around.
Never for the sake of fashion wear shoes that hurt. It sounds kind of glib but if I would have known that when I was twenty I wouldn’t have worn those shoes that ruined my feet. It’s not worth it, there are plenty of nice looking shoes that really are comfortable so go for comfort girls! 🙂 I see women in these high heels today and they look like they are going to fall over. You want to be able to enjoy life and comfortable shoes will be a part of that.
The other thing I wish I would have known is to trust your own voice.