How To Improve Communication Skills with Three Quick Exercises
Improvisers actively practise their communication skills as a warm-up for rehearsing and performing comedy and theatre shows. Many of these exercises improve communication as well as being quick, fun and easy for anyone to play and practise in their work life.
- Listen Fully
Listening is the most important aspect of communication. If you don’t listen, then how can you respond in a valuable way? Listening doesn’t just mean hearing the words, it also means noticing body language and emotional undertones. Try listening until the end of the sentence and not formulating your response until you have heard everything the other person wants to say. This is the surest way to improve your communication skills.
Work with a partner. One invents a newspaper headline such as ‘Traffic Busiest on Record’, the other listens to the end of the sentence and invents a second headline starting with the last word used. For example:
A: Traffic Busiest on Record
B: Record Shop Set to Close
A: Close Your Mouth When Eating, Say Experts
B: Experts Deny Imminent Meteor Impact with Earth
A: Earth Best Planet in Solar System, Say NASA
Tip: Don’t worry about the validity of your headlines. The exercise is about listening, not accuracy of information. It is also super fun!
- Get on the Same Page
People won’t always agree, but we can quickly get on the same page as other people and at the very least, understand how they are thinking.
Exercise: ‘Mind Meld’
Work with a partner (or, alternatively, with a group in a circle). Two people step forward and each think of a word. They count down together “3, 2, 1” then announce their words at the same time.
A: Bench B: Tree
Both people take a few seconds to think of a word that will make sense of both these words, or join them together in some way. When both people are ready, count down together “3, 2, 1” and announce your new word at the same time.
A: Wood B: Park
Continue until you manage to say the same word at the same time!
A: Woodchips B: Playground
A: Slide B: Slide
Tip: Don’t panic if you can’t land on the same word or if it takes a long time. Really it’s about listening carefully and starting to adapt to someone else’s way of thinking. The process itself is the achievement.
- Say Yes
Sometimes, we can be a little quick to judge an idea before it has been fully explored. ‘Bad’ ideas are often at the root of or the inspiration for good ones.
Exercise: Crazy When
With one or more other people, start a conversation with the words “Wouldn’t it be great if…”. Finish the sentence with a crazy idea like:
“Wouldn’t it be great if worms ruled the Earth?”
“Wouldn’t it be great if coffee came out of the tap?”
“Wouldn’t it be great if giants existed?”
It’s very easy to shoot these ideas down. Worms might be pretty bad at running the Earth as they’re not too smart, not everyone likes coffee and giants might be tough to fit on public transport. But let’s try instead to be positive and say ‘yes, and’ to these ideas. In that instance the conversation might go:
A: Wouldn’t it be great if worms ruled the Earth?
B: Yes, and they would spell out words with their bodies to tell us what to do.
C: Yes, and they would suck baddies down into the earth by strategically creating sinkholes.
D: Yes, and they would be cheap to dress and accommodate as they’re only small.
Tip: You can try this with serious conversations too. Is there a product or initiative you are working on? What would it look like if there were only positive outcomes?
Practising these simple and quick improv techniques can fast track your communication skills. There is no substitute for good improvisation training and being facilitated by an expert so go and find a class near you and start your improv journey.