Improvisation and Presence

By John Cremer

As an experienced performer and trainer I condense the underlying value of practicing improvisation to one word – presence. In order to improvise well one acquires and develops a specific set of skills. This skill set greatly enhances personal effectiveness through an ever deepening level of presence in the here and now.

When people first encounter improvisation either through watching a performance or being trained in the basic skills there is an electric excitement in the room. The mystery unfolds moment to moment and one’s attention is fully engaged. New possibilities open up and different levels of creativity become available, some of these are brand new, others may have been buried since childhood. Confidence levels raise and there is often a burning desire to learn more. This is because we come into contact with some more alive and immediate parts of our inner self than we normally experience in day to day life.

For the duration of an improvisation session the auto pilot is switched off, we feel invigorated, focused and courageous.

This level and flavour of engagement has been sorely absent from workplaces for decades. Progressive companies are recognising that they always get mediocre results from employees who show up physically at work without actually “being there” mentally and emotionally. One of the lasting benefits of bringing improvisation skills into the workplace is that they evoke the part of us that wants to “be here” By improvising, laughing, engaging and collaborating together a team begins to excel. It only takes a few moments to revisit a basic improvisation exercise or roll out a new one and the enthusiasm is back in the room. Repeated practice of improvisation skills will quickly reveal the team members who are active saboteurs or energy drains. In any organisation it is the people are the greatest resource and 5 fully engaged people deliver far greater value than 10 semi engaged people (they also cost less in wages and take fewer sick leaves!) Increased presence in team members adds value exponentially as improvisation has at its core the practice of collaboration. When a team is made up of members who are adding positive energy, are really listening and contributing enthusiastically the results quickly follow.