Take a Cue from Improv: 3 Ways to Polish Your Presentation Skills

Jul 12, 2016 | The ONE Thing | 0 comments

With all the uncertainties and dangers out in the world, it’s a bit surprising that public speaking is the number one phobia in America. For over a quarter of people in the U.S., speaking in front of others is the ONE Thing they fear most.

But being able to present yourself well in the workplace can help just about anyone fast track their career, and for some professions it’s an outright necessity. To help overcome the handicap, business professionals are now seeking the assistance of performers and coaches to improve their presentation skills. Of all the unconventional business courses, improv classes may just be the most beneficial.

They’ve proven to be so effective that many Ivy League business schools are now adding improv to their curriculum. Instructors are using improv to replicate real world scenarios and prepare students for the unexpected. Experts note that improvisation exercises also teach teamwork, boost creativity and get people out of their comfort zones.

If you’re having trouble presenting yourself or your ideas effectively, take a cue from improv with these techniques and tips.


Don’t Let a Mistake Throw You

Most people are concerned with how they’re perceived by others. The last thing we want is for people to think we’re dumb, boring or ill equipped. The reality of the matter is most people sympathize with a presenter or someone who is put on the spot. They understand how nerve racking it is when you’re trying to get everything just right while the pressure and attention is all on you.

Failure is one thing MIT improv instructor Daena Giardella says business people have to cope with and learn from. Nine times out of 10 no one but you will notice a mistake unless you acknowledge it. Just continue on as if nothing ever happened and a mistake will often go unnoticed.

An effective way to calm your nerves and minimize mistakes is to get familiar with the environment. You may feel confident and relaxed at your desk, but what about other areas of the office? Venture away from your desk to get better accustomed with other surroundings, particularly the ones where you present the most.

This works wonders for improv actors. As they do more shows at a venue they become more and more comfortable in the space, which puts them in a better state of mind during a performance.


Learn to Handle Curve Balls

Anything can happen on stage. The same holds true for a meeting or day at the office. Life hands us curve balls all the time, but many people aren’t prepared for them. Instead of simply planning for the unexpected, people mistakenly focus on how they think things might unfold.

These are the moments when we have to channel our energy toward finding a solution rather than freaking out. Improv actors don’t have time to freak out if they’re given something totally off the wall or the situation does a one-eighty. They have to think on their feet and react quickly. Rather than fighting the current, they go with the flow.

Consider how this could unfold in the business world. You have a big presentation with investors to go over some numbers and show that growth is on pace or better. The visual aids you’ve created to reference during the presentation show these figures in detail.

On the way to the meeting, a co-worker informs you that the set of metrics you wanted to discuss have recently been analyzed and what you printed is no longer accurate. In a matter of seconds, you went from completely prepared to ground zero on your presentation, which is now deemed incorrect and out of date. With improv experience, you can turn the new situation into a positive — the charts you plan to reference now serve as a physical reminder of how fast the business is improving.

Being able to think on your feet can allow you to make a powerful statement no matter the cards you’ve been dealt.


Develop Your Own Style

Many top comedians start out in improv groups where they hone their signature characters and style. Having to perform on the fly shows comedians what comes naturally and teaches them how to play off of a crowd’s reaction.  The two work in tandem to sharpen a personal stage presence.

Your presentation style encompasses your tempo, flow, supporting media and delivery. It will also incorporate your personal communication style. That’s what helps a person hone their unique delivery of information.

How you engage with others is also important. In improv the performers get the audience involved. In business you’re going to be interacting and engaging others as well. The better you understand your audience the more effectively you’ll deliver your message.

Improv exercises can help reveal the presentation style that feels most natural by forcing you to try different methods and ways of communicating. You may discover that regurgitating statistics trips you up, but using analogies comes across more smoothly. It’s also common to find that you’re rushing through things so fast the information is getting lost, and slowing the pace just a bit is enough to correct the problem.


Developing your own presentation style will take time as well as trial and error. But once you find what works presenting like a pro will be one of your most valuable skills.