by Darren Held

by Sonnjea Blackwell
It has come to my attention that there are some people in the world with sub-par listening skills. Not you, obviously. I mean, duh. But some people. Unfortunately, they don’t know who they are, because they don’t listen when people tell them they need to listen better.

Listening Skills In Improv

improving listening skills with improv comedy classes

Although people come to Held2gether improv classes for any number of awesome reasons, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say up front that they signed up for improv specifically to improve their listening. And yet, I’ve had millions of people tell me after they’ve done improv for a little while that it had made them much better listeners. (Note: improv does nothing to alleviate a tendency to exaggerate.)

But back to improved listening, which was apparently my point. The reason improv helps with listening is because, before you can apply any of the other rules of improv (agreeing, adding information, committing, you name it), you have to listen. How on earth can I agree with or add relevant information to yours if I have no friggin’ clue what you said? I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, duh, Sonnjea.” But seriously, how many times have you had a conversation with someone and then walked away with absolutely no idea what they said? I know that’s not just me. Um, right?

At first, new students typically struggle with listening. It makes sense: our society’s fast pace, with all of our electronic devices and lack of actual face-to-face encounters is making active listening a lost art. Not only that, but new students are also often petrified – going on stage with nothing but a weird suggestion from the rest of the class and trying to make something hilarious happen can be terrifying! And people in panic mode are not exactly known for remaining calm and listening intently to what those around them are saying. It’s normal.

But as students get more comfortable with the discomfort and practice yes, anding each other, it becomes clear to them that the only way to free themselves from any agenda, be totally in the moment and ultimately do good improv is to listen. It takes practice, but the super cool thing is that the games and exercises we do in Level 1 Improv Class help you improve your listening skills with no conscious effort on your part. Of course, if you also put some focused effort into it, you’ll get even more improvement.

Listening Skills In Real Life

If you do improv long enough, the listening skills you learn in class infiltrate your real life, and pretty soon you realize that you’re not thinking about your to-do list, or what you have to get at the grocery store or what you want to say next when others are talking to you. Not only that, but those others will notice (perhaps subconsciously, but they will notice) that you are one of very few people in the world who actually listens to them. Don’t underestimate how important that is – people have an inherent need to be heard and will deeply appreciate the fact that you are satisfying that need.

Which, you know, will make you popular and stuff. Yay you!

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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