5 Improvisational Acting Techniques That Will Make You a Better Blogger

Theatre

This is a guest post from Nathania Johnson.

Recently, Brian wrote about the connections between jazz improvisation and blogging. As an improvisational actor, I wanted to offer the readers of Copyblogger insight into 5 techniques used by improv actors and comedians that can help you improve your blogging.

Let Go of Your Inhibitions

Audiences respond to one of two triggers: The Unexpected and The Common Experience. Both of these triggers are best expressed when your guard is let down.

Here’s what I mean.

Admitting to the fact that you pick your nose on the way to work is going to get a laugh. Some will be laughing at you because they didn’t expect it (and they pick their noses in the privacy of their own bathroom) and others will laugh with you because they do the same thing but were keeping it quiet.

Everyday, people are playing to social norms and expectations. You stand out when you let go of those inhibitions and explore your creative freedom. Vulnerability and spontaneity can inform this freedom and help set you apart from the rest of the bloggers in your niche.

Value Emotional Integrity Over Audience Response

Sometimes, when I’m on stage, the audience is quiet. Painfully quiet. The material falls flat and I wish I could rewind and do something different. The other night I tried to be Michael Jackson, and it was a total dud. My husband later told me that I used a southern accent for that scene.

I went for the joke instead of maintaining the emotional integrity of the Michael Jackson character. In other words, I gave attributes to a character that didn’t fit – and therefore, the audience didn’t connect.

In the same way, blogging is part of an overall conversation marketing movement where transparency is not only valued but expected. Savvy audiences will see through you in a heartbeat if you try to be something or someone that you’re not.

Saying “Yes, And…”

There’s an improv exercise called “Yes, And.” The first player makes a statement and the second player begin their response with the words, “Yes, And.” For example:

Player A: “I got you a Slip and Slide for your 35th birthday!”

Now, this suggestion feels a bit awkward to the beginning improviser. So it would be tempting to pretend it’s a joke or otherwise deny the situation. But this exercise teaches improvisers to accept the statements made by their fellow players and respond with gems such as:

Player B: “Yes, and let’s go put string bikinis on our cellulite-infested bodies and go strut our stuff in front of the retirement center.”

Raise your hand if you want to see this scene! I know I do.

“Yes, And…” is all about accepting what others have to offer. Whether it’s another blogger or a commenting reader, consider what others are offering you and respond accordingly. Don’t discount something quickly because it’s something you’ve never encountered before (a perspective, a partnership, etc).

Be Specific

Just as with copywriting, specificity is improv gold. When doing a scene, if I say I’m at a restaurant, every single audience member could have a different image of where that scene takes place. One person might think fast food while another thinks fine dining.

But if I say “Thanks for meeting me at Pete’s Soda Fountain,” that says a lot. Suddenly, my audience can visualize that I’m sitting at an old-fashioned pharmacy counter from the 1950s.

As a blogger, you may think that specificity comes easy. But does it really? When you tell your audience to write a good headline, do you give them examples? When you tell them to network on Facebook, do you show them how? Being specific will absolutely take your blog to the next level.

Play from the Top of Your Intelligence

Being specific doesn’t mean dumbing down your material. One of the reasons that blogging and social media is a hit is because consumers are tired of traditional marketing that’s pushed in TV, radio, and print ads. Consumers aren’t nearly as gullible as advertisers hope they are.

Del Close, the late co-founder of the iO Theater in Chicago, taught his students to play from the top of their intelligence. This meant starting scenes in the “middle” instead of starting every scene off with “Hi, how are you? My name is Jane. What’s your name?”

It also means pushing yourself to find the good material. Improvisers know that they can get a quick laugh from a dirty joke or a curse word. But this is often at the expense of a scene or even an entire show. Good improv holds out for the best material.

Good blogging does the same.

Nathania Johnson is Senior Editor at Bold Interactive.

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Comments

  1. As an acting and improv geek myself, I thought this was a great article. It also reminded me of a previous post about the dangers of humor in blogging. About halfway down, there’s a comparison to doing stand up comedy, which is a close cousin to improv.

    Good stuff!

  2. I did improv for years in Los Angeles and an iO weekend class I took about 15 years ago has stuck with me all that time.

    We were taught the Harold, and were doing the part where you’re supposed to just step out and tell a short, true story. One actress stepped, started to tell a story and the teacher yelled…

    “STOP!”

    The actress stopped cold. Deer in headlights.

    “Are you telling a true story?”

    “Um. No.”

    “Tell the truth! I could tell your story wasn’t true and so could an audience. The true stories in your head are more interesting and have more detail and complexity than anything you’re going to make up on the spot. We use these true stories to build other scenes that we do make up, but start with the truth. Trust it – just tell the truth.”

    I find myself thinking about that lesson often. Thanks for the great post, Nathania.

  3. Thanks for the post Nathania. I really like the Yes and… one. Lee thanks for sharing The Harold. It’s a good reminder.

  4. The “Yes, And” is so true! This takes you forward to new places instead of dissolving into argument or nitpicking.

    I love examples. My favorite blogs are the ones that give concrete examples, so you know what they are talking about.

    Great tips, Nathania!

  5. @ KatFrench – always nice to meet another “improv geek”!

    @ Lee Stranahan – I’m currently studying the Harold and you’re exactly right – always best and most effective to tell true stories!

    @ Shawna – thanks!

    @ Pat B Doyle – thanks – good to see you around these parts, blogging pal! :)

  6. Great post i’m sort of a beginner when it comes to blogging and reading your post was very helpful

  7. Thanks, i’m a beginner and this article will help me..

  8. I really like the “Yes, and” exercise. It really force you to think on the spot and react accordingly.

    I might use it for brainstorming sessions when coming up with ideas for my blog posts.

  9. I really enjoyed how you laid out this set of recommendations.

    I suppose that the one I will have most trouble with is “letting go of my inhibitions.” I think I found myself guessing how loose is too loose given the theme of my blog. But I will nevertheless attempt at giving it a shot! After all, as stated in your example, if I’m a reader, I’d definitely get a laugh out of it!

  10. @Zeus – thanks!

    @intentionbook – welcome to the blogosphere – good luck in your blogging pursuits

    @bmunch – hadn’t thought about using “Yes And” to brainstorm blog posts – great idea!

    @Richard Bueno – The “letting go of your inhibitions” part is all about being vulnerable and real. Sometimes that phrase is used when talking about letting go of your morals – but that’s not what we mean when it comes to improv. Hope that helps!

  11. Thanks Nathania,

    I can identify with the transparency part: people can see right through slickster moves everytime.

    An authentic approach beasts out a contrived approach every day!

    Again…Thanks!

  12. Hi,

    Regarding the “Yes… And” part of this posting… great stuff.

    And (smile)…

    Take a look at how we apply this in software development, or rather use these improv techniques in our daily workings… If anything, please enjoy and pass on the comic strip!

    http://www.implementingscrum.com/blog/2007/08/21/dont-assume-anything-ever/

    Thank you!

    - mike vizdos
    http://www.implementingscrum.com

  13. Hey,

    Great post. I linked to it when I described the Harold as a creative writing exercise. My workshops had a lot of fun with it–and it broke us WAY out of the ol’ two-person talking head type of scene it’s so easy to get stuck in.

    Thanks for creative inspiration for bloggers.

    Jamie

  14. the ”YES” ”AND” is so kool it’s a mind blower.
    kudos

  15. Hey Natasha, I’m 14 years old and working my way to become an actress I find this article very Helpful and useful so thank you so much:) I am having many problems with improvisation I feel that i cant come up with a good material at the spot, I tend to think about it TOO Much It doesn’t come out the right way. I’m scared of getting on the stage and blank out with nothing to come up with, Also How can I connect with the audience while improvising ? Its harder than Actually having a script :( Thank you for your time

    -Iliana Amaya

  16. Hanson Noble Williams :

    Acting seems to be very difficult some time, but when you get to know its techniques it seems to be better. i wish i could get a help somewhere better for acting.

  17. Hi:

    I love the copyblogger series of articles on writing. Now I see the improv theater stuff and love the site even more. I teach improv in Oakland. We have shows every weekend (www.pantheater.com).

    Great article and thanks for all the great information on writing and business.

    David

  18. Hi. I found your blog looking for some cool ideas for my lecture and you certainly remembered me of my improv days. I remember our troup of amateurs could not find a group of professional actors who would take a challenge of competition in improvisation in front of live audience. I guess they were just too afraid to run out of words. This confirms the fact about truth as the most powerful stuff. Professional actors just could not rely on their own (true) experience. I found your blog by accident but I will be back on purpose:)

  19. Milo Petrovic :

    Nearest of all, I’m a sort of beginner and look for any improv techniques that will help me understand/doing better improvisation. THANKS to you/all who share your own theatrical impro knowledge and experience!