You’re speaking in front of room filled with your coworkers. In the middle of your presentation, you suffer a mental hiccup and lose your place. Upset over the mistake, you apologize profusely and dig back into your packet of notes. By now, you’re completely lost. In a panic, your frantic hand knocks over a water bottle, spilling the contents all over your computer. The instant that cool H2O hits the hot power cord, sparks fly and your computer starts on fire. The audience lets out enraged boos and chases you from the room with pitchforks and torches!
Okay, so maybe that got a bit out of hand. But if you’ve ever dreaded giving a presentation, scenarios like this one may have played through your mind in the days, nights and minutes before speaking. Deep down, we know that the odds of a disaster of this magnitude occurring are next to none; so why does this irrational fear cripple our confidence?
If you’re looking to build some confidence and put these presentation nightmares to rest, a great option to consider is improvisation training. Through simple activities in the workplace or classes facilitated through a comedy or other professional organization, the world of improv can boost your confidence in surprising ways.
Consider these key points in improvisational philosophy:
No Mistakes, No Problem
When you’re making up everything happening on the stage on the spot, there are no mistakes. Think about it – the audience doesn’t know what is “supposed” to happen (heck, neither do you!) so why would they care if stray slightly from your anticipated direction?
This is true even if you are working from pre-planned notes in a professional presentation setting. In the improv world, mistakes are affectionately referred to as, “gifts.” An unanticipated slip of the tongue or organic detour to a new idea can spark fresh inspiration! When you change your perspective on making mistakes, there really is no way to fail.
They’re not in their Underpants. They’re your Audience.
In improvisation, the players on stage and the audience members in the seats are very close, both physically and emotionally. There are no grand sets, no intricate costumes or fancy makeup to hide behind. In fact, improvisational players thrive off interaction with audience members, engaging with them for suggestions to inspire the start of scenes and checking in regularly to drive the performance.
Treating your audience as an essential part of your presentation – engaged participants contributing to the experience – rather than nameless, judging figures in seats can do wonders for your confidence. Ask questions, make eye contact and encourage your audience members to join in!
Power in Numbers
Improv is all about making the other person on the stage look good. Rather than seeking individual attention and hogging the limelight, a supportive improviser works with their stage partners to build ideas together. It’s an organic, collaborative process that leads to impressive results.
Remember – you are not alone! Use all of your available resources to make your presentation a stress-free success. Recruiting fellow coworkers for help gathering and creating presentation materials, providing direction in practice sessions and even joining in the presentation itself can kick your confidence up a notch.
Here’s an improv activity you can try with your office team today to get started with improv and reinforce some of these confident improv concepts:
Should’a Said
To begin, have two people interact on-the-spot in some sort of scenario – it can be business-related, a run-through of real presentation or any random scene you can think of. At any point during this scene, a caller from the outside can yell, “should’a said!” Then, the player who said the last line before the call would then need to repeat that line, but change their idea to something completely new.
Check out this example:

“Here are the reports, Jen.”

“Oh, great. I was worried we wouldn’t hit the deadline”

Should’a said!

“Perfect. James, I’m giving you a promotion!”

Should’a said!

“Aw yeah. Now we can throw a report party!”

In this deceptively simple exercise, participants experience the ease with which “mistakes” can moved past during a presentation, all the while engaging with an outside party making the calls and working with a partner to achieve success. Give it a try today to build more confidence!
The horrors in your head are much scarier than anything a presentation can throw your way. If you’re looking to become a more confident speaker, give it a try from the perspective of an improviser! Who knows, the next time you have the opportunity to speak in public, you might just tackle it head on with a confident, “Yes, and!”