When I took a speech class in college, I learned a new word that I loved to say: extemporaneous.
I loved to say it, and what it meant scared me to death.
To be extemporaneous means to ad lib - to speak (and presumably, to speak intelligently) without a chance to prepare, at the drop of a hat. Another Merriam-Webster definition says "happening suddenly and often unexpectedly and usually without clearly known causes or relationships."
It's every introvert's nightmare. Seriously.
The primary way we define introversion is where we get our energy (from solitude/quiet time). I'd say a very close runner-up to that is how we process information. Introverts are internal processors. You could say "Intel (intelligence) Inside" is totally true for us. While extroverts do more external, verbal processing of their thoughts and ideas, we introverts take in a piece of information and flip it this way and that in our minds until it's right-side-up enough to be shared with the world.
And that's why the lovely-and-loaded word, extemporaneous, is so important to us.
Our ability to think deeply and thoroughly is truly an asset. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It makes me, me. That said, it's important to recognize that we live in a culture that values being quick on our feet. There's not always time or space to look before we leap (at least, not to look the 10 times that we'd like to!).
I've long known that my discomfort with being put on the spot could end up a liability if I didn't find a way to cultivate some spontaneity. When it comes to speaking up in groups or "grabbing the bull by the horns," introverts can still be thinking about what to say or do while others have already chimed in and moved on.
One of the first phone calls I made when I decided to dedicate my work to the mighty introvert was to my friend Leif. Leif is an extrovert who does improv and asks you to make up a story when you leave a message on his voice mail. He's really brilliant, and I wanted to create an "Improv for Introverts" experience to address exactly the fear I had.
Because, after all - life doesn't come with a script.
What I've learned - and what more than 30 introverts who have joined us so far have learned - has helped to make the extemporaneous life not quite as scary.
Ditch perfection. When we're flipping things around in our heads, we're often looking for the "right" answer or response. It has to be just.so. Improv asks that you let go of the impulse to try to be perfect. Relax. Be real. Tap into your inner kid who is willing to fall down and get back up 1,000 times when trying something new.
Make the leap. Introverts like to stand at the edge and watch how others do something before jumping into the fire. This can translate to others seeing introverts as followers, rather than leaders. Opportunity doesn't always wait for us to scope things out. Since improv is a safe space to ditch perfection, it's also a safe space to practice leaping before we look.
Tell the truth. Life's not about making stuff up, or being something you're not; neither is improv. At least, that's not the point. Some of the most clever, funny and touching moments happen when someone boldly speaks the truth. If we set the intention to "call it like we see it," then the pressure to "be creative" is released.
Say YES. There are few things that shut down a conversation or a good time faster than the word NO. The same holds true in improv. It's all about accepting someone's offer. "Yes, and" keeps up the momentum and positive energy.
Don't TRY to be funny. One thing people assume about improv is that it's all about being funny. After all, what about people like Johnny Carson, Dave Letterman, Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld? Good news: they are all extemporaneous introverts! And do they ever look like they're TRYING to be funny? My guess is that they end up that way because they say yes, call it like they see it, make the leap and allow things to be messy.
Accelerate failure. Once we accept that we are going to fail on our way to success, it's easier to learn from it. Learning from failure (rather than avoiding it or giving up when it happens) transforms it. Think lemons to lemonade. Improv is all about making lemonade when you're handed a lemon.
For me, improv pushes every button in the book. And, as I found over the course of the two workshops Leif and I have hosted, it's fun. It's liberating. It helps me trust myself, knowing that whatever comes flying out of my mouth is going to be accepted by the other person. Things happen quickly enough that I don't have time to stop and wonder, "how stupid did that sound?" because we've already moved on.
And I survive.