Improv ideas in stressful situations


You are stuck in the airplane for hours with little information, you are waiting for traffic piled up in front of you, or a false alarm fire bell empties your building to the parking lot. These are times when big changes happen to everyone's routine and people get stressed out.

Right now I'm in the first case. I the middle of my flight to Munich we diverted to Boston because the main cabin lost all power. Sleepy travelers, who have not been given much information find various ways to cope or find some control.

This is a time when I hope that everyone on the airplane has taken an improv class.

Accepting offers you are given: often they can't be changed so accept them and move forward with what has been given.

  • we are diverting to Boston
  • we are sitting on the tarmac

Making your partner look good: makings things better or easier for others make you both feel better.

  • the flight crew can't change things, taking it out on them doesn't help
  • helping other unhappy passengers get bags, move past, eases tensions

Serve the story: what can you do to make the situation the best for everyone instead of focusing just for yourself.

  • Don't be the loud person who has to get off right away
  • The story changed so focus on what comes next to tell the story as it is now, what is the next flight I need now.

The principles of improv are great for life every day, and really come into clear relief when the pressure goes up.

What are situations where you have used these ideas yourself, or what have you seen where you wish others had taken an improv class?

The stories we tell ourselves


I was late. I was late and stuck. I was late and stuck in the line at the gas pump. And worst of all, I could see the people holding up the line I could not get out of. I watched for several minutes as all three people talked, joked, and admired the side of their car. And worst of all, they just sitting there, next to the pump, and not even pumping gas.I spent two minutes creating that story bit by bit. My mind filled all the details. It was so easy, I could clearly see what was happening right in front of me.

Human beings are natural storytellers. How many of your conversations are about telling  friends what happened last week, last night, or even last meeting? That's a story!


And then one small detail forced my carefully created story to evaporate into thin air. One of the people pulled a bent coat hanger out of the side of the car. The woman who owned the car was re-united with her keys inside the car and quickly moved on and the two others went back to the gas station offices.

I was relieved to be moving forward with my day again, slightly embarrased at how angry I had been for no reason, and excited by how quickly I was able to revise the whole story and write a new one. This is what happens in an improv scene, the audience and the players are always writing the story out into the future, but only one of those stories are ultimately told.

Each detail is a new piece that may undo many of ideas we had planned ahead. Our minds are constantly writing new endings to the stories in front of us. We need to remain flexible and allow each detail to create a whole new set of possibly next steps.

Our brains are an amazing gift as storytellers - as improvisers we can use that tool to help us stay in the moment.