Improv as a Training Tool


Improv as a training tool is being widely used. Improv is short for Improvisational theatre, also called improvisation. It is the form of theatre art, in which unscripted content is created spontaneously by performers, resulting in generation of funny and comedic narratives. It was popularized a great deal by the TV show, “Whose line is it anyway?”.

Trainers across the world use it as an effective tool to achieve various objectives in learning and development settings, including using it as an ice breaker. Other purposes for which it is commonly used is for training and development in creativity, developing confidence, team building, improving communication skills, developing open mindedness, handling uncertain situations, developing quick wittedness, developing social skills and reducing social anxiety, among other things.

Principles of Improv –

  • There is no script for the actual performance, thought the setting may be staged. The performers may be given a starting line, theme, plot or context, from which they have to develop an onward narrative. The subsequent performer builds on the narrative to maintain continuity, and each interaction thus becomes a layer in the scaffolded performance. The initial theme or topic may be drawn from a box, or given by the audience or the conductor.
  • There are no real mistakes. Each subsequent performer has to move forward building on the previous installment without passing any judgements on the previous segment. This is also known as the ‘YES and’ principle. Each subsequent performer agrees with the previous, says yes and builds the narrative further. There is not time, purpose or intent to evaluate or criticize the previous segment, therein making everything acceptable and thus there are no mistakes.
  • Listening is important. Since Improv often involves building on the previous narrator’s line, it is important to listen carefully to what is being said. Usually the environment being cheerful, also becomes full of laughter and it can get loud. To still listen in this cacophony and then maintain continuity helps practice listening skills.
  • Be in the moment. Since almost everything is thought and said on the fly, it is important to be in the moment. The practice of this principle helps in mindfulness training, and reduces depression, anxiety and lightens the mind and heart. This what helps people connect and get out of an evaluative or critical frame, even self-criticism takes a back seat as one often doesn’t even have time to reflect on their own mistakes.

Since the 1990s Improv schools and training practices have been on the rise and these are now used in acting schools, educational and training settings and corporate learning and development. Various psychologists and studies have also indicated and validated the real benefits of Improv training for various developmental objectives like improving confidence, reducing anxiety and even depression.

To conduct Improv training one requires to be mindful of its principles to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of the exercise. Once may need to plan and adapt various aspects of the training to ensure the experience and intended benefits are optimal.

Some aspects to consider while planning and implementing improv sessions for training purposes:

  • Manage timings to maintain spontaneity
  • Keep the game unpredictable and use non-routine plots and themes
  • Add quirky elements to make it more dynamic including props; words and language forms to be used or not used; physical tics and actions; get the whole body into it; engage facial expressions; act out abstract ideas, emotions, mental states and thoughts; among other things.
  • Engage the audience. Ensure everyone is engaged and participating.
  • Avoid disruptions
  • Anticipate and plan to deal with failures, gaps and freezes, which may quite simply entail swiftly moving on.
  • Start from simple exercises and move to more complex ones, based on participants’ level of comfort and competence.
  • Remember the essentials are participation, spontaneity and fun.
  • Keep it clean.
  • Keep a positive environment, by eliminating time and space for side talk and criticisms.


Improv is an active training tool, and is generative in form. It not only produces creative content, but positive and vibrant energy. Any trainer will and must have Improv skills as part of their repertoire. Our Train the Trainer Program has Improv as one of the key techniques that we aim to equip participants with.

Improv mirrors the nature of a child, unencumbered by inhibitions and returns us to the blissful state of spontaneous being. To experience that lightness of being in the moment, that is the aim of meditation and many other relaxing exercises. In those moments we connect with others, relieve stress, become more open and accepting. We are able to transform ourselves to anything we want to be and open up our possibilities of being, expanding who we are. We bring improv into our learning and development processes at all levels. Come book a session for your team today. Give us a call.

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