Last week I wrote about all the reasons why you shouldn’t wing it. Preparing for your remarks or presentation shows respect for the audience.
But what about improvising? Where does that fit in?
The big difference between winging it and improvising is this: there are rules for improvising.
If you Google “improvisational jazz,” you’ll find pages of instructions on the necessity of building on specific chords, learning arpeggios, and articulating your lines. The musician doesn’t just jump in and start playing; she follows what has been set up.
In improvisational theatre, there are strong rules that govern the decisions the actors make onstage. You don’t deny anyone’s offer, you work with what you’re given (the rule of “yes, and”), and you make it easy for the people you’re doing a scene with to build on what you’ve said. There are long-form improv games that require suggestions from the audience or other material to create the scene, and diverting from or undermining those rules means the whole thing doesn’t work.
When you’re speaking off the cuff or improvisationally, and doing it well, you’re still working from a set of rules. You know you need to start strong, to capture the audience’s attention right away. You are only going to make one or two main points. You’re going to tell a story or give an example that illustrates what you’re trying to communicate. You’re not going to get distracted or ramble. You’re going to pause and let the listeners catch up with your thoughts. and most of all, before you begin, you’re going to be very clear about the “why” of your message, what impact you want to have on your audience. You’ll be clear about your intention.
I can’t imagine much worse than sitting through a jazz quartet playing with no rules or form, or an improv troupe that just gets up on stage and starts talking. We would instantly recognize that for what it is—self-indulgence.
Presentations, webinars, and speeches work the same way. When we wing it, we run the risk of boring and frustrating the audience with our lack of preparation.
When we improvise, though, we are working within a set of guidelines that are there to help us engage the audience and get our message across clearly.