Getting together with family is a lot like doing an improv comedy show. You know it’s supposed to be fun, but it can feel like you’ve got to perform the whole time and you have no idea what anyone else is going to say.
For more than a decade, I’ve been leading workshops using improv theater to help people listen to each other better, work well in teams and have fun. Here are a few improv tips for having the best holiday gathering with family and friends ever.
Everything’s a present
In improv, we try to see everything as a gift. A scene partner might enter and say, “Son, I’ve signed you up for the next mission to Mars.” This scene has everything in the first line! We have a relationship to explore. We can dig into how we feel about being signed up for a mission. And of course we can talk about the Red Planet itself.
The same mindset is empowering for social engagements. Every situation and interaction is an opportunity to learn, discover and explore. Your uncle wants to tell you another meandering story. Fabulous! Why is the story important to him? Is he trying to connect with you? What is the story really about, anyway? Allow yourself to be full of curiosity and amazement about Everything.
The two most important words in improv are also keys to great, fulfilling conversations. Improvisers attempt to respond to everything with “Yes, and…” because it helps ensure we’re engaging with what our scene partner says and actively building on it.
It is a fantastic tool for your holiday. Someone proposes playing touch football before the big meal. “Yes, and let’s bring hot chocolate out with us!” Your mother bemoans that she forgot the cranberries. “Yes, and nobody is going to care when they see all the other delicious food on the table.” Your cousin tells you his latest political theory, “Yes, and why exactly do you believe that?” This has the added benefit of you never not knowing how to respond.
Make everyone else look good
If everyone in an improv show is trying to make everyone else look good, then everyone will look good. If I shift my focus from trying to get a laugh for myself, to trying to help my scene partners, we are all much more likely to succeed in our goals.
That spirit of generosity is a beautiful way to go into the holidays. Focus less on whether you’re telling the best story, or the dish you brought to share is the star of the table. If your first goal is helping others, you will feel good every time their story gets a laugh or their potatoes get a “MMMMM.”
I tell all my improv students and actors that the most important thing for them and for the show is for everyone to have fun together. There is nothing people like more than seeing other people have a good time. It makes them 10,000 times more likely to have a good time themselves. If we can build a space where everyone feels supported and able to laugh together, everything else will follow. Fun isn’t just a happy byproduct, it’s a sign we feel safe and loved. What could be more important?
These are just a few improv tools for your holiday gatherings. Hopefully they help you and your loved ones share, connect and have the most fun ever this season.
Tane Danger is the co-founder of Danger Boat Productions and The Theater of Public Policy. He is also the director of the Westminster Town Hall Forum.