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“Yes, And …”: How Improvisational Acting Improves Your Communication Skills


The idea is not new – doing improv does improve your ability to communicate. For examples look here, here, and here, or read anything from the wonderful scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson.

While the specific vehicle – improvisational acting – may seem foreign or divergent from the scientific process at first blush, the concept connects the realities of life (life is improvised, after all) with the vagaries of doing science (experiments don’t always go according to plan, right?).

So what exactly is improv? Historically, improv is seen as descended from the centuries-old theatrical form commedia dell’arte, and true improvisational theater is getting on stage and performing with zero preparation. Conceptually, improvisation happens all the time. We improvise every day – life has no script – reacting to our environment and the people around us. Viola Spolin, important innovator of improvisational theater, calls this “accessible intuition.” We all have this “muscle” and the trick is learning how to strengthen it.

I’m currently co-developer and co-instructor of an innovative graduate-level course, Communicating Science, at Dartmouth College designed to teach young scientists how to better communicate their science to the public and each other. The course, a product of an institutional partnership with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, pioneers a curriculum that builds on a foundation of improvisational theater concepts and practice.

I am also a PhD candidate in Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College. I study patterns in recent climate using ice core records from Greenland, and I am currently investigating prevailing trends in and correlations between precipitation (snow accumulation) and temperature in northwest Greenland. I have also worked as a science technician, NSF Science Representative, and video voice-over with the Science Coordination Office of the recently completed West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core project…

Read full blog post on the AGU site.