Being a naturally introverted person, I have always felt like I was missing out on some important aspects of life. That made me embark on a journey of pushing my comfort zone, with the goal of becoming more confident and assertive. This is my experience of trying Improv Theatre, A Toastmasters Speaking Club and Comfort Zone Challenges.
When I signed up for a beginners course at “Stockholm Improv Theatre” I was TERRIFIED! My nightmare scenario was something like: “Alright, now go up on the stage and do something fun for us!”. To my greatest relief, this was NOT AT ALL TRUE!
The group consisted of about 15 people, mixed men, and women. Age ranging from 20 to 50 years old. It turned out that the most common motivation for people was stage fright, which made me instantly feel more relaxed.
All lectures started with some kind of warmup to get us comfortable with the group. For example, everybody is walking randomly in the room and making eye contact when you passing. Another warm-up is the “One-word story”. The group stand in a circle and add ONE word to the story each.
When the group is warmed up we moved on to playing small improvised scenes. Often with 2-4 persons participating and the rest of the group being the audience.
One of my favorite scenes was called “Emotion director”. Two persons are acting and two persons are assigned as to direct their emotions. They are given a location, for example in the laundry room, and their relation, for example, a married couple. The actors start improvising a scene. During the scene, the directors shout out new emotions for the actors to play out. Like anger, sadness or attraction. Very FUN and LIBERATING to act out emotions you normally would not do.
The teacher was very supportive and encourages us to be spontaneous. She was amazing at creating a good vibe where everybody felt safe to act out.
One of my biggest insights was the importance of affirmation of the ideas of others. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE of improv theater. If your co-actor says “Hey, look at that black cat”, and points in the air. Then it IS a black cat! This is so true of all social interactions even outside improv.
Another insight was how relaxed I felt afterward. When you have to pay full attention to you co-actors, you cannot be anywhere else but in the present moment. To me, it had a meditative effect.
I LOVED improv theatre and would recommend it to anyone with an open mind. It made me feel more socially relaxed and more playful in general.
What I liked
- No preparation needed.
- Brings out the playful child in you.
- Playing a character, you try out personas you normally don’t express. Like anger or dominance.
- You laugh A LOT!
- It makes you very present to the moment.
What I learned
- Positive affirmation of the ideas of others.
349 $ for 10 lectures.
Where can you try it
If you want to try Improv Theatre just google “Improv Classes”, followed by your city. Most larger cities have courses.
The Toastmasters Speaking Club
I have feared public speaking as long as I can remember. Some say people fear it more than DEATH! I was terrible at it. Nervousness had always crippled me, making my message unclear and delivery weak. A friend told me about a local public speaking club called “Stockholm Toastmasters”. I decided to visit one of their meetings.
After attending a meeting as a guest I was hooked by the inspiring atmosphere. I felt at home as most of the people in the room shared the same fear of public speaking. It was a place where mistakes were encouraged as a way of getting better. WOW!
Toastmasters is an international organization with over 15900 local clubs worldwide. The clubs have weekly meetings lasting 2 hours.
A typical structure of a Toastmaster club meeting:
- A session of improvised speeches, 1-2 minute long, called Table Topics.
- 3-4 prepared speeches, 5-7 minutes long.
- The speech evaluators present the feedback for the prepared speeches.
After the first meeting, I made a commitment to complete 10 speeches at the club. I was given a manual with the first speech assignments, each with a specific purpose.
This is the first 10 speech themes:
- The Ice Breaker
- Organize Your Speech
- Get to the Point
- How to Say It
- Your Body Speaks
- Vocal Variety
- Research Your Topic
- Get Comfortable with Visual Aids
- Persuade with Power
- Inspire your Audience
You can pick any topic you want as long as you focus on the theme.
After completing nine of the ten speeches so far my confidence in public speaking has definitely improved. Yes, I still feel nervous but I don’t CARE as much. It feels like I have become a bit numb to the whole experience.
I also feel much more courageous with pauses, altering my power of voice and using body gestures to enhance what I want to communicate. I can deliver a message with power. That feels GREAT! Memories of horrible presentations at school have been replaced by new reference experiences from Toastmasters. Thank you, Toastmasters, for that!
A positive side effect of attending Toastmaster meetings is that you will learn to deliver effective feedback. That means encouraging the speaker enough to make him/her excited about the next speech but at the same time deliver a few PRACTICAL suggestions for improvement. This is SO useful even outside of this context.
What I liked
- My public speaking has gotten way better
- I learned to manage my nervousness
- I got to hang around with inspiring people
- I have learned to deliver USEFUL feedback
What I learned
- That public speaking is a learnable skill
145 $ per year. Weekly meetings all year round with breaks at Christmas and summer.
Find a local club
To find a local club and visit as a guest, use the club finder.
Comfort Zone Challenges
I first heard about the concept of Comfort Zone Challenges from this TED-talk by Till Gross. A comfort zone challenge is to continuously put yourself in a situation that triggers social fear with the purpose of making you more socially confident. For example, do a high five with five strangers on the street.
On a weekend trip to Budapest, I decided to give it a try. During one day I decided to talk to 100 unknown people that I met at the streets…
The first 10 was VERY scary. It felt like jumping off a cliff every time. Then I got a bit warmed up it started to feel more natural. But then, CRAZY FUN and I felt such a THRILL as I continued to challenge my fears. Interesting interactions started to happen when chatting with the local people. An experience that I would never have had otherwise. The last 30 was a grind since I started to get a bit tired of running around all day.
Only a handful was hostile to talking with a stranger. Two persons that I chatted with at the hotel invited me for dinner at a local bar. It turned out they were artists, in town to paint backdrops for the tv series “Marc o Polo”. Unexpected and a perfect finish to my challenge day.
A scary, fun, exhausting and unexpected experience.
Afterwards, I felt really HAPPY and PROUD that I challenged my fears and for all the people I had met. I day to remember.
My most important insight from the comfort zone challenges is that PEOPLE DON’T CARE nearly as much as I think. To me, this is very relieving. It makes me more socially confident.
Another insight is that talking to strangers can really open up new unexpected paths in life. For an introverted person, challenging yourself to talk to new people can definitely be a habit worth adopting.
The experience made me wish for an app with on-demand comfort zone challenges, to get more idéas and variations on challenges. There was none so I created one. If you have an Android phone you can try it out here.
What I liked
- The RUSH I got out of overcoming the initial fear.
- I worry less about what others think of me.
- Rewarding social interactions I would otherwise never have had.
- Easy to fit in my everyday life.
What I learned
- People are more friendly and open that one might think.
Free if you want to come up with challenges for your own. The challenge app is $2.