Now living in a lush quiet suburban New Jersey Princeton area, I miss exactly two things about New York City: the food scene and my improv classes. If I move to a big city yet again, improv training will be the first thing I seek out. Well, maybe the second. Following a couple of good restaurants.
Improv training is amazing preparation for public speaking, especially the unpredictable kinds of it, like panels and Q&A sessions. Once you stood up on an improv stage knowing literally nothing about what is to come, a Q&A session on a topic in the vicinity of your general expertise area is an easy and profoundly enjoyable experience. *Of course* I can wing an answer to a loaded complex question I should have probably thought of, but never did. I’ve winged responses to audience promps of “banana”, “pilot”, and “republican” — I know I can handle literally anything the audience can come up with.
The group work aspect of improv is particularly applicable to panels, which are group experiences. Take the practice of “warming up” together as a group — it apparently works wonders for panels. I realized this only recently, when I spoke on a panel at IEEE WIE ILC, and our moderator, Cathy Chen, scheduled the panelists and herself to have lunch together earlier in the day ahead of the panel. Like improv pre-show warm-up, this gets everybody on the same wavelength. The panelists feel more at ease with each other, which helps to enjoy the experience — and I think the audience feels it, too.
Related: my experience with my improv 101 class.