The Fear of Sounding Stupid
Updated: May 19, 2020
Something I have definitely struggled with and that I know many others worry about too is the fear of sounding stupid.
It can affect people of all ages but it seems to be a primary concern for a lot of millennials and younger. Perhaps it's because as we get older and wiser we care less about what others think but it could also be that for a generation of overachievers the idea of failing is particularly uncomfortable.
Fearing failure or judgement from your peers is natural at any age but it isn't helpful to you or your team. There's nothing more awkward than sitting in a meeting full of silences and it is definitely not conducive to problem solving!
Luckily, so much of practicing improv comedy is about getting over this very fear. There is no time for awkward silences when you're on stage in a comedy show - unless it's intentional for comic effect of course! Here are three games I like to play in improv to get over the fear of sounding stupid.
This is one of my favourite warm-ups. There are various ways to play it but I like to get everyone in a circle and to either dance or wiggle on the spot. Everyone takes turns to jump in the middle and as they do, the circle cheers their name. They are given eight things to list such as "superheroes" or "yoga positions". They can be real or completely made up, a mix, it doesn't matter. There are no wrong answers. The important thing is to keep going until you reach eight no matter how stupid you feel.
As I've said before, "yes, and" is the main pillar of improv. In this context, it teaches you that you don't have to come out with a perfect idea. Every idea is a gift that your scene partner can build on. Practically all improv games revolve around this concept. The most simple exercise is to do two person scenes (or conversations) in which every sentence starts with "yes, and". You'll find the scene develops easily and you'll feel very supported no matter what you say.
Another game that can be played in a variety of ways with multiple objectives. Two people throw out a word each to the room. Everyone takes a moment to think what word would be in the middle of those two words. The first two people who think they've got it, count down from three and say their answers at the same time. If they say the same word, that's a mind meld and the game starts again with two new words. If they say two different words then the game continues with those two words. While it's satisfying when you find a mind meld, that doesn't have to be the main objective. Suggesting the "wrong" word can lead the group in an interesting direction. The main thing is to practice coming forward.
And if you're still not sure whether or not to speak up in meetings, remember these two things:
1. You're not an imposter
You got the job, you're at the table, you obviously have some knowledge of the subject. Therefore, the chances are, what you're about to say is not that stupid.
2. We learn through failure and asking questions
As Malcolm Forbes once said,
"The smart ones ask when they don't know. And, sometimes, when they do."
Interested in a bespoke improv workshop for you team? Get in touch at email@example.com