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Using gibberish to communicate better


Improvisation offers a valuable way to enhance communication skills, and doing so while speaking nonsense makes the learning experience even more fun, says Remy Bertrand.

Learning to improvise sounds as irrelevant as learning to breathe. But when you need to run, or concentrate, or talk in front of an audience, having learned to breathe properly can make all the difference.

"Under the right guidance, improvisation can teach us to be all that we can be."
Under the right guidance, improvisation can teach us to be all that we can be. Whether you call it "an incredible journey of self-discovery", "life with a rewind button" or "a transformational school of humility, forgiveness and efficiency", improvisation will teach you things you didn’t know.

And the premises are pretty simple too. In a blow to the pie charts, coloured stickers and acronyms industry, it just takes some space and a bunch of people.
To improvise a scene you need to be both open and committed to what you and other people in the scene are doing, thinking and feeling. You need to see and hear everything around you and react to it honestly.

During a workshop, players are not too sure about what’s coming next. This can be tough, especially the first time. It is one of the reasons why improvisers laugh so much. Laughter is a very efficient way to relieve tension.
Some people will react to the stress by retracting into their own thoughts, others by trying to take control in every way they can. Carving a safe space around us becomes the priority and negation the tool of choice.

Who do we think we are?
Steering a collective of improvisers clear of inhibition, control freakery and negation can be tricky. There are discrepancies between who we think we are and who we came out to be under stress, especially if our hands are not on the driving wheel. The immediacy of improvisation peels the varnish off and exposes our self-deceiving tactics as such.
Even fellow trainers in attendance can have a tendency to disrupt the learning process, through control freakery, absent-mindedness or both, while preaching openness, attention and flexibility in their own work. But with regular practice and dedication, improvisation makes us experts in gaining and letting go of control.

Egos might get ruffled in the process and everyone, including the facilitator, will need a healthy dose of self-derision to sail through the face-losing and self-enlightening episodes along the way.

Gibberish is the magic potion
Luckily there is a magic potion to keep everyone laughing. Gibberish is a common tool in improvisational theatre and its premises are simple. Yet it takes some practice to master as it offers a brand new communication space for participants to conquer.

If you let your nerves get the better of you when you are on stage, you forget about the space around you, you get "tunnel vision" and you start fiddling around or boxing yourself into a corner.

Breathing is vital!
You need to breathe and relax for your brain to stay oxygenated and for you to remain acutely aware of your environment. In the same way that performing on stage teaches us to own the physical space, gibberish teaches us to own the communication space.

"It’s not always easy to explain to extrovert people that they need to leave some space for others if the team is to give its best."

To properly occupy a physical space, we’ve got to let that space occupy us. To speak fluent gibberish we need to let other people through. Therefore gibberish is the perfect remedy against inhibition.

It just doesn't make sense!
The fact that gibberish doesn’t make sense forces everyone to look and listen more carefully, which makes a scene in gibberish harder to hijack surreptitiously by dominant characters. It’s not always easy to explain to extrovert people that they need to leave some space for others if the team is to give its best.

Gibberish does that effortlessly, as it requires participants to emotionally invest into a shared space. Verbal dexterity will be of no help and one-upmanship will quickly be exposed as such, often to the amused amazement of the perpetrators.

The first fear to defeat for a communicator/improviser is the fear of failure and ensuing ridicule. Gibberish is an invitation not to take oneself too seriously as it makes failures fun to watch and easier to overcome. Losing face in a nonsensical vernacular is hardly losing face at all.
I keep meeting people who tell me that they’ve got no imagination and that they feel incapable of improvising on stage because they wouldn’t know what to say. But as with all form of interaction, half of improvising is watching and listening.

Gibberish will demonstrate this in many ways, such as discriminating effortlessly between a true dialogue and a disguised monologue. And once we’ve started to really watch and really listen in a relaxed manner, we will never be short of inspiration.

Finally all trainers know that keeping people interested can be challenging at times. Here, gibberish helps by offering the "optimum challenge". Neither too hard nor too easy to master, it is a way to practice key communication skills experientially, such as self-awareness, stamina, collaboration, commitment, flexibility and clarity. Because when what you say doesn’t make sense, you’re going to compensate with everything else that you’ve got.

Remy Bertand is principal and senior facilitatator at Imprology, an improvisation based training company, which runs workshops on improvisation. For more information, visit


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