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Script VS Improv: The Advantages of Both

Since millennia performers, actors, influencers, artists, debaters and people of great stature have had their own version of this debate, should I script it all or learn how to pull it off the cuff? Today let’s dive into the advantages of both sides, so that, instead of us becoming biased and therefore limited in impact and in scope, combine the best of both worlds in the most coherent manner in order to make the biggest difference in the most positive way.

The Pros of Scripting

There is no avoiding it, unless it’s very high calibre improv interspersed throughout scripted material, unless the audience is primed for an unscripted performance, without a script something will seem off unless you have reached the level of 0.001% or less of people who have mastered the art of improv to the level of seeming scripted even when improvising. That is a very noble pursuit, but admittedly even A-list world-class performers who could run circles around most people in improv use a script so why shouldn’t you? Most people understand this or assume a script is involved when a package is done professionally, even when it is improvised, and that is the point, if you don’t have a script it still needs to seem professional enough for the audience to assume it is scripted. One easy way to do that is to actually have a script. Of course, scripting does have its own issues but these can be resolved with the advantages of Improv.

Improv: The X Factor

Whether you’re coming from trying to wing it and become a master of the script less performance or you’ve been scripting it all along, there is something you will be aware of or notice, and that is coming off natural, being charming, and exuding authenticity are things that go beyond the script. An excellent way to learn that “X Factor” as its been popularly called is in fact to attempt to master script less performance, also known as improvisation, but as I alluded to earlier, statistically it is not the most efficient path to overall mastery to go for only one of the extremes. Therefore memorization, rather than relying on prompters, being able to ad lib, being able to meaningfully expand on written content with improvised dialogue, and practicing being able to imitate the level of preparation, legitimacy and certainty that a script has without one are disciplines to consider training in. This can be done by selecting a theme or topic, and then saying all that you can in the best and most meaningful way without any prior writing. At first it will be horrible, but if you go back and forth, recording to critique yourself or send to others for critique or if live getting people to watch you and give feedback over a live, video or audio presentation that is completely scripted and one that is completely improvised based on a selected topic, you can learn something by mastering both those arts and putting the best of both together.

Putting It All Together: Multiple Paths

In the end the top performers in their fields whether or not they relied on a script or not in the beginning, once mastering their art will come off scripted yet natural, improvised yet perfect, spontaneous yet employing a consistent formula, updating and changing yet always well rooted in professionalism and preparation. Here are the issues I see with the two major paths of practicing and learning live performance or in front of a camera:

Starting With a Script Path

1. You look, sound or act too robotic or stiff

2. The audience can tell you’re reading, lack of memorization

3. You’ve memorized the script but don’t appear to know about the subject (no ad libbing)

4. You have to stop everything and start over if you don’t recite or read perfectly

5. If you say something out of order you’re not able to make up for it on the spot

6. You can seem inauthentic or like your “pulling out a line”

7. You don’t seem to know the meaning of what you’re saying yourself

8. You don’t bring anything new to the table in your style of delivery

9. You don’t seem like you believe or prescribe to the script contents

10. It doesn’t seem that you would ever say or come up with what you’re saying

Starting With The Improv Path

1. Look, sound or act confused or unsure

2. The audience can tell you’re not fully prepared

3. You seem to know what you’re talking about but rough around the edges

4. You say “uh,” “um,” “you know,” “Ok,” “alright” and such filler words a lot

5. You go off the rails too much, have trouble coming back to the main point

6. Can seem illegitimate or unprofessional in delivery

7. You’re unable to go deep and dynamic on the subject

8. You run on, are sloppy, thoughts seem unorganized and have unhelpful pauses

9. You forget or miss points, content, perspective or consideration

10. It simply appears you lack quality assurance or a network of help & coaching

So there you have it, 10 points to work on for both sides of the equation, and most importantly these points are meant to compliment the other path meaning that the 1-10 of cons for relying on a script can be aided by what you learn getting good at pure improv, while the same works with the other 10 points, having a script will usually fix those issues.

My Suggested Path

Since the advantages of a script are much easier to implement and experience benefits from while the advantages of improvisation are arguably more important and harder to learn, I suggest starting on the improvisation path even if it is harder, or at least practicing intermittently with or without a script to get a taste of both sides and apply what you learn to each discipline. Though I see nothing wrong in starting your training purely scripted, avoiding improv altogether, and gradually improving until you can come off completely natural and spontaneous off of memorized, pre-written material, you may still face the issue of needing to create something under imperfect conditions where a message needs to be relayed, expanded on, modified or shifted in realtime that a script could never account for, and if you are lost without a script, no matter how good you are with one, you need to know how to improvise if you want to get out of unexpected sticky situations.

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