I attended a conference recently, and as I was walking around talking to exhibitors I noticed something interesting. As soon as people found out that I wouldn't be offering them my business, they would immediately cross their arms and start looking around. I knew then the conversation was over, even if they kept talking to me, acting like they were still interested in what I had to say. The exhibitors who did this probably weren't aware of their actions. I would guess that more than half the time you're not aware of your body language on stage, either. You should be, though, because improvisation is more than words. It's action. It's emotion. The words you speak are actually the least effective way of telling a story, because so often verbal language can be twisted for the speaker's advantage.
Body language, though, is the lie detector. It's what tells your co-performer that what you're saying isn't the truth (or maybe it's reinforcing a truth). It's subtext. It's an element that the audience appreciates in the long run, and it will make you look like a smart performer.
Observer your co-performers when you're on stage. Be aware of how they're standing, how they're holding their arms, how they walk, etc. And when you notice body language that isn't in congruence with words, call it out. Then you'll start to get to the honesty in a scene instead of the jokey jokes coming out of people's mouths.
How often do you notice body language in a scene? Do you react to it or ignore it?
(Image via Flickr: Jason Anfinsen / Creative Commons)