You’re in the middle of a conversation with a person or a group of people. For the purposes of really exploring the term “awkward,” and setting the scene, let’s say the conversation you’re in the middle of is with one person. Maybe it’s a person that you really look up to, personally or professionally, or, maybe it’s someone you’ve just realized you have a crush on.
You’re actually talking, you know, being a normal human being. Things are going well but the conversation is starting to slow down, you’ve said everything that was on the script you had written in your head, and they’ve responded positively and appropriately, but now, suddenly, silence. You’re both standing, still facing one another, looking in various directions, maybe nodding your head, saying things like, “Anyway…” You’re probably smiling to keep the panic in your eyes from showing, trying desperately to figure out how to get out of the conversation. There you are, just wallowing around in what is now very awkward silence.
My advice for getting yourself out of this mess? Just a clean break. Say something like, “Welp. See ya later!” Perhaps then that will leave them curious to know more about you based on your outstanding social skills and the fact that you have seen Dumb & Dumber one too many times.
Or not. You probably shouldn’t take advice from me or let me send your new match on Bumble a message. I’ll ruin it.
Regardless of that silly scenario, there are many moments in life when silence is very uncomfortable. Those moments often teach you to fear it, no matter the situation. If you aren’t talking, then something’s wrong. Right? Not necessarily.
I’ve always been terrified of silence. The thought of awkward silence in person is one thing but awkward silence on the phone? Yuck. Don’t even get me started. There are reasons I’m a pro at texting. Obviously, the more you get to know a person or people, the more comfortable you all are with just enjoying a little peace and quiet, but even still, I’ve always felt that if you were talking, the better things were going.
As it has with many things, though, improv has taught me otherwise. I feel like maybe it’s natural to step out into a scene needing to say something immediately, especially if you’re in front of an audience. You feel like you need to say something, anything, so that you don’t appear lost. You feel like you need to speak so that you and your scene partner(s) aren’t just standing there in silence. Sure, it may feel just as uncomfortable as it does in real life but remember, improv is pretend, it’s make believe, and we’re all just making it up as we go.
Embracing this not-so-awkward silence will allow you to better listen to what’s happening in a scene, catch all of those very important details, names, and gifts that your scene partner is giving you and play at the very top of your intelligence.
And, as far as the audience goes, just think about it: If you step out, take a breath, take your time initiating or responding, not only is what comes out of your mouth most likely going to be better and bolder, but the audience will not feel an ounce of your awkwardness. If anything, they’ll be intrigued and that much more engaged in your scene when you do finally speak up.
If you apply some of these lessons to your everyday life, especially things like, really listening, taking time to respond, and simply not rushing a conversation along, you’ll become a better improviser and conceivably, a better friend and communicator.
So, settle in and get more comfortable with silence, in your scenes and your life. No one’s thinking about it as hard as you are anyway.
Megan Radke is currently a Level 4 student at DCH. She is a copywriter and social media manager by day and an essayist and mediocre musician by night. She is a constant consumer of books, music, film, and all things comedy. She is also great at racking up copious amounts of credit card debt with spur-of-the-moment travel.