I heard the term a thousand times in graduate acting school, and it took me a while to fully understand how huge the idea was. The concept was that you first prepare. Seriously, deeply, intensely, completely prepare. You know EVERYTHING there is to possibly know about your character, your relationships to the other charcters, your lines and blocking, your motivation to do what you do, your subtext, your …well, everything. You rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. And then – when you get out on stage, you let go of all that and you behave truthfully in every single moment. You pay laser-like attention to everything going on in your/your character's world out there on that stage – and you let what you see and feel guide and inform your next action, word or thought. You live, truthfully, moment-to-moment.
And today when I saw a video of the AMAZINGLY talented men's figure skating sensation, Jason Brown, something hit me. He had done the same thing! He too had obviously taken his "preparation" phase to the highest standard possible. But it was his moment-to-moment ability to RESPOND TRUTHFULLY to everything going on (the level of HIS performance and the tremendous reaction of the audience) – that created the electricity. Watch Jason Brown in action.
I believe that's also what I do as a motivational speaker when I'm on stage. I know exactly how a story is going to unfold, but I will alter how I deliver it, or what I exactly say, in response to something I get from an audience member, or the fact that the room is freezing, or something that happened right before I went on. In other words, I improvise according to what I'm getting.
I hold that this is what can make anyone, in almost any area of life quite effective. Lovers, go ahead and plan that romantic evening, but be prepared to improvise when your sweetheart is clearly needing to talk. Salespeople, have your pitch totally down, but be ready to respond to all the non-verbal messages that indicate you need to change your tactic. Physicians, be fully prepared (after looking at a patient's chart) to know exactly what recommendations to make – and then when you get in the examining room – LISTEN TO YOUR PATIENT! You may determine there are additional contributing factors.
Prepare and improvise. Sanford Meisner would be proud.