Blog - 10 Feb 2024

Unscripted Confidence: How Improv Groups Can Help with Anxiety and Stuttering

Unscripted Confidence: How Improv Groups Can Help with Anxiety and Stuttering - By Eleanor Brasted, CPSP

Stuttering is a speech difference impacting 1 in 100 people (Speech Pathology Australia, 2023), so you’ve likely got a friend who stutters (it’s possible that they try their best to hide it, or change their words to avoid letting you know that they have a stutter). We’re a group of speech pathologists in South Australia who think that that friend of yours should try improv theatre. They can book here.

“Wait,…what?… I have this friend who stutters, and you want me to do what? Tell them to join a group with total strangers, where people intentionally don’t know what they’re about to say and have to make it up on the spot? What the heck lady?” … .is what I imagine most people would say to me if I suggested their friend who stutters does improv. 

Improv or improvisational theatre, is a form of live theatre sport (doesn’t have to be in front of an audience), where performers create scenes, characters, and dialogue spontaneously without a script. Instead of memorized lines or predetermined plots, improv relies on the wit, creativity, and collaboration of the performers to develop the narrative in real-time. (Thanks Chat GPT). 

We know that stuttering is NOT caused by anxiety, but what has been determined is that anxiety can make stuttering more severe.  Living with anxiety or stuttering can present significant challenges in social situations. 

The fear of judgment, embarrassment, overthinking, being caught in a loop of your own thoughts, attempting to find alternative “safe” words where you won’t stutter, or stumble, or trip up… some of these are things we ourselves experience as therapists (so no judgment here), but these are also reported by our clients daily. 

Therapy isn’t for everyone: Speech therapy isn’t for everyone (and this is coming from speech pathologists who largely work with clients who stutter). We know this, we see this, and we don’t expect everyone to fit into the same mould, or for the same things to work for everyone with a one size fits all approach. Our solution: improv groups. (Please imagine a Drew Carey type person, or a Tina Fey type character duck their head inside the door, and say “Yes, AND… it’s super fun”… to which we would reply… “Kindly don’t make this super cringey with your improv inside jokes, improv celebrities. We’re just trying to do a respectable, and engaging blog post RN and you popping up, while likely costing lots of money in 2024-blog-royalties, has cheapened this whole experience and made a normal blog post weird”.)

These gatherings of individuals who engage in unscripted, spontaneous performance can be a powerful tool for those seeking to build confidence and overcome the barriers posed by anxiety and stuttering. 

Additionally, our groups would be exclusive to people who stutter. Many adults who stutter report that they didn’t meet another person who stutters until their adult years, and grow up thinking they’re the only person. (BTW, SAY:AU is a great opportunity for kids to connect with other kids who stutter, and parents to connect with other parents of kids who stutter). We want to offer the same opportunity for teens and adults in South Australia to engage in in-person meet-ups. 

Breaking Down Barriers: One of the biggest challenges for those with anxiety or stuttering is the pressure to perform perfectly in social situations. The fear of making a mistake or saying the wrong thing can be paralyzing. However, in an improv group, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Mistakes are not only accepted but celebrated as opportunities for humor and creativity. This shift in perspective can help individuals let go of their fear of judgment and embrace the spontaneity of the moment.

Building Confidence:  Participating in improv can also help build confidence in social interactions. The supportive environment of an improv group fosters a sense of camaraderie and acceptance among its members. Through collaborative play and positive feedback, individuals can gain confidence in their ability to communicate effectively and connect with others.

These groups offer a safe space to confront your communication fears in a controlled environment. By repeatedly putting yourself in unfamiliar situations and learning to adapt on the fly, you have the opportunity to gradually desensitize to those thoughts, and know that you can feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s an opportunity to practice speaking in a supportive and nonjudgmental environment. 

If you’re just scanning down the page to get to the crux of the matter, because no one has attention spans in 2024, here’s why you should consider joining our Improv Classes:

  1. Fun and Engaging: Improv is all about having fun while improving your communication skills. Our experienced instructors create a supportive and enjoyable environment where you can feel at ease expressing yourself.
  2. Confidence Boost: Improv encourages you to think on your feet, fostering quick and confident responses. As you engage in various improv exercises, you’ll have the opportunity to gain the self-assurance needed to navigate everyday communication.
  3. Social Interactions: Through group activities and games, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with peers who may share similar experiences. Improv classes provide a space to build friendships and connect with others who understand and support your journey.
  4. Life Skills Development: Improv classes go beyond speech therapy; they can equip you with valuable life skills such as adaptability, creativity, and resilience. These skills have the potential to benefit you not only in communication but in various aspects of your personal and academic life.
  5. Fluency Improvement??: This one is a tricky one. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but what it does offer is lots of opportunities to practice whatever you want to practice, whether it’s accepting moments of stuttering or practicing your own use of a speech tool with other people who are in the same boat. We won’t be teaching or expecting you to use speech tools in these groups but we will support you to do so if that’s what you want to practice, and if you’d rather stutter freely without any tools, that’s fine too.

How do I know all of this? I’ve experienced it. I took improv classes with On the Fly. Not with the specific aim of helping my anxiety (which I do get BTW). I joined to do something fun when I was feeling burnt out. I ended up discovering how amazing it was at working on that need to rehearse what I said, and it challenged my perfectionism. It also ended up being super fun and I made some amazing friends. I suspect you’d like to know about the evidence though. Read on. 

Evidence: A recent feasibility study, conducted by University of South Australia students Kaylee Bui & Lily Kay McGregor McLaren (2023) found that: Group therapy is a stuttering therapy approach that has been proven to reduce the social anxiety and stuttering severity of people who stutter (Shoster et al., 2011). However, further research must be conducted as there are still knowledge gaps regarding the effectiveness of specific stuttering therapy approaches in a group setting.

Research suggests that drama therapy can promote self-esteem and reduce anxiety (Lopez-Gonzalez, Morales-Landazabal & Topa, 2021). Role-playing is emphasised as an effective treatment for anxiety management (Orkibi, 2017). Additionally, role play is important for modelling behaviour, exposing fears, and giving participants an opportunity to build coping skills (Anari, Ddadsetan & Sedghpour, 2009). 

Conclusion: Improvisational theatre may seem like just a form of entertainment, but for those struggling with anxiety and stuttering, it can be a powerful tool for personal growth and self-discovery. By providing a supportive environment for individuals to express themselves freely and without judgment, improv groups offer a unique opportunity to build confidence, overcome barriers, and connect with others in meaningful ways. So if you or your friend are looking for a fun and creative way to boost your confidence and conquer your fears around communication, why not give improv a try? You might just discover a newfound sense of freedom and self-assurance that will serve you well both on and off the stage.

Chat GPT helped me write 2 of these paragraphs. Please don’t judge me, they’re probably the only bits that make sense. 

See you in class. - Eleanor. 


If you have a stutter*, here’s how to join yourself or your friend up for improv classes at Swift Speech, Stuttering & Voice: online via our client portalor email:

We are currently conducting research into the improv groups. Research participants can attend the groups for free. You can find out more about the research at 

*Classes are exclusively for people who stutter. If you don’t have a stutter (or even if you do, and want to join a larger community group for absolutely everyone), here is a link to local improv groups: 

ON THE FLY: Join our weekly improvisation workshops in Adelaide – all welcome.


Bui, K., & McLaren, L.K.M. (2023). Feasibility study of group improvisation therapy for Swift Speech: Stuttering and Voice clinic. Speech Pathology Planning, Innovation & Evaluation in Health Project Report.

Speech Pathology Australia (2023) Stuttering. Available at: (Accessed: 07 February 2024).

Citations cited by Bui & McLaren (2023): 

Anari, A., Ddadsetan, P., & Sedghpour, B. (2009). The Effectiveness of Drama Therapy on Decreasing of the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder in Children. European Psychiatry, 24(S1).

López-González, M. A., Morales-Landazábal, P., & Topa, G. (2021). Psychodrama Group Therapy for Social Issues: A Systematic Review of Controlled Clinical Trials. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(9), 4442.

Orkibi, H., Azoulay, B., Snir, S., Regev, D. (2017). In-session behaviours and adolescents’ self-concept and loneliness: a psychodrama process-outcome study. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(6).

​​Shoster, D., Davidovikj, N., Filipova, S., & Lozanovska, B. (2011). The Importance of Group Therapy Used in the Treatment of Stuttering. Journal of Special Education and Rehabilitation, 12(3-4), 77–90.


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