Category Archives: Improv

How to Survive 2017 as a Woman

by Engager Olive Persimmon

“I work in a male-dominant industry and sometimes in meetings they talk over me. I have to fight to get my ideas heard,” a vice-president at a large bank said to me.

“When I don’t say anything, they tell me I ‘need to be more assertive’ and when I’m assertive, they tell me I’m being too aggressive or bitchy.”

“Some of the other women I work with are catty, they try to put me down to make themselves look good.”

“My boss told me to smile more. Another colleague said I need to smile less because people might think I’m being flirtatious. Now I’m obsessively thinking about if I’m smiling at the right times.”

These are all comments I heard while teaching a women’s program for a client in the finance industry. Unfortunately, comments like this come up all the time. I wish I could say these were anomalies but I’ve taught women’s programs for three years and I keep hearing the same responses. Again and again. Women who are taught to play small. Women who feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions. Women worried about being too much of something (too assertive, too passive, too tall, too small, too whatever…)

One of my most memorable comments came from a younger professional named Chelsea, “I’m 6’1 and my boss is intimidated by my height. He always makes snide comments about it. Is it okay to try to make myself smaller in his presence so he’s not as threatened?” For me, it was a heartbreaking comment because it represented how women are taught to shrink to accommodate.

I thought about my answer for a second because I knew what I was about to say would be important to Chelsea. I looked at her and carefully said, “No, it’s not okay to shrink. His insecurity is not your problem.”

Mic drop.

It’s been a huge part of my life’s work to help women find their voices and stop playing small. I am incredibly lucky to work for a company that supports this mission. The Engaging Educator was not only founded by a badass woman, it hosts a whole staff of amazingly talented women. As a testimony of our commitment, I received an email from my boss on November 9th, the day after we didn’t elect the first female president. She told us that we were going to give away some free seats in our women’s workshops. This was our way of contributing to all the women who felt powerless and defeated post-election.

I was so excited! Another Engager, Minna Taylor and I had been designing women’s programs for years. I planned an amazing curriculum with improv-based exercises for this new class. We’d work on taking up space and using the full force of our voices. We had exercises for dealing with aggressive counterparts, exercises that addressed thoughts & behaviors that were holding us back. I carefully crafted and designed this program thinking about all of the comments I had heard over the past several years. Then I waited.

No one signed up. Not one single woman. Even though many of the seats were 100% ABSOLUTELY FREE. Finally, deep in my despair, ONE lone, brave woman registered for the workshop.
I was beyond disappointed. I teach storytelling, public speaking, presentation skills, and improv for professionals. They ALWAYS have students. This absolutely free and critically important class failed to draw students.

Perhaps it was a marketing failure on our part, I don’t know. Maybe, it’s just one more example of women not putting themselves first because it seemed selfish or unimportant to take the time to learn how to be comfortable being a woman. Maybe there were good specials at the bar. Maybe the ladies were too busy running their own companies. I have no idea. Despite this, we’re still offering free spots in ALL of our classes for women because we believe it’s THAT important.

I went to the Women’s March in January and was so excited to see so many men and women coming together, actively. It was incredible to see people fighting for their rights and the rights of other people. I know that the fighting isn’t going to stop. We’re going to have to keep fighting the next four years and maybe eight years beyond that. Maybe fifteen years beyond that.

Give yourself some tools to help you fight. Come to class. Invest in yourself.

Women’s Classes (Free spots available to students in need or who work with/for women-focused organizations. Drop us a line for more info!):
– February 21st
March 23rd
April 4th

How to SHOW You Listen

by Founder Jen Oleniczak Brown

Man, listening is tough. When I set out to work on these videos, I shot them in one day, and immediately realized I had content for DAYS. In this installment, I’m focusing on one way to show you listen – and it isn’t immediately going into a personal story about the same topic (I’m looking at YOU, people that do this!)

Enjoy!

How to Start Listening Better!

We’re back with another video tip – and this week, we’re starting a 4-part series on listening and conversation.

Check out how to start listening better. Hint: Stop thinking about dinner. =)

Quick Thoughts: Failing in Education

By Engager Hillary Murrell

When do we learn that failing is not an option?

This is a question that has been plaguing me over the last few years as a museum educator. I teach all grade levels in museums from kindergarten to senior adults.

Yesterday I toured a group of 3rd graders through the museum. In groups they looked at fiber art in the gallery and were able to touch the same object from the artist to Teen Facilitator web headerdiscover textures and process. They wrote down what they saw, what they thought and what that made them wonder. I am always amazed by the number of hands that go up in the air the minute I ask to share as a large group.

“I saw lots of colors”

“I think it looks like mushrooms, and I have lots of mushrooms in my backyard that my mom tells me not to eat”

“I think it looks like pixels on a blurry TV screen”

Their answers are inquisitive and they are genuinely willing and interested in sharing their thoughts. They don’t feel restricted to have to say the “correct” answer.

Contrast that with a group of undergraduates I toured last week. My assumption was that because they were Latin American Studies majors and the exhibition was on a Cuban artist we would have deep stimulating conversations in the galleries.

I open the tour with a question.

…..crickets….

Not one student was willing to talk through their thoughts or attempt to critically look and discuss a piece of art. I always joke with them that if the 3rd graders can 22727165146_fa61d9050c_oanswer questions, they definitely can. But really, it isn’t a joke and it makes me sad.

Why do we teach kids as they get older to stop exploring through conversation? There really is no wrong answer if you are able to back up your postulations through critical analysis. But all students hear is “keep your mouth shut so you don’t sound stupid.”

I think this is where Improv training can make a deep impact in how we educate. Improv skills help us learn that we are going to fail and when that happens we try again. There is no wrong answer in “yes…and”. It is about discovery and confidence and exploration to eventually get to a “correct” answer. I think we do students a disservice when we teach to tests and only “correct” answers when really the process of discovery, curiosity and failure is the greatest way to learn.

My goal as an educator in 2017 is to incorporate “yes…and” and confidence building in all my classes. I truly believe that teaching students (and adults!) how to fail is crucial in removing fear and opening a path to deeper learning that remains hidden when we teach that success is the only option.

YesAnd Tube Trailer + New Video!

Hi all, Jen here!

I know we said we’d move to bi-weekly videos in the new year for me to focus on writing, and in reality, I also wanted to up our tech game/quality of the videos before we moved forward.

Guess what? I have a motivated drive (duh) and a fantastic husband (also duh) and between the two, I ended up upping the tech game AND setting up the new studio in no time.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing! I’ll keep at it here, on guest blogs, LinkedIn and a super secret cool announcement coming soon. For now, enjoy our new trailer AND video today. In our video, we’re thinking about how to introduce yourself – because let’s admit it, it’s a difficult task. Enjoy the trailer and tips on introductions, and remember to YES AND today!

-Jen

How to Introduce Yourself!

Teen Programs: 3 Improv Activities That Will Give Your Students Skills For The Job Hunt

By Engager Lawrese Brown

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop, “Improv For Job Seekers,” to a group of high school graduates. When preparing my curriculum, I thought carefully and critically about the skills that enable people to job hunt effectively, because those skills would direct the improv activities of the session.

arts-connection-teensMost students selected the session because “improv makes you quicker on your feet and that’s important when interviewing.” While communication skills are definitely a key piece of the job hunt, I also wanted students to enhance the less obvious, but no less important skills that would help them land a job. Skills like listening, creativity, attitude, collaboration and problem solving. This article highlights 3 key activities you can use to help your students hone these skills.

Activity #1: Last Word Response (Job Hunting Skill: Listening)

Instructions: “Who would say they are a good listener?” Most students did, and many nodded their heads in agreement. “This game Last Word Response, how well you listen from start to finish. In order to succeed at this game, you have to remain fully present because your sentence or phrase must start with the last word the person before you used.

For example, one student may start by saying a general phrase or sentence such as “I love cats,” the next person then starts their sentence with the last word of the previous person’s sentence and could say something like “Cats are cool pets,” the next person could say, “pets are named after people,” etc. Uh oh. For most of us – professionals young and mature – we’d make a case that listening is paying attention when someone else is speaking, but we’d also readily admit that while someone is speaking we are also thinking of what we want to say.

Takeaway: Sometimes we can get away with not listening until the very last word, yet other times (like when the hiring manager asks a two-part question in an interview – “What’s your greatest weakness? How have you been improving in that area?”) – it can cost you. The students – when they weren’t caught not listening – said it best, “when you actively listening its easier to make connections with the speaker,” and that’s critical when interviewing, networking and communicating.

Activity #2: Blind Line-Up (Job Hunting Skills: Creativity, Problem Solving)

These days’ companies want all their professionals to demonstrate creativity, because that quality is at the root of innovation. Companies want professionals who are going to push them to do things differently than they’ve done them before and that’s the
exact purpose of the game, Blind Line-Up.

In this game, students are given three team tasks, such as lining-up in alphabetical order by first names, lining up by the #of minutes in their commute this a.m., or lining up in height order. Sounds easy right? The students are them prompted to complete the task in one of the three ways: with their eyes closed, no talking, or my favorite – with their eyes closed and no talking.

Takeaways: Many students incredulously inquired “how can we do this with our eyes closed?” All professionals can relate to feeling both confusion and resignation when faced with a new challenge or trying something for the first time. Yet, somehow – despite the uncertainty, lack of resources, stipulations, and roadblocks- we get it done, just as the students did. How? Because we tried, adjusted, and tried again. The students didn’t succeed at every task the first time, and that’s good because immediate success wasn’t the point. As students noted, “it was about finding new strategies,” “being resourceful” and ensuring “everyone was on the same page or using the same method to communicate.” The latter is what enables us to approach and solve problems in new ways.

Activity #3: Pass The Gesture (Job Skills: Collaboration, Attitude, Initiative)

Ask any high school student or professional about group projects and teamwork and there’s a collective sigh. Because of rough experiences, “some people are lazy and don’t do work,” “its easier by myself because I have high standards,” and “there can be a lot of miscommunication,” – many of us have decided that’s it better to execute any new project alone.

The only problem with that is everything about succeeding in a job has to do with how well you work with others. And that’s why being able to work in a team and being a good team player is important.

In the game, Pass The Gesture, each student says a word/phrase (ex. Yes, excellent, BAM, woo, etc.) and does an accompanying gesture (stomp your foot, snap your hands, spin, etc.). If student #1 starts by saying wow and throwing their hands up then each student in the circle has to do exactly that, say wow and throw their hands up, until we’re back at student #1. Student #2 then initiates a new, different gesture and word that everyone must repeat around the circle.

Takeaway: What inevitably happens is someone does a gesture that is too big, too much, too new and maybe even too complex (ex. Dougie, headstand, etc.) that other individuals shy away from fully attempting it. For example, instead of saying wow with the bright, confident tone of the student who started it, we let out an unenthusiastic, low “wow” or if we’re led to lift our hands way above our heads it’s tempting to lift them just above our shoulders.

hudson-river-museum-teens-1When these moments happen, I ask, “How much more confident do you feel as a leader when you know your team supports you?” Or “how much better is it working on a team when we know others are as fully committed to doing the tasks as well as we are?” Its those things – being able to rely on others and being fully committed to a common result that build trust. Also, how we approach something demonstrates our attitude and our attitude is critical to our success. Would you hire someone who complained whenever the company had to adjust or pivot on a project or would you hire the person who was enthusiastic and demonstrated a “can-do” attitude? As one student noted during their final reflection, “attitude is everything.”

The Balance Between Initiative & Flexibility When Working In Teams

By Engager Lawrese Brown

The Blind Leading The Blind. That is literally what happened when I was facilitating a Blind Trust activity for a group of teens. During the activity, each person guides their partner around the room by their fingertips while their partner’s eyes are closed.

At the end of the activity, I asked the pairs “How did it feel to be led? How did it feel to have your eyes closed?” That’s when one of the pairs said, “We both had our eyes closed as we moved around the room.”

de298b_55847c546b2247039f8ca70e92f4db12mv2I was intrigued. I’d facilitated this activity frequently and never had that happen before. I then had the remaining teens do another round where both people in the pair tried to navigate around the room with their eyes closed. The final round was absolutely comical, but also a critical “aha” moment for us. As one teen said, “You need someone to lead so that you have direction.”

We know that you need leaders and followers, but we don’t often talk about the skill it takes to lead (initiative) and the skill involved in following (flexibility). As an instructor, it was the perfect demonstration of improvisations reliance on both. The final round showed us the importance of being both enterprising and easygoing when focused on achieving a result.

There is a tendency on teams to think in extremes – either you are easy going and go with it or you are being assertive and taking charge. But what would happen if we celebrated teammates that demonstrated both qualities equally?

If you’re too easygoing, you’ll never take action. And if you’re too assertive, you’ll leave no room to adapt. As the activity fundamentally showed us, progress (movement) and success (not bumping into anyone or anything) relies on a balance of both.
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Imagine how we would shift our behavior on teams if we knew that every time there was a department project, the team’s ability to reach the desired result was the only metric we were judged on. There wasn’t an opportunity for you to say, “Well I did my part…” or conversely, “Well I did what everyone else was doing…”

de298b_3037f3252cdf40639a372277971b37c4mv2Accepting that teamwork requires a balance of initiative and flexibility (or leading and following from all members of the team) is the best way to hold everyone accountable for the times final result. Both improv and teamwork are like having a great conversation, it’s not just what you say that’s great, but it’s also what others said to you. That balance is where the magic happens.

November #YesAndTube Recap!

What a month November was… We are looking forward to a chill December and a rocking New Year! If you missed our November videos, here’s a recap. And don’t forget, you can subscribe to our Youtube channel and watch them as they roll out every Monday!

November 7:

November 14:

November 21:

November 28:

On Flexibility As An Instructor

By Engager Jill Frutkin

I love it when educators come to class. There is a knowing look when I tell them I was an elementary classroom teacher for years.

You can plan the world’s greatest lesson – complete with the most appropriate standards, the most engaging materials, the most thoughtful grouping – and then there’s a fire drill. Or half the class is absent. Or what you thought was engaging is actually totally boring to them.

copy-of-img_4469To be a great teacher means you think (and eat lunch, and do most things at work) on your feet. You need to be taking the temperature of your students needs constantly, and re adjusting accordingly. Something you did not expect is always going to happen – and this is actually a very good thing.

By being in the moment and paying attention to how students react, you can seize the real teachable moments. The combination of planned activity, uncontrollable circumstance and a listening teacher ready to respond creates an ideal environment for real learning.

I found this to be true in an EE improv workshop this fall. I was leading a session in an office with a team of employees, focusing on team building, agility, and communication. I started the session with my favorite warm up, “Rubber Chicken”. The exercise aims to connect our bodies with our voices with our heads and our hearts. We shake out our limbs (body), while loudly counting down from 8 (voices, heads) and making eye contact with someone in the circle for each limb (hearts). It’s a great exercise to bring a group together, warm up, and create a safe, unison space.

copy-of-img_4484Before we started, I modeled how the exercise looks and sounds, shaking my arm and loudly counting to 8, projecting my voice and connecting it to my movement. I noticed a few alarmed faces, and told them not to worry, we’d be doing the exercise in unison, so that nobody would be listening to any one individual voice. The alarmed faces told me that volume level was a definite no-no. We couldn’t be that loud – people were working down the hall.

For a split second, I froze. I didn’t want to offend or upset anyone, and this was not a great start. Then I turned the moment into a lesson. I was there to teach flexibility, and this was an opportunity to model agility in the moment.

I thanked the participants for letting me know the parameters of the room. Then I pointed out that the objective wasn’t to be loud – it was to warm up, and to connect our voices to our bodies. We could easily keep the same intention and intensity with a quiet volume. I made my agility transparent – thinking aloud with participants. When a situation you didn’t expect copy-of-img_4461comes up, one way to imagine a solution is to look at what is most important. In this case, the warming up and connection was most important, not the volume. We could easily make the adjustment and continue with the exercise.

It was a fantastic workshop, and the participants were engaged, joyful, and reflective. The moment of flexibility was a great lesson to me – it deepened how I see an exercise I use daily – and I hope that by making my agility transparent, I modeled flexible thinking and problem solving. I truly believe that using the principles of improv help us find valuable teachable moments in every situation.

#YesAndTube Rollout Recap!

Wow, we just completed out first month of weekly #YesAndTube videos! You can watch all the weekly tips below, plus subscribe to our Youtube channel and watch them as they roll out every Monday!