What You Should Be Doing Before Meetings That You Aren’t

By Founder Jen Oleniczak Brown

bored-employees-in-presentation-1940x900_29877Meetings often suck. Don’t be confused, I love meeting new people and planning and figuring out action items, but a lot of time we end up rehashing what we did/do and set up plans for things that require more meetings. When I sit in for companies, observing communication styles, I often think the worst part of meetings for other people is that whole speaking part.

Think about it: You sit around and either wait for a chance to speak or you spend a large part of the time working up the nerve to speak. And what happens when you do? You might ramble or trip over words. You’re not completely thinking about everything that’s coming out of your mouth. You finish, and you’re either stressed about what you said or regretting that you didn’t say enough.

If this sounds like you, you probably aren’t doing the one thing that WILL help you speak in a meeting: Warming up.

Think about it — do you run 13.1 miles without warming up? No. Well, why would you speak without warming up the muscles in your mouth? Our mouths contain 10 muscles and it takes up to 100 muscles to speak! *

*I told this to a client I’m working with this afternoon and she literally laughed and said “That’s why I hate it so much.”

So how do you start to fix this? First off, know that no solution is an absolute. This is ONE way to get better at speaking in a meeting, specifically how to trip over words less and pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth. Much like running and getting in shape, it’s a process. Second, admit the amount of time you have before a meeting. In reality, you have minutes.

The quick way to warm up in minutes before a meeting: tongue twisters.

Think about it — people trip over words because they are running their mouths or speaking before they think. You have to concentrate before you say a tongue twister. You have to think about the words to get the correct — you have to PAY ATTENTION to what’s coming out of your mouth. Also, tongue twisters TWIST YOUR TONGUE. They are meant to trip you up, because they flex different areas of your mouth.

These are a few I give clients when they are specifically working on warming up quickly:

Red leather, yellow leather.
Irish wristwatch.
The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.
Betty Botter bought a bit of bitter batter. (Say the t’s as t’s — not d’s)

Prior to a meeting, head into the bathroom, outside or sit at your desk. Say them out loud, three times each, slowly, and over-enunciate. Maybe you spit a little when you say these — that’s ok! You don’t run the same way you warm up — all you are doing is activating these areas.

Then head into your meeting and see what happens. Remember, this isn’t a fix-all (nothing is), but chances are, you’ll be a bit more cognizant of the words coming out of your mouth AND trip over your words less. Good luck, and enjoy that next meeting!

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.

How to Avoid the Most Common Pitfalls of Public Speaking

by Engager Olive Persimmon

I’ve been doing public speaking for ten years and coaching public speaking for four. Throughout this time I’ve given some amazing, rev-up the audience, not-a-dry-eye-in-house speeches.
I’ve also totally bombed. Red-faced, voice-shaking, forget-your-freaking-words bombed.
Luckily that happens far less frequently now because I’ve learned the common mistakes for why speeches don’t go well. Looking back, there are three basic reasons why I failed: 1. I didn’t 1915974_1021261141282455_1190844854930300062_nprepare enough 2. I was overly worried about the audience’s opinion of me, and as a result 3. I got in my head.

So let’s talk about what you can do to avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Prepare and then practice:

Too often I see clients who want to “wing it” so they “sound natural.” This is one of the main reasons why speeches fail. The speaker didn’t prepare enough. It’s probably the single, most important thing you can do to deliver a great speech. Figure out exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write it down and then practice it. Practice your presentation or speech alone. Then practice it again in front of people. If you have a fear of public speaking, it’s critical that you practice in front of other people, and often. The more frequently you do it, the more likely you are to decrease your fear.

2. Practice some more:

When we’re feeling nervous, our body goes into something called fight-or-flight mode. This causes our heart rate to elevate along with spikes in cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to sweatiness, shaking, redness, and even blackouts. The last thing you want to be dealing with is figuring out what the heck you’re gonna say. I’ve seen this end two ways, the speaker blacks out and stops or the speaker starts to ramble. You want the words to be so engrained in your brain that you can keep going even if you’re having an out-of-body experience. Practice until you sound fake. Then keep practicing until you sound real again. That doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from your prepared talk, it just means that your brain won’t be scrambling for words at the wrong times.

3. Remind yourself that the audience WANTS you to succeed.

Olive with her book "Unintentionally Celibate!"

Olive with her book “Unintentionally Celibate!”

There’s a good chance that someone asked you to speak. That someone could be your boss. It could be a group of people interested in a topic. Those people BELIEVE that you will be successful. No one in their right mind would ask you to speak if they thought you were going to fail. The audience is on your side. Truly they are. Yet, for so many of us, we are obsessively worrying about what the audience will think of us. Before you start speaking, take a second to assess your audience. Find a friendly face. Smile at that person (it will release wonderful chemicals into your brain). Remind yourself that someone believes you deserve to be speaking. Take a deep breath and then begin.

4. Get out of your head

It’s impossible to connect with the audience when you’re in the middle of a conversation with yourself in your head. One of the easiest ways to get out of your head, is to make authentic eye contact with people in the audience. A lot of coaches recommend looking above the audience or looking at a lot of people in a short amount of time. Don’t do this. Instead, really look at the people you’re talking to. Not only will this help you connect with them, it will help ground your body and get you out of fight-or-flight mode.

Avoiding these common pitfalls is the first place to start if you’re trying to become an excellent speaker. Hopefully your next speech will be a home run. Follow our blog for more tips on speaking and other communication skills.

Election Response

Dear Friends of The Engaging Educator:

The last week was difficult for many of us here at EE. I can say without hesitation, as a 100% woman-owned and operated business, we’ve had a rough week. Personally, I’ve found myself in a myriad of emotions – from sad, to rage, to charged, to distracted, then back to sad. And you know what? It’s all ok.

This isn’t a plea to move on. This isn’t an ask to cheer up, or to protest, or to rage, or to make beautiful things. It IS an ask to start listening better. We at EE maintain that listening and communication are essential skills that we all need to be better at.

The two most powerful things I’ve seen this past week – the first, a post on Twitter from a friend: “Request: stop dictating how others are handling their grief/confusion/fear. It only divides us. Just be a good human, please.”

It is ok to be whatever you are feeling right now. People have been giving flack for posting happy photos, or ‘normal’ posts, or Harry Potter quotes – and if you’re just ignoring what happened, that’s on you – but do not criticize how people are handling this. We’re all different. Let everyone deal with grief in their own way.

The second was a friend’s photo from the protests in NYC. She had captured a sign that said “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” We will all grow from this – I refuse to believe this is the downfall of all that is good in the world. After we grieve, we take action.

More on our post-election thoughts here, in our weekly video. I’ll let you decide to watch it or not:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB6CL-AXHxY

Finally, just take care of one another. I’ve hugged more people in the past week than every, and while a hug can’t save us from the hate in the world, the fact we are all in this together can. Elevate each other, look out for one another, and again, listen better.

Yes, Anding and Elevating Ya’ll Forever-
Jen Brown, Founder
The Engaging Educator

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.

Happy Birthday, EE!

OMG, we are FOUR YEARS OLD TODAY!!! Thanks to the Engagers and Staff who took a little time to share something they’ve improved upon during their time with EE, or something they love about their job!

IMG_9948As a new member of the EE team, I’m excited to Inspire others to feel confident in front of a room, whether it’s for work, their hobby, or even just a gathering of old friends and new. Feeling comfortable in your skin is something that I’ve learned is so important when being your most genuine and authentic self! All my love, Jen – Jen Glantz, Engager

Being an engager is a dream job: I get to meet new people and learn, laugh and improv(e)! It is endlessly satisfying to see how improv – and the EE ethos – helps us listen, communicate and make progress on our goals. I feel so lucky to work with such an inspiring, smart and caring staff of women as we grow and expand. Happy Birthday, EE! Let’s all eat cake! – Jill Frutkin, Engager

museummashup-2016_24464992703_oAs an engager, I have learned the enormous potential held in every single person. I have witnessed what is possible when we come together to explore how to share our voice with the world. – Minna Taylor, Engager

I love working with people who are so enthusiastic and passionate about the work they’re doing. I love feeling like it’s okay — encouraged, even! — to be excited about the work we’re doing and the folks we’re doing it with. – Shaelyn Amaio, Social Media and Graphics

I’ve definitely improved on initiative taking and thinking outside the box for creative admin solutions! Working with a team of people who are all creatives, not to mention just awesome people, makes admin work a joy! Plus, I love that our team is all women! – Erin Moncada, Admin Director

image5What I LOVE most about being an Engager is being a part of a group of bad-ass (can I say that?!) women who bring a varied set of skills, strengths, and accomplishments to the table. I’m inspired every time I co-teach, observe, and speak to the fellow engagers. The Engagers and the professionals that take EE’s classes always challenge me to bring my A-game – and no two classes are ever the same. I’m undoubtedly a better facilitator and educator because of my time with EE, and I’m looking forward to another amazing year. – Lawrese Brown, Engager

I LOVE my job. How many people get to say that? I get to help people get out of their heads and feel good about their communication. Not to mention, it’s fun! Seriously, huge love for EE, the other engagers, and all the wonderful people we’ve had the privilege to teach. – Olive Persimmon, Engager

improv. jpgWhat I love most about being an Engager is what I learn from students. A lot of people think that teachers are the ones with the answers, but I’m constantly being taught by the people who take my classes. It’s so inspiring to see how bravely people embrace something so foreign to them and it makes me more courageous in my life and work. – Molly Anne Coogan, Engager

Engaging Educator has made me more fearless! I love being part of a team of fearless woman who take risks and ‘yes…and” to success. – Hillary Murrell, Engager

How Improv Enhances Creativity

By Engager Lawrese Brown

“Think outside the box.” We’ve all heard the expression before. It’s the call to action to innovate, the definitive dog whistle for Think Different. In the past, us non-creatives were off the hook, because the creative types were easily spotted: They worked in theatre, fashion, music, and media. But now every industry calls for us to create and innovate. With technological disruption and an ever-changing hustle and gig economy, innovation is everyone’s responsibility.

And we can do it, right? At least we think we can. What’s so hard about trying to think of new ways to approach our problems, products and processes? So when pushed to take risks, we raise our hands and nod our heads in agreement, and then we soon realize that relinquishing our boxes isn’t so easy. The irony of creativity is that it takes work.

Why? Because everything about us as professionals is trained towards obsessive logic. In school and business, there is a right answer and wrong answer. There is efficiency and inefficiency, there is time saved and time wasted, there is work and play….and play can’t be work?

We can’t ovethink creativity, and even that is counterintuitive. Creativity is a tool best offered when we let loose. It’s in that freedom that we are most imaginative, instinctive and inventive. For example, one of my favorite improv games is the active listening game, “Last Word Response.” The game calls for participants to use the last word of the previous person’s sentence as the first word of their sentence. So if I said, “I love you,” the next person would say, “You are the greatest,” and then “Greatest love of all,” and so on and so forth. The game usually works well until someone says something like, “This is cool” and someone says cool is…. Cool *pause*…..cool *longer silence* ….suddenly without an immediate answer….we feel stuck.

As one improviser said of the game, “It’s hard because there is pressure to make sense.” To which I ask, “who said you had to make sense?” Who’s to say you can’t say “Cool cats,” “Cool is an adjective,” “Cool Kids rule” or “Cool Whip is my favorite topping on pancakes?!” In those moments we realize that “the pressure to make sense” is code for saying something that “we know works.” Something that is familiar. Something that is reasonable.

Improv enhances our creativity because it pushes us to think outside the box by encouraging flexibility, increased initiative, positive risk taking and fun. Quite simply, improvisation and creativity shift us out of what’s proven into more of a focus on what’s possible.

Expectation is the sister of anticipation, and there’s no anticipating in improv. The skill set teaches us to be comfortable with the unknown and enables us to take risks, constantly shift, and elevate what could be. Essentially, improv kills the box and with no box, we realize that the greatest obstacle to our creativity are ironically, the limits and rules we continue to put on ourselves.