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Business Improv Workshop

By Gillian Niezyniecki

Communication. It is the most fundamental way that we express ourselves. What every team has in common is the need to communicate and collaborate efficiently. T&M students had yet another opportunity to develop personally and professionally in a Business Improv workshop. This event was designed to teach us how to create a collaborative environment, become a better storyteller, and understand how energy and attitude can influence others.

I was taken off guard when one of the first things we did was pretend we were in a roller coaster at an amusement park. He promised we would feel silly, but we all strapped ourselves in and went along for the ride. As we bounced up and down and flung our hands in the air, smiles and laughs appeared on our faces. The energy was electric compared to when we first joined the session. That short amount of physical activity energized us and kept us more engaged. Although you may not go through this rollercoaster exercise before every meeting or class, it is important to check your energy.

A quote that Charlie Foster, T&M Class XXVI, took away from this workshop was “we check the weather more than our own attitude”. Now when he checks the weather, he checks his attitude and consciously decides to be a more positive person for the day. This simple idea takes 10 seconds and prepares you for your next tasks and brings the best energy for that situation. This is especially important in the online environment. It is very easy to get Zoom fatigued and want to multitask, but being present and being your best self is the key to productive communication.

Strong communicators and collaborators are more valuable than ever in the virtual working environment. This includes bringing extra energy, talking with your body, looking at the camera and simply smiling. My favorite piece of advice was to stay “on” until you are completely off. This means continuing to look at the camera, bring big energy, and give my undivided attention to me meeting until everyone is gone.

One of the biggest challenges in the online environment is connecting with others. In this workshop we did a variety of storytelling exercises and got feedback. We realized that only 20% of a good story is the content. The rest comes from enthusiasm, articulating emotion and presence. Being professional does not mean you can’t be excited and passionate.

Haley Middendorf, a member of T&M Class of XXVI, shared that one of her biggest takeaways was using “Yes, and” instead of “Yes, but”. This allows for more productive conversations and divergent thinking when ideating which allows people to build off ideas instead of tearing them down. This ultimately results in fluid and more creative thinking.

When brainstorming ideas, it is important to only be doing divergent thinking. This means that there is no judgement of ideas, and it is just a time to be creative. My workshop leader suggested thinking of things that might get you arrested. Even though you will (hopefully) never use those ideas, this prompts the most creativity. If everyone was trying to think of the most practical idea, there would never be any innovation. Then a separate time can be scheduled for critical convergent thinking.

This workshop remains a favorite of many students and alumni. Janie Huber, Class of XXV, has attended this workshop both in person last year and online. She shared how this year’s workshop was very much focused on how you could take certain tactics into professional, virtual situations during these unusual times. Last year’s workshop was more focused on T&M bonding and team-building experience. Many alumni still rave how this event opened doors for new ways of effectively communicating and thinking in team settings. The skills learned in this workshop are not only relevant in industry, but also in group projects and creating a welcoming environment. Adopting this “Yes, and” mentality and checking your energy can help develop the best version of yourself and prepare you for any team meeting.

Gillian Niezyniecki

Gillian is in T&M Class XXVI and a junior in Materials Science and Engineering. She recently concluded her internship at Deep Coat and is currently the director of Engineering EXPO.

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