Networking: Getting from Awkward to Awesome

NeighborhoodStudiosIconA major focus of Neighborhood Studios is to prepare teens for the workplace— whether it’s as an actor or an architect—and to build those “soft skills” that are so important to succeed professionally. A fundamental skill we all call upon every day is networking. The ability to engage in conversation with a stranger, and build a diversified network of individuals that will help you achieve your professional goals is key. But it’s scary. And awkward. Heck, as a 30-something I still feel a little socially insecure when entering a room of strangers.

Enter Sea Tea Improv, a local improv comedy company that performs, teaches and trains professionals in the art of communication. At this week’s Neighborhood Studios Career Skills Monday event, apprentices gathered at The Mark Twain House & Museum to drop their guard and to try their hand at learning improv techniques.

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An apprentice practices her presentations skills at the podium

Four phenomenal comedians from Sea Tea—Graham, Greg, Julia and Vlad—engaged the group by encouraging them to think of networking as a simple, fun activity and  to treat networking like having a conversation with one of their buddies. The key is to find a topic of conversation that elicits excitement and enthusiasm from the other person. When you find that topic, the conversation can stretch out for as long as you like.

The teens counted off, and split up into three groups to learn core improv techniques to help them build confidence, learn to listen and think quickly on their feet. An exercise I really appreciated was focused on committing a person’s name to memory when being introduced. Greg encouraged the teens to think of a word associated with that person that begins with the same letter. For example, if someone were to meet me, they may say notice I have very long arms – a good alliterative reminder might be Long-limbed Liz. Each apprentice went around the circle, introduced themselves using the name game, and made a gesture related to the adjective. This exercise effectively loosened up the group and allowed them to get to know each other.

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“Goalie Greg” introduces himself to the group

Vlad led his group through a series of exercises testing the “yes, and…” technique, a foundation of both improv performance and networking. The principle is that rather than responding in conversation with a simple “yes”, adding additional commentary will further the conversation into new territory. For instance, Vlad had two apprentices engage in a “3 line scene” and gave them a surprise word. The apprentices were asked to set a scene and characters based on the word, accept the plot, and add to the story—the more ridiculous, the better.  In one scene Vlad provided the word “woodchuck” and the apprentices responded:

Apprentice #1: I’ve been told that a woodchuck could chuck quite a bit of wood, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Apprentice #2: Yes, but this particular woodchuck doesn’t chuck wood, as he’s a financially conscious individual that believes in quality over quantity.

Apprentice #1: That might explain the superior quality of wood furniture in the woodchuck region of the United States.

[end scene]

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Apprentices use quick wit and creativity during the “3 Line Scene” exercise

I found so many of the lessons taught through the improv exercises to be valuable when considering the art of conversation. I’m reminded to focus on listening and giving the conversation my full attention, to find interesting connections and explore them, rather than letting the conversation lull, and to be curious and ask questions.

But above all, I learned that the apprentices taking part in Neighborhood Studios are funny, smart and so much more confident than my teenage self. I’m looking forward to watching their continued success over the next three weeks of Neighborhood Studios.

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An apprentice thinks quick on his feet to keep a scene going.

For more information about Sea Tea Improv’s Performances, Courses, Private Workshops and Corporate training, visit www.seateaimprov.com

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