As AM&P Executive Leadership Workshop participants experienced,a little improv may be just the catalyst you need for innovation.
By Apryl Motley, CAE
None of us knew quite what to expect when we arrived for the Executive Leadership Session at AM&P’s 2016 Annual Meeting. First, there really wasn’t anywhere to sit.Then it became readily apparent that we wouldn’t be doing very much sitting.
This was far from your typical sit-down-and-take-notes while watching a presentation education session. As I and others quickly observed, the word participation would take on a whole new meaning in this setting. "Boundless: Improv to Innovate,” presented by the YGS Group, would require our full attention as well as our willingness to step outside our comfort zones.
Recently, I caught up with YGS Group Director of Marketing & Brand Strategy Lish Ephraim to get the behind-the-scenes story on how the workshop was originally created and then customized for association media and publishing professionals.
A Different Way of Thinking
"We tried it at YGS first,” Ephraim says of the basic components that make up Boundless.
"When I joined the company about three years ago, we were looking for new ways to approach our work with external clients as well as our internal processes,” she explains."We started by thinking about our own creative processes and how we might look at things differently.”
Coincidentally, Ephraim had taken some improv classes previously and suggested that as a part of the brainstorming process, the team"go through some exercises to help us think about situations differently before we got into the logistics.We wanted to get outside the linear thinking process and open up our way of thinking.”
YGS decided to share this "new way of thinking” by hosting three invite-only workshops for association leaders at the Wooly Mammoth Theater in Washington, DC throughout last year. Boundless was also presented at ASAE’s 2016 Great Ideas Conference and its 2015 Annual Meeting.
"We knew we could tailor the program to suit the association audience, so we developed a curriculum, which took about four months,” Ephraim says."Then it was suggested that we bring this concept to a larger audience by partnering with an organization like AM&P.”
The YGS Group has honed in on what resonates for association participants. For the Executive Leadership Workshop prior to the start of the AM&P Annual Meeting, the focus was on exercises that emphasized listening in different ways so that your organization’s content will resonate with your audience.
For example, in one exercise called "Zip, Zap,Zop,” participants stood in a circle and kept this spoken pattern going by saying the next word in the trio and then pointing at the person beside or across from him or her to continue. After several rounds of this activity, the importance of active listening skills was evident.How often had participants missed a message from colleagues or members because they were only half listening to them?
"We looked at core curriculum and selected exercises appropriate for media and publishing professionals,” Ephraim says. "People get tired of sitting through lectures the whole day.The feedback has been that the session was energizing.”
Exercises in Responding and Listening
Key takeaways that energized two participants related to how they might communicate differently or more effectively with colleagues.
For Kathleen Hagan, managing editor at GLC, the most important concept was the ways in which you can frame answers to questions differently. "It was powerful to see how much more positive and encouraging a ‘yes, and…’ answer is compared to a ‘yes, but…” response,”she says.
During the "Yes, and…” exercise,participants worked in pairs. One person began a conversation about a scenario, such as taking a trip to a specific locale. The other person could only reply with "yes, and…” responses. Then the partners switched roles in the conversation. Most people remarked how much further their conversations seemed to go when using this technique.
From Henry J. Howard’s perspective, it was hard "to pinpoint just one exercise that was meaningful since each of the activities was well constructed and had real-world applications.”
However, for Howard, who is deputy director of media and communications at the American Legion,the most memorable activity involved a fast-paced memory and communications game dubbed, "The Pattern Game.”
Here’s how Howard described it: "Each participant memorizes a food and then points to another participant to recite his or her food,and it continues throughout the circle. Once we were able to go really fast, the session leaders had us do the same thing with an animal. Lastly, the group had to do both at the same time.”
For him, "the exercise was instrumental in teaching us how to listen and focus on one teammate at a time even amid lots of external noise.”
"It's a skill I've been using in my workplace since returning from the conference,” he notes."In this fast-paced, 24/7 media world, it's a skill that comes in handy on a regular basis.”
Ultimately, this was the goal: for each participant to leave the session with ideas for integrating "exercises and key learnings back at the ranch.”
Apryl Motley, CAE is a communications consultant and freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to Association Media & Publishing’s Signature magazine and a member of its Content Creation Committee.Motley began performing with an improv group last year and highly recommends it a great way to jump start innovation at your association.
Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks her for covering this Executive Leadership Workshop for members who were unable to attend.