Trees, armadillos, pizza slinger- just three of the things Christine Koval, Evening MBA student and a finance manager at Chewy, had to personify when she took Foundations of Improv this year. The Booth full-time Public Speaking and Communication Group offered a variety of public speaking and leadership development classes this year, hosted by Second City, the famed improvisational comedy enterprise. Classes were offered to students across all Booth MBA programs, and were conducted by Second City instructors who have experience teaching MBA students. Classes included beginner and intermediate improv classes, stand-up for public speaking, and storytelling. Second City has a long history with the University of Chicago and the benefits of their leadership approach has been documented by sources including Forbes and Harvard Business Review.
Christine shares her experience here:
Coming to Booth was about focusing in on my financial expertise and growing my soft skills, through opportunities such as the Public Speaking Club, which has a lot of utility for me after being in corporate America for about seven years. I signed up for this class because it was extremely scary and out of the box for me. It helped me grow personally and allowed me to meet people and build great connections with other students in a more intimate setting.
Sometimes we were asked to do extremely goofy things, like pretend to be certain animals or inanimate objects. You’re a tree, having a conversation with someone who’s a mushroom and I’m saying to myself ‘I can’t believe we had to do that!’ But overall, it help a lot, it’s about the importance of relationships and how to communicate effectively with other people. It’s about the importance of body language and the power of positive self-perception.
I noticed results instantly, in terms of confidence and what I think it takes to build trust. Right now, my position at work is remote, so I have to have to be influential over the phone, engaging with my colleagues in Florida where my company is headquartered. Doing improv has allowed me to shed some of the inhibitions I had in the beginning; it’s helped me get up to speed with being out of my comfort zone much quicker. I’ve learned to approach people’s ideas from a positive side. If improv has been so influential for executives, I wanted to understand what it was all about and how could I build that into my own personal brand.
When I’m traveling for work or back in the office, I go into my meetings with more confidence. I’m able to challenge assumptions more diplomatically. When negotiating with colleagues and others, I listen better and predict their next move. Instead of saying, ‘I don’t think that’s right,’ I now bridge more effectively. The conversation flows better and continues on, instead of coming to a stop. I’m more able to influence a conversation’s direction and influence others too.
Without a doubt, this improv class has allowed me to become more effective at work. I also don’t think I’d have the same amount of stress leading up to a public speaking experience because now I’ve been in the worst case scenario. After all, I’ve had to act in front of complete strangers and, surprisingly, I found it exhilarating.
Libby Smoler is a marketing specialist for the Evening and Weekend MBA Programs.