Michael Popowits (left) during an improv exercise at Fall 2013 New Student Orientation.
Do interviews get your palms sweaty? Do you gravitate toward the appetizer tray at networking events because the thought of introducing yourself to a stranger is as appetizing as leftovers? Does public speaking scare you? Have you been called upon in a meeting unexpectedly and had to speak ‘off the cuff’?
If this has happened to you, take some comfort in that you are not alone. While I have been able to speak for the last couple decades, I cannot say that I have been able to communicate effectively. UIC Liautaud is offering a groundbreaking class titled Improv & Leadership that is destined to change the way students present themselves and connect with people, and not just in professional environments.
Whether you are outgoing or introverted, there are fantastic lessons to be gleamed not only from the readings, but also from discussion and class exercises. Taught by Professor Michael Popowits, who also coaches classes at the famed Second City, the class walks students of all backgrounds and comfort levels through a series of progressive exercises to build confidence and comfort in a variety of professional settings and direct encounters.
For example, Week 1 featured a lesson on eye contact – the class practiced playing with different lengths of eye contact and expressing feeling through eye contact using other facial expressions. I felt about as weird and awkward as you could imagine – BUT the environment Prof. Popowits creates allows students to feel safe and comfortable in practicing without the natural fear of being judged. One of the homework assignments for the week was to play around with making eye contact with friends, family and strangers and report the results. I will spare you the details, but I certainly left people feeling really uneasy with extended eye contact (try it, you will see what I mean!). The overriding theme is that it is okay to stumble and try things. The point is for students to develop and refine these skills and communication tools through practice and self-discovery in class. Practice makes perfect.
It is natural to wonder about the benefits if you are an interviewing ninja warrior. I would answer by saying that even though you might be comfortable with the “12 most asked interviewing questions”, or have no problem approaching strangers, you may not know how your answer or message is being received. When someone asks you to tell them about yourself, are you walking through your resume like a chronological history lesson? How do you avoid the “sleezy” types at networking events? Through practicing these interview questions and getting direct feedback from both Professor Popowits and fellow students, I have gained 2 valuable insights:
1) Identifying my own personal communication weaknesses
2) A greater appreciation of my fellow classmates. My classmates’ genuine and respectful feedback and constructive criticism is a testament to the collective student mindset that we are “all in this together.” My classmates all genuinely want to help each other improve professionally.
This is one of the most beneficial classes I have taken in terms of professional development (don’t get me wrong, the Accounting classes are enlightening). Furthermore, if Prof. Popowits creates a Professional Development program that will be a permanent part of the business curriculum here for graduate students, the future will be bright for UIC Liautaud students.