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Training Using Drama
May 3, 2002

"Increasingly, the corporate world is looking like the world of improvisational theatre," claims Kat Koppett. It is a bold contention. After all, it is not often that we see corporate characters spontaneously singing with the verve of Josie Lawrence or unleashing a stream of consciousness à la Paul Merton - outside the office party, at any rate.

Yet she does have a point, and one of great significance to managers and trainers. Improvisers have developed a set of approaches and agreements designed to create a culture of innovation and collaboration. And these are tools that leading organisations are beginning to recognise they need if they are to stay ahead.

As Koppett developed communication and creativity skills courses as a trainer, her belief that drama - and in particular improvisation - had something to offer businesses was reinforced. "People want the kinds of interactions that performers - especially improvisers - take for granted," she writes. "It is impossible to miss the transformational effects of the work, even for the sceptics." These effects include innovation, resolution of team conflicts and productivity gains, and her book is a great guide to enjoying these results within your own organisation.

She explains the main concepts of improvisation, then links these to specific training and management skills, detailing a series of exercises suitable for use in professional training environments. There is a chapter on each of the fundamental skills of trust, spontaneity, accepting offers, listening and awareness, story-telling and non-verbal communication. Each skill is matched with appropriate activities.

Koppett's tone is enthusiastic throughout: "Who are the experts in non-verbal communication? Actors, of course!" We learn the simple yet effective rules of improvisation: make your partner look good; be spontaneous; say "yes - and". Then we discover tips in easily understood activities to enable us to do precisely that.

Koppett makes few claims to originality, and goes to admirable lengths to credit sources. Her descriptions of the activities are derived from genuine experience, and I enjoyed the concise explanations of the 50 or so activities that form the bulk of the book - many of which are regular favourites with participants on my own training programmes. Try, for example, "But vs And". "Two groups set about the task of planning a company party. The first must start each sentence with the words, 'Yes, but...'. The second must start sentences with the words, 'Yes, and...'. The first group will struggle to achieve anything. The second will create much more easily."

So, how exactly does the corporate world resemble improvisational theatre? "In improvisation, performers work as actors, playwrights and directors simultaneously, mirroring work life, where... it comes without the benefits of scripts and rehearsals." Fair enough: roll over Josie and Paul.

Paul Z. Jackson is author of The Inspirational Trainer and co-author of The Solutions Focus .

Training Using Drama

Author - Kat Koppett
ISBN - 0 7494 3704 9
Publisher - Kogan Page
Price - £18.99
Pages - 220

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