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A little improv training can go a long way

Have you ever given a lecture and been completely sidetracked by an unanticipated question? Or presented a paper and gotten thrown off because your slides wouldn’t work?

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | APR 06 2010

Improvisational training could help, believes Allison Sekuler, associate vice-president and dean of graduate studies at McMaster University.

Putting those beliefs into practice, Dr. Sekuler recently organized, as a pilot project, a series of improv workshops for graduate students at McMaster to help them to develop their presentation skills. The interactive workshops, held in mid-March, were a partnership between the university’s school of graduate studies and Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius.

The workshops were given by the cast of Impromptu Splendor (Ron Pederson, Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram), a show which usually runs at Toronto’s National Theatre of the World. However, the cast held special evening shows at Theatre Aquarius for participants and others following each of the three workshops.

Improv, says Dr. Sekuler, helps you “to learn to think on your feet,” to listen carefully to what others are saying and to work well in groups – good skills for anyone to master. Those good at improv can also be funny and entertaining, “which isn’t a bad thing,” she notes. “If you want to ensure your teaching ratings are high, that helps.”

Dr. Sekuler, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at McMaster, was a huge improv fan in high school. “Initially, to be honest, I had planned to continue that as my career,” she says. “For me, it’s been so important in helping me succeed in my career. I just wanted to see if it works for other people too.”

Response to the workshops was fantastic, she says. “They were raving about it afterwards, talking about how what they learned would be useful in various situations.” Some of the students have asked her to hold follow-up workshops to build on what they’ve learned.

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