Stellenbosch University

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We led a morning workshop for student leaders about using improvisation techniques to respond to sudden change, especially in the context of Covid-19 protocol.

Some improvisation skills are innate, but we’ve learnt to suppress them – like that self-critical voice that tells you no, you can’t do that.

All they need is a bit of practice. So it’s liberating when we get to play again, without self-judgement. It’s fun! People are able to connect in healthy ways, without evaluating things, but just accepting them and building on them. The mantra of the improvisor, ‘yes, and…’

One of the great benefits of doing this type of work is that the feelings element is so explicit, and so valued. ‘How you feel about your leadership role’ was made physically visual when all the participants placed themselves in an imaginary public swimming pool – were they in the deep end, struggling to stay afloat, or drinking cocktails with their feet up on the side?

This group were very quick in picking up what we introduced and using them to relate to their own experience. At the end of the session, groups of six people used what they had learnt to take only 120 seconds to decide on a product (one that can’t be sold, like glass trousers or a steel balloon), come up with a tagline, develop a jingle, define a target market and appoint a celebrity spokesperson.

It was moving to hear about the challenges young leaders face on campus, and humbling to see that improvisation provides a way to navigate though challenges with ease, even joy.

It was a privilege to spend this time together. If I could do this every day, I would ;-).

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