GirlDevelopIt Improv(e) Your Presentation Skills Workshop

Syncfusion hosted another Girl Develop It event yesterday evening and I was grateful to be able to participate as well. Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the professional skills of women interested in web and software development. I attended last night’s Girl Develop It workshop, Improv(e) Your Presentation Skills, led by Jen Brown, the founder and artistic director of The Engaging Educator. She has reached thousands of people–all non-actors–through her pedagogical approach to improv as continuing education. She works out of New York City, Los Angeles, and Winston-Salem, NC.


Jen led the group from being quiet and shy to feeling comfortable and connected. She has a warm presence about her and felt very accessible. She mixed a few improvisational exercises in with the lessons, which gave a nice cadence to the class. There was some movement and experiential learning, and then seated times to reflect, share how we felt, and discuss the lesson learned.  

The Girl Develop It attendees represented a range of technical and tech-adjacent professionals as well as women aspiring to technical careers. There were Java developers, UX/UI designers, database administrators, systems analysts, technical consultants, digital marketing managers, and business development managers. All attendees were women, except for Jen’s husband, Alex Brown, who was there to take photos of the workshop.  

A few highlights from the workshop:
  • Improv is not comedy. It can be part of a comedy show, but it’s not necessarily comedy.
  • Improvisational skills can enhance your confidence and presentation skills.
  • It is okay to put yourself on the spot–especially in an improv class. If you make a mistake or fail in such a class, that’s okay. It can make you more confident for when you are on the spot in “real life,” in front of a live audience at work, for example.
  • Standing straight and tall with your feet underneath your hips is the posture to take if you want to be taken seriously as you speak during a presentation. This message was repeated several times throughout the workshop and Jen called out some attendees for standing with crossed legs or leaning to the side.
  • If you want listeners of your presentation to actually listen and enjoy what you are presenting, you need to use a range of pitches and levels of volume. She joked several times that if you are speaking in a boring and monotone voice, even if you are talking about how to make a million dollars, the audience is going to fall asleep or break out a smartphone and start texting. However, you could be talking about something very boring and mundane but with excitement and variance in your style, and the audience would be captivated.
  • “Yes, and…” is a positive and expansive phrase. Usually in business meetings, we hear an idea and then we say, “Yes, but…” which essentially tells the other person that their idea wasn’t as important or as valid as yours. However, a “Yes, and…” allows you to validate that their ideas are just as important as yours and allows you to expand on them. There was a great exercise we did in small groups that helped us feel the difference.
  • Even if you disagree with another person, you can still respond with the positive, “Yes and…” statement. For example, a woman said, “I think that this is difficult,” and then Jen responded with a, “Yes, you think this is difficult and I think it is a learning opportunity.” This way of responding makes the other person feel listened to and validated.
  • Disfluencies: We all say, “um” or “ah” once in a while and these are called disfluencies. However, grown-ups are good at also just extending words like “and,” which then function as disfluencies, as they are buying the speaker time to think. Instead, Jen suggested staying quiet, pausing, and then continuing. At the end of the lively and engaging workshop, Jen had us all stand in a large circle and then put us on the spot. The person in the middle had to sing a song until someone else jumped into the middle, tapped her on the shoulder, and started to sing. She wouldn’t let us finish the class until six attendees had done so. There was an awkward shuffling. Then, thankfully, one by one, attendees jumped into the circle, belting out songs like, “Respect,” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “You Are My Sunshine.”