Improv(e) Your Tour: A visit with Jen Brown, The Engaging Educator

Jen Brown (Oleniczak) is the founder of The Engaging Educator, a NYC-based organization that specializes in improv-based workshops and professional development for educators. Docents at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC had a chance to experience her engagement techniques during a recent training session.

We may think of improv as freewheeling comedy or situations where anything goes, but Jen assures us that it is anything but. Improv requires strong listening skills and concern for others.
For improv to work as intended, those involved must support each other so that everyone participating is successful. You can help your visitors feel comfortable by encouraging and supporting their contributions to the tour conversation.

Delivery is important too. Does your voice convey excitement about being in the museum with your group? Do you vary the tone and pitch of your voice as you stress aspects of a work or ask for input? You wouldn't enjoy an improve sketch if everyone spoke in monotone. The same is true on your tour.

Jen recommends a quick warm up to facilitate easy dialogue on your tour. Zip, Zap, Zop is an exercise during which participants stand in a circle and send those words around rapidly. Mistakes are celebrated with a silly sound and the stage is set for uninhibited interaction on the tour.

The suggested activities are not appropriate for every tour so evaluating your audience is key. A Tableaux Vivant during training inspired one docent to become a river by lying on the floor! OK in this instance, probably not something you'd encourage in others.

One activity in particular has been successful for Mint docents. Jen's "I see, I think, I wonder" activity gives tour participants a way to express simple and direct observations. The considerations are asked one at a time and as group members take their turn, they acknowledge what the person before them stated, "Yes, you see" before adding their contribution, "and I see". The same is true for "I think" and "I wonder". Improv tenants of listening and supporting create a safe environment for interaction. This is especially effective when the individuals on the tour do not know each other.

If you would like to know more about Jen Brown and The Engaging Educator, click this LINK