Activating our creative minds and abilities at the Artful Orators improvised storytelling challenge

by Owen Stafford

Once again I had the privilege of attending another amazing Artful Orators evening, once again in the beautiful, classical and historical La Fleur en Papier Doré. The event was billed as an Artfully Improvising meeting – a night where imaginations could be unleashed and creative storytelling abilities tested to the max. It would be the first time I would attend an improvisation workshop, so that aspect was particularly appealing. But maybe it wasn’t the first time I witnessed someone improvising per se. Because isn’t it already something a lot of us do, try to do, or need to do in daily lives? If so, then isn’t it best to learn through studying improv experts at their work?

While of course such an evening is full of fun, games, and storytelling, improvisation is a skill that can benefit all of us. It can help us to better think on our feet, increase our self-awareness, foster collaboration with others and help to throw off that veil of shyness which can easily inhibit us from expressing our thoughts and views, be it socially or professionally. Also unexpected issues and problems can occur anytime. Given the ‘spur of the moment’ nature of improvisation, this is a valuable exercise to teach us how to tackle the unforeseen and to do it with confidence.

For this workshop, the Artful Orators brought in Kelly Agathos, the driving force behind ATC Improv, Brussels’ first Anglophone improvisation society. Kelly is a member of the Brussels’ American Theatre Club’s resident improv troupe, The Ghost Sheep, and organises and hosts improv workshops regularly. Invited along for the evening by Artful Orators’ Jo Ann Broger, Kelly explained how to gain various improv skills in a series of fun and enjoyable games.

But before the improv workshop, we had a couple of entertaining and heartfelt speeches. The first was from Sabine Schoenangerer who tackled the theme Comfy or Crazy.  She did this with a personal story about love, informing the audience that she would soon be leaving Brussels and moving to Malmö in Sweden, for love. The audience congratulated her on this news, wishing her the very best. Yet there was some sadness that they will be losing their friend and fellow orator. But, as they say, love does conquer all.

Following that, new Artful Orator Zsuzsanna Corridori shared with the audience an amazing and powerful poem The Bards of Wales by Hungarian Poet János Arany, as part of the Specialty Speeches manual.  Dating from the 19th Century, it concerned the legend of King Edward I of England sending 500 Welsh bards to the stake for refusing to pay homage to their new monarch. It was their way of passively yet ardently resisting his rule, even if it meant their deaths.

Hilary Peden and Kirsten Ujvari respectively gave their evaluations with both words of praise and constructive advice on improvement.

Then came the main event: the improv workshop, where imagination and creativity were given free reign.

Kelly began by getting everyone into pairs for a bonding game called “bing bong”, which was something akin to performing in sync with a partner on the dance floor – both partners shout “Bong!” when they copy the same movement, thus increasing their bond.

It got all the orators suitably warmed up for the next session, dealing with word association. All the orators had to form a circle and were given a word or term to think about, for example sunshine. In turn they had to shout out the first word that came into their heads that best related to this term, such as beach or seaside. It was truly amazing to see how far meanings linked to a particular word can change and evolve, but also to see how people’s minds can both think alike but also very think so differently.

The next game up, possibly the most interactive of them all, was a bit more physical, involving orators improvising through actions. Again, everyone formed a circle and the game went as follows: when one person entered the ring pretending to be, for example, a tree, another would enter playing the part of a branch and then a third would come in pretending to be an apple.  The tree would then leave the ring, choosing to bring the branch or the apple along. If the branch were left then someone else would need to enter in a related role, such as a leaf or a bird.

This gave everyone the chance to let their creative juices flow. It was not just a game suited for quick-thinking talented improvisers. For some others – present company included – it allowed us to throw caution to the wind, get out there and feel comfortable about it. Earlier on, Kelly had stressed that this was the environment to say and act out whatever was on our minds, so the courage was plucked up and any lingering shyness or hesitancy quickly disappeared as everyone dived in.

The next game saw everyone split into groups of three or four, where one member would tell a story and would have to improvise depending on the instructions from other group members. If the story they told was interesting, they were instructed to continue; if one member felt it was boring, they would have to add details required to make it more interesting.

The next game was called ‘story, colour emotion’. All orators reverted back into a large circle. A member was picked out to tell an interesting story, adding extra layers of description and emotion. The speaker would be directed by his or her peers, with ‘emotion’ being shouted out if there wasn’t enough feeling in the narration, ‘story’ if it got boring or bogged down and ‘detail’ if it was really interesting and needed more. This was probably the most testing session of the night, especially for the chosen speaker who had to make up the story on the spot, from suggestions given by colleagues. Such topics on this occasion included heroine nurses, a heroine librarian teaching the President of the USA how to read and write properly on Twitter, and a story about… er… ‘the world’s greatest pizza lost in the toilet’ – most certainly challenging!  However, Kelly did highlight the usefulness of this game for Toastmasters in terms of learning how to properly use pace and pauses when giving a speech.

Sandra evaluating Kelly’s workshop.

Sadly, before we knew it, time had flown by and the workshop came to end, with everyone expressing their deep thanks to Kelly for her time and input. Sandra summed up everyone’s feeling in her evaluation, describing it as a fantastic experience and a treat for Artful Orators to host such a session, as well as wishing there had been more time to play more games.  She especially appreciated how relevant the workshop had been to Toastmasters and hoped they could do improvisation more often.

Marzena noted how everyone enjoyed the workshop and how it activated the audience’s brains with its benefits.

Kelly concluded that, while improvisation may be new to many Toastmasters and that time would be needed to get to grips with it, the games played throughout the evening could easily be practised – the more time put in to learn them, the more people could improve and increase their skills and techniques.

For more information on Kelly Agathos and her improv workshops and shows go to www.atcbrussels.com/contact.html.

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Club Contest and Balanced Leadership

gender-balanced-leadership-300x225Meeting of Wednesday, 8 March 2017
Start: 19:30
Venue: Het Goudblommeke In Papier / La Fleur en Papier Doré
Pre-meeting dinner starting 18:00

Register on easy-Speak

You got it right, we will have a Club Contest as the first stage in the International Speech Contest and the District English Evaluation Contest! Interested? Make sure to write to Marzena by 21 February and let her know if you would like to compete, so that we can plan the evening. Remember, we are all seasoned Toastmasters and taking up challenges is in our blood!

Michèle Mees

And afterwards… what a treat! Michèle Mees will give a workshop within the theme of Balanced Leadership, freeing men and women of stereotypes on how they should lead. The workshop will focus on the added value of feminine aspects of leadership, within the context of the importance of balance.

Curious about our guest speaker? Michèle is a co-founder of the Centre for Balanced Leadership and the author of The Balanced Leader: Exploring the Dynamics of Masculine and Feminine Energy and a leading expert on balancing masculine and feminine qualities in leadership. Her concept of balanced leadership as key to creating sustainable gender balance is recognized globally. She supports CEOs and managers in creating a balanced organizational culture by valuing, developing and using feminine and masculine qualities as an individual, as a leader, as a team, as a company.

The Balanced LeaderHere is a little teaser for Michèle’s workshop…

“Yes, I Do: Marrying your Inner Feminine”. Balanced Leaders can recognize, value, use and develop the masculine and feminine in themselves and others. Have you married your inner feminine or are you just dating?

Sounds intriguing? Register on easy-Speak, let Marzena know if you want to compete at the contest (if in doubt, say YES!) and see you on 8 March for a fabulous evening!

Please note that guests pay 5 euro to cover costs of room rental. Members have it all included in the fees!

World Speech Day Brussels, 15 March 2017

worldspeechday2017

Discuss

Brussels has a story to tell, and you are just the one to tell it. Our recent history of terrorism & resilience, of political upheaval & community action, was summed up by Greenpeace’s #BridgesNotWalls banner at The Women’s March. We would like to talk about the aspirations and possibilities that are now being born.

Share

To clarify our ideas on these complex and multifaceted issues, we will move from reflection to conversation to sharing. The process will offer space to see other sides of our shared story while letting us each express our views.

Film

We will make a 5 minute film out of the group conversations and individuals insights. The film will be posted on the World Speech Day platform to mingle with the #unexpectedvoices from every time zone. You will be able to find & share it at #WSDBrussels17

Conversation host: Jeffer London
Collaborative film-maker: Simon Koolwijk

This evening is a mash-up of multiple groups:
International Association of Facilitators
Toastmasters
World Speech Day
Sprout to be Brussels

Wednesday 15 March 2017
18:00 Optional drinks and dinner
19.00 Welcome words
19:15 Your ideas, our film, Brussels’ speech
19:30 Small group discussion
20:00 Mix & deepen points-of-view
20:15 Consolidating & refining sound-bytes
20:30 Filming volunteers
21:00 Reflecting, sharing & editing
22:00 Posting the film

Download programme

Register on MeetUp

Artfully Improvising

​Meeting of Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Start: 19:30
Venue: Het Goudblommeke In Papier / La Fleur en Papier Doré
Pre-meeting dinner starting 18:00

Register on easy-Speak

The improvised storytelling challenge

aoimprovSkillfull orators are masterful storytellers. They know how to capture the audience’s imagination both with their content and with their delivery. But how do you know when you’re really having an impact, and what can you do to flex your storytelling muscles?

AO member Jo Ann Broger and Kelly Agathos will break these skills down for you in a series of fun and entertaining games, from the world of improvisational theatre!

Want to know more about our special quest co-leading the AO Special?

Kelly AgathosKelly was introduced to improvisational theatre in 2010 and was instantly hooked. Today, she is the driving force behind ATC Improv, Brussels’ first Anglophone improvisation society, for which she performs, hosts, teaches and organises workshops with internationally acclaimed guest improvisers. She is also a founding member and the artistic director of The Ghost Sheep, with whom she performs regularly both in Brussels and abroad. Since 2014, Kelly has branched out to the corporate world, delivering the benefits of improvisation through trainings and teambuilding sessions and performances for company events. Kelly is passionate about using improvisation as a tool to foster greater self-awareness, confidence, collaboration, communication and leadership qualities in individuals and teams.

Join Kelly, Jo Ann and other Artful Orators for the Artfully Improvising Meeting on 8 February!

Register on easy-Speak

Debating, storytelling and critical thinking

A Blog post by our founding member, Manie Conradie before he sets off on new adventures back to South Africa.

As always, a night at the Artful Orators did not disappoint: the theme was debating.

The meeting was kicked off with a session about debating, a very useful and undervalued skill at times. Colm lead into the evening by giving us tips and a few exercises of how to be better debaters. He also showed us some of the pitfalls to avoid that are easily exploited by an opposing debater.

I picked up how important it is to listen intentionally to be able to deliver a good rebuttal. Colm also pointed out that in a true debate situation, being able to clearly and unambiguously break down an argument, is as powerful as building one.

As an interlude Sabine brought history to life with her last project #5 in the Storytelling manual. As she vividly recounted Austria’s history,we learnt more about Maria Theresa, empress of the great Austrian empire. It is not easy to make facts interesting, especially if it happened that long ago. However Sabine managed to connect historical dots and events and show how Maria Theresa was at the centre of major European events.

Who knew that Marie Antoinette was the daughter of the Austrian empress? I certainly didn’t.

We closed off the evening with a panel session on Critical Thinking from the Facilitating Discussion manual, lead by an invited guest from the Armada Club, Maya Marcheva. Maya managed to bring together a panel of people with varying backgrounds and opinions to give a very interesting view of how critical thinking is interpreted by different people. All across the spectrum starting off in the hard sciences, through education and the social aspects of critical thinking.

My fellow panellists were well prepared, and it was a fun experience to be on a panel. It was a very different experience compared to standing in front and give a one way speech.

What stood out though from the panel was Maya’s interest to find out if people can be trained to think critically. So, do you think that people can be trained to be better at critically thinking? Is our education system properly preparing our children in this regard?

As Sandra mentioned, she had forgotten what a great manual Facilitating Discussion is, and was delighted Maya had chosen to do this project at the Artful Orators. Yet another reason why the Artful Orators is a great club: not only is it a place where we can experiment with all things relating to verbal communication, but it is also a place where sessions that don’t necessarily fit into the traditional Toastmasters club meeting agenda can be presented and explored.

This was a pleasant evening for me, and an encouraging way to say good bye to what Martin and I started two and half years ago. I can go to South Africa knowing that the club is in good hands.

Thanks Artful Orators, I hope to visit again real soon!

Life goes on, and the next Artful Orators gathering will be hosted by the very capable Jo Ann Broger with guest improv’ master Kelly Agathos from The Ghost Sheep ( http://www.atcbrussels.com/the-ghost-sheep.html)
As always we encourage all to sign up for speeches and roles via the usual channel:
http://tmclub.eu/view_meeting.php?t=78345. The date of the next meeting is 8 February.

Improv’ Yourself!

Come Improv’ yourself on Wednesday 8 February, at La Fleur En Papier D’Ore.

We’re thrilled Kelly Agathos will be with us on stage with Jo Ann hosting an Improv’ AO session.  Kelly is a member of Brussels’ American Theater Club’s resident improv’ troupe, The Ghost Sheep. Have a peak at their recent performance at Mount Olymprov!

 

The Art of Debating

​Meeting of Wednesday, 11 January 2017
Start: 19:30
Venue: Het Goudblommeke In Papier / La Fleur en Papier Doré
Pre-meeting dinner starting 18:00

Register on easy-Speak

There are many ways to start a new year… why not by honing your debating skills?

Our AO Special on the Art of Debating, led by Colm, will prepare you to lead bigger and smaller debating battles in your life… And Maya’s panel discussion on the importance of critical thinking skills for being an active and well-informed citizen of the world will let you exercise speaking your mind with clarity, at the same time offering space to practice debating skills. Preparation and practice — as Toastmasters we know that this formula works!

You want more details?

The AO special will focus on the main type of reasoning used in debates — inductive reasoning — with specific focus on forming analogies, providing examples and using authority. We will also look at this from the other side — attacking analogies, check example for extremity and checking the validity of authority. We will finish by looking at true and false dillemmas and how we can use dilemmmas for persuasive value.

Sounds intriguing? Come and learn how to put your debating armour on!