Inside the Ariel Classroom: How Scared Should You Be?
This perspective – how you position yourself, how you can use stories for impact at work, how to talk about your values – is what makes the Ariel Classroom unique.
When I first joined The Ariel Group, and heard stories about their leadership training workshops where business mixed with “actor techniques,” I was skeptical. And admittedly afraid.
I’m not an actor. Minus those two summers in my camp’s theater production, the stage has since been seen as something I walk across to receive a diploma. And if your business world is anything like the ones I’ve been in, it’s better when you are “head down” and focused on the project at hand than dancing through the meadow in a costume.
But then again, that’s why I applied this job. I longed for creativity in workplace. I was tired of being treated like some robot fulfilling orders with no input on style.
I’m ambitious. If I want to take on leadership responsibilities, what did I need to know? What intangibles do I need to be a leader? (it’s such a baffling question when you think about it) Are there things I’m doing that are holding me back? Do I communicate in such a way that I am hindering my business relationships —and maybe even personal ones? (Spoiler Alert: I’m single.)
A few weeks ago, the opportunity arose for internal Ariel Group employees to take one of our workshops, Personal Presence: Value Proposition. I was told I would learn speaking techniques, ways to authentically connect with my coworkers, and even tips on how to explain my job to make a good impression. Before the classroom, my go-to boring line was “I’m the person managing the blog and managing the social media.”
My gut is telling me that most of you, like me, are a little apprehensive about putting your acting-shoes on. To help, here’s some insight about what it’s like to be in the Ariel Classroom.
- Wear business casual to move around. A day out of a suit and tie is a welcomed thing, right? Don’t worry, you aren’t moving across the floor in a choreographed routine. But you will get up and do group theater technique (mimicking the person’s body language) in a circle. You want clothes you are comfortable in. If a tie restricts your movement, leave it at home. A tip for the ladies: wear flats. Let your feet relax for once.
- You don’t need to be scared about theater exercises. Initially I had hesitation, but I pleasantly surprised about the methods Ariel uses. Each technique put a spotlight on a part of my communication that I may have been neglecting. My Italian hand gestures weren’t always matching up with words I was saying. My posture told a different story than my face. We even had a chance to get feedback on our handshakes. It was really enlightening.
- You will get feedback. You’ll get tons of feedback. The Ariel facilitators are sensational and ours, Maggie Steig, was superb. She endorsed each participant and gave one-on-one coaching on what we were doing right or detailed, illustrative ways we could describe our jobs – i.e. our “value proposition statements,” – better. We worked in groups, pairs, and even did a rehearsal of our value proposition statement before we presented it. Match the feedback with the eye-opening exercises, and I could already feel my mind shift on ways I can improve my communication out of the classroom.
- It’s challenging. If you’re like me, your communication habits didn’t happen overnight. You probably speak a certain way and think it’s lovely. And then BOOM! You realize the way you come off isn’t how you want to be perceived. It’s hard to break habits and receive constructive criticism. Wait, people think I’m overbearing when I do that? WHAT?!?!? By the end of the day I was mentally exhausted, but I got so much out of it. And I feel my career will be better off for it too.
- You’ll see places you can make an impact. For me, my biggest challenge is that I’m called “overbearing” and “intimidating,” when in actuality my intention is to help. I don’t have ulterior motives, but people are skeptical of someone who “just wants to help.” During the handshake exercise, I immediately jumped right into the conversation, introducing myself, which apparently threw off the other person. It was deemed too much. The feedback I was given was to let the other person talk first – they will give the tempo of the conversation, not me. In networking nights since, I’ve tried this strategy. I realize I do have a big personality and it’s hard for people to get a word in when I’m on a roll. If I take my foot off the throttle, I’ve been able to make stronger connections – and not scare everyone away!
The best part is that I feel more confident about my work and myself. I no longer downplay my job saying, “I manage the social media.”
Instead, I proudly state, “I’m Ariel’s online concierge. I want to make sure everyone who comes in contact with our work online feels valued. In the blog, my goal is that they have the best user experience and feel they learned something from reading our content. Through social media, I want to share quality pieces from around the web to help our followers excel in their careers. If they have a question, no matter where they are on the totem pole, I want to answer it in a way so they know they can depend on the brand.”
The latter statement tells a much different story. It paints of picture of what I do, and illustrates what things are important (treating every customer like a VIP, creating quality content pieces, engaging user-experience) to me in the work I produce.
This perspective – how you position yourself, how you can use stories for impact at work, how to talk about your values – is what makes the Ariel Classroom unique. You pause, look at yourself with a critical eye, learn better techniques, and give yourself an opportunity to be better.
What was your experience like in the Ariel classroom? Or do you have questions about some of the exercises? Write them in the comments below.
Want to know how sharp your leadership presence skills are? Take our leadership self-assessment.