DisruptHR Toronto: Improv & positive reinforcement with Lori Pearlstein [Podcast]


Read the podcast transcription here:

Bill: Welcome to the HRchat Podcast. I’m your host, Bill Banham. Today we’re joined by Lori Pearlstein. Lori is founder of Playworks, a comedian, actor, and she’s a public speaker. She coaches individuals on job interview skills, public speaking, and confidence building. Lori uses the correlation between cognitive behavioral therapy and improv to help people reach their full potential in their careers and reduce anxiety associated with public speaking. Lori, welcome to HRchat.

Lori: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Bill: Now Lori, one thing I didn’t mention in that little intro there is that you’re also a speaker at the upcoming DisruptHR Toronto event, which the Gazette is a media partner of. Today we’re going to be asking you a few questions about you and your career, and then we’re going to talk more specifically about your session at DisruptHR Toronto. Let’s jump straight in with the first question.

To begin with, please, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Your career history, which is amazing, by the way because I’ve read over your bio before this call today. How you came to be in your current role?

Lori PearlsteinLori: Okay. Thank you for the compliment. I’ve definitely had several careers, which have all brought me to starting Playworks. I worked as an actor for many years. Then when it came time to go to university, my parents insisted on focusing on something that would have a little bit more stability in it, which I thank them for today, not at the time.

I did a┬ábusiness program at Ryerson University after being an actor. I worked in the corporate world. It wasn’t as fulfilling as I hoped it would be and I was still yearning to have that creativity in my life. I worked as a stand-up comedian in New York and Toronto for a couple of years, I wasn’t making enough money to survive, so then I moved into casting, and cast movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos, pretty much everything and I still hadn’t found that balance of something that was meaningful and something that I loved to do. That was the beginning of Playworks, which really enables me to use all of the skills that I picked up along the way in all of my very many careers.

Bill: Awesome, thank you. Now, please, tell us a little bit more about Playworks. What does Playworks do? Also, give me an insight into your typical week at Playworks.

Lori: Oh, gosh. Okay. A typical week is usually about a seven day work week at this point. I’m a one-woman operation with just an admin and social media help, so it’s definitely a very busy week. I will spend some of my days just at home, writing all the pitches for the various companies, who are interested in a variety of my different services.

Then I’m out in the field, running different workshops. Basically, what we do is we provide interactive workshops for employees, a really diverse group of companies, from law firms to energy companies, to working with people in sales at different marketing and sales companies. All of our workshops are based in improv. We use improv to improve communication skills, help people close the deal in sales, build stronger teams in the workplace and really enhance their abilities and their confidence when they’re presenting. Anybody who has to do presentations for a living. We always create a really fun environment, which really maximizes the results.

Bill: Awesome, thank you very much. We’re all about fun environments here at HR [business 00:04:21].

Lori: Yeah, that’s kind of where the name came from, because so many of my friends who work in the corporate world or [some 00:04:27], “Oh, I have to sit in this all afternoon presentation with this two hour PowerPoint, and I was falling asleep.” I feel like there has to be an opportunity that you can create for people to really learn something, and people are always more engaged when they’re entertained at the same time. That’s what we strive for and believe in.

Bill: Do you ever go to any organizations and you get a lot of push-back from people who just don’t really want to get enthusiastic and engaged and buy into the idea of team work?

Lori: When I first go in, I think, it’s less about a negative attitude [wind 00:05:05]. I think it everybody yearns to be engaged and laugh and have fun. I think that’s not the difficult part. The difficult part is the fear that comes along with the idea of improv. If I get any push-back, it’s them not wanting to jump on board with participating at first, because they’re really afraid of making a mistake or not being funny. That’s really the goal, for me, is to put their minds at ease right away and let them know that that’s part of what you’re going to learn today, is that when you’re worried and you let the fear take over, you’re not in the moment just doing what you should be doing right now, which is one of the principles of improv, being in the moment and just focusing on what’s happening right now, not worried about what’s going to happen later and not focused on maybe what your preconceived notions of improv are.

Bill: Lori, I suspect if you were ever to give me a training session, I’d be at the other end. I’d be one of those people that thinks of myself as terribly funny and never shuts up. I’ve got [crosstalk 00:06:14]

Lori: We definitely get those, too.

Bill: You and I were chatting before the start of the podcast here about how I’ve got lots and lots of really bad jokes, and as somebody being a comedian, you must often find that people always want to share their terrible jokes with you.

Lori: It’s interesting, that is one of the challenges when you’re working with a team and you do have one of those really strong personalities who always wants to be the leader of the pack and, for a lack of a better term, the class clown. It’s really interesting to be in one of those environments where they learn how to give other people an opportunity to shine. That’s one of the other principles of improv, which is make your partner look good. That’s always a really fun challenge for me, when I find that person to still give them the positive reinforcement that we need them on the team, but that they have to learn how to enable other people to be the center of attention, as well. I think that’s a challenge that a lot of teams face.

Bill: Lori, let’s now switch focus. This episode of the HRchat Podcast is largely based around the fact that you’re going to be a speaker at the upcoming DisruptHR Toronto. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to apply to be a speaker at DisruptHR Toronto?

Lori: Someone I’m connected to on LinkedIn posted the opportunity and right away I just jumped at the chance to share the benefits of improv with the HR community, because I do think now there’s a lot of opportunities for companies to offer wellness in the workplace. I think that improv is sometimes overlooked, because there is this idea that it’s just about being funny and there aren’t actually really valuable skills to learn. I was really excited about the opportunity.

Bill: It’s a fantastic event. It’s an awesome audience. I think there are currently about 250 confirmed attendees. I’m super excited to be there.

Lori: Me, too!

Bill: I’m excited to hear your talk, as well! On that note, what will you be speaking about at DisruptHR Toronto?

Lori: Essentially, that while improv isn’t the obvious choice or an obvious option when companies are thinking about mindfulness and offering programs that will help their employees, that improv really is an opportunity to help promote happiness and productivity and better communication in the workplace.

Bill: Wonderful. Thank you very much. What are the major learnings the attendees will take away from your session?

Lori: I think the biggest, the most important thing that people will learn that they may not know is that the principles of improv are really the same principles that are needed to be successful in business. There’s a direct correlation with every sort of rule of improv that you are explaining to a group who doesn’t really have any experience ant they really are being in the moment, making your colleague look good, being spontaneous, accepting someone else’s idea and building on it. Lastly, and on one hand most importantly, embracing failure. Those are the things that the audience will learn that I think will really give some insight into what improv is.

I think the other really important thing that people can learn is this idea of learning by doing, as opposed to by watching or listening. I think when people are involved in the process and they really are up on their feet and practicing being a better speaker and getting tips, or practicing this idea of being in the moment, not giving anyone time to plan their answer, I think what that does is it really gives people that opportunity to be more successful in that than just watching a presentation on how to be a better speaker or how to work better as a team.

Bill: At the risk of offending some of our listeners, the audience you’ll be speaking to at DisruptHR Toronto, as the name suggests, are mainly HR people. In your experience, are HR people a bit more introverted? Is it a bit more of a challenge to get them to come out of their shell and embrace this idea of improv?

Lori: I think there is a little bit of resistance at the idea of improv, again, which is why I’m really excited to share, because I think because people go to improv shows and these are comedians up there, they do associate it with being funny and then can’t really make that correlation between how that’s going to help their employees. I think, rightfully so, you only know what you know. Until they can really understand why and how improv is so beneficial, yeah, I think there is a little bit of that hesitation and I’m hoping to change that.

Bill: Now it’s a pretty unique format, the speaking session that DisruptHR [series 00:12:17] speaking sessions. For example, you only get five minutes to present. What unique challenges, and indeed opportunities, does that kind of format offer?

Lori: I think the opportunity is really to show people that you can convey a strong message to an audience in a short, concise way. When I’m working with people that are doing presentations, we really do focus on cutting out the fat and really sticking to the most important points to keep an audience engaged.

On the other hand, for me, I would say the challenge is that I don’t typically use a PowerPoint. Every time I go into an office they’re like, “Okay, what do you need? Do you need charts? Do you need this?” No. What I’m teaching is being able to just engage an audience with just you and just your words and what you’re talking about and how you’re speaking to them which, in a lot of cases, is about making it interactive and getting the audience involved to keep them engaged. That’s what I do, so that’s really going to be a challenge for me, is making sure that I can use the PowerPoint just to enhance what I’m doing, where that’s just not something that I’m used to using. It’ll be interesting.

Bill: This is the third incarnation of DisruptHR Toronto, the third year they’re doing it. Why do you think that Toronto needs an event like DisruptHR?

Lori: I think it’s important to challenge the way the HR community engages their staff. I think it’s a great opportunity to offer new, innovative ways to increase their staff productivity. I mean, obviously, that’s the goal of the HR department, but I think a lot of people just stick to what they know and what they’re comfortable with. I think this is a great opportunity to really expand their list of opportunities of things that they can bring to their organization that can really help their staff on many levels.

Bill: Are you attending or speaking at any other HR-related events in the next 6 to 12 months? If so, which ones and why?

Lori: At the moment, I don’t have anything planned. This was just an opportunity, like I say, it came up and I was really excited about it. Right now, my schedule is such that me seeking out new opportunities is just to speak, not new opportunities to share what I do at Playworks, but speaking engagements are something that I love to do and would love to do in the future. Right now my schedule is so busy, actually going into companies and running the workshops, I don’t have anything planned at the moment, but I’m always on the lookout for a great opportunity.

Bill: You don’t want to plan too far ahead. In fact, it’s contrary to the whole idea of improv, right?

Lori: Exactly. I’m living in the moment.

Bill: We are now coming to the end of this particular episode, so before we wrap things up for today, how can our listeners learn more about you?

Lori: You can go to my website, which there will be a new and improved one coming soon, but for the moment if you just want the information, you can go to www.lp my initials, lpplayworks.com.

Bill: Awesome! Lori Pearlstein, thank you very much for being our guest today on HRchat.

Lori: It was a pleasure and I look forward to meeting you and meeting a lot of other people at the event next week.

Bill: Listeners, this has been your host Bill Banham for the HRchat Podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening!

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