Soft skills, regardless of level in society, are key to effectiveness in life. From self-confidence to communication skills and emotional intelligence, they all play a significant role in determining a person’s success and happiness. Although several effective tools and processes are used for soft skills training, none seem to be as effective as theater.
According to a study by Hamilton project, in the last 30 years, the impact of social skills on success has gone up by 15 percent. And as per World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” report, emotional intelligence, creativity and people management will be the top skills required in 2020.
However, soft skills training is always challenging since it requires people to change their habits that have been developed over a lifetime. Hence, for any training to be effective in development of social skills, it has to allow for repeated practice and provide extensive feedback. Theater is one medium that has all these as built-in mechanisms.
Every year, NTPC, a major power sector in India, hires a large number of engineer graduates who undergo four months of classroom training. A theater-based training session was developed as a tool for communication training and to overcome stage fright. However, the outcomes were much wider. It turned out to be one of the best icebreaker and team building tools, aside from its impact on the expected communication and presentation skills. Now, a 15-day module is a permanent part of their induction training. A theater group works with them over two weeks to develop the scripts, train the cast, lead the rehearsal sessions, and help direct the play. The workshop culminates in a stage performance. Year after year, on the day of the event, one can see the tears of joy running down their cheeks or the extra team huddle that they get into.
Different trainers with varied experience in the field have been using so many tools for soft skills training, but the impact that this theater workshop shows is unparallel. It has shown the highest recall value and increased effectiveness in bringing long-term changes in personalities and behaviors.
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” For this stage called life, drama is considered an all-inclusive medium. It embraces all types of topics and represents all kinds of people and situations. It is now emerging as a very powerful medium and is finding its way as a training tool at all levels from schools to corporate organizations. An increasing number of organizations (across sectors) and leading multinational corporations are using it and deriving both learning and happiness from it.
As per the testimonials shared by some corporations, it was mentioned that theater is an excellent method for icebreakers in new groups, resulting in increased camaraderie and a stronger bond between participants. At Microsoft, action-based theater was used for fast-track managers who learned to overcome inhibition, find their inner storyteller and build confidence to hold an audience and, most importantly, to listen.
As mentioned earlier, theater-based training ensures application, engagement and brings changes in overall behavioral skills. The following skills are increasingly being honed using theater.
Self-Confidence: Self-confidence is one of the secret tools behind one’s happiness in life. Theater helps to build self-confidence by encouraging participants to maintain eye contact while talking and to speak more clearly. Theater training is also being used to help females affected with home violence.
Oral Communication: With structured and rehearsed processes, participants learn to speak more clearly, precisely and with more confidence, while learning how to vary their pitch and tone. They also learn the power of pause, the impact of body language, and how expressions play a prime role in communication.
Listening Skills: Listening is a skill that is usually hard to teach through any other form of training, but by listening to others’ dialogues effectively, paying attention to body language and intentional pauses, theater can make a difference.
Stage Fright: Theater-based training helps participants overcome their fear of talking and performing in front of others – helping them feel more comfortable in front of an audience.
Teamwork: Theater brings people together and enables teamwork. This is one of the highest rated parameters (along with communication) by the participants. They understand and start valuing the contribution of each member, irrespective to their role, which is a very powerful realization about teamwork that is seldom felt while working in organizations. Some other aspects that are impacted include providing support to others, understanding the concept of joint success, and enhancing coordination skills based on the needs of the situation and person.
Creative Problem-Solving: In theater training, the group thinks and contributes toward scriptwriting, selecting and arranging props. Oftentimes, resources are limited, which brings out creativity in the form of improvisation.
Self-Discipline: In drama, the participants must follow fixed allocated roles and adhere to the script word for word. Even rehearsals require participation by everyone. The experience creates a sense of discipline in them.
Timeliness and Respect for Deadlines: For theater, deadlines are very important, and the entire team needs to value them for effective team performance. It teaches the significance of timekeeping in an overall manner, while performing and delivering speeches.
Organizing Skills: Theater performance is an event, and like every event there are multiple activities involved from stage performance to set production. Participants learn how to manage multiple tasks.
Self-Discovery: As the group works together both formally and informally for days at a time, it helps them understand their potential, their strengths, weaknesses and impact on others.
Self-Development: Through self-discovery, observation and learning from their mistakes, participants are more aware of their key development areas. This method encourages the support of others to overcome their fears and improve their abilities. They also stretch themselves based on assigned roles, thus discovering their undiscovered potential and talents.
Accepting Authority as per Others’ Roles: The hierarchy is determined by each participant’s assigned role. Other designations are forgotten, and learners must embrace their new role.
Emotional Intelligence: Theater helps in enhancing emotional intelligence. It puts people in touch with not only their own emotions, but also the emotions of others. It helps them to see their impact through various roles, enhancing their empathy and their capacity to handle emotions more effectively.
Leadership Skills and Initiative: Participants are left to fend for themselves under different situations – from gruntled colleagues not getting the roles of their choice to limited resources and the pressure of performing. All these situations enable learners to use their leadership qualities.
Flexibility: In theater, decisions are generally made impromptu based on people’s suggestions. The immediate impact of such decisions can be felt and that leads to enhanced acceptance and flexibility to different approaches.
Reflection and Observation Skills: Through the entire process, after every step, theater involves reflection and sharing what went well and areas for improvement. This not only teaches learners the valuable skill of reflection but also builds the habit and skill.
Experiential training has always had a great impact besides increasing engagement. Theater-based training is a new form of experiential learning that brings joy, engagement and a true return on investment.
Based on our first-hand experience and decades of feedback from our various executive groups and other secondary research, applied theater can be a new concept and methodology for corporate training to enhance many business competencies, including leadership, communication, creativity, team building, and emotion management skills. As an art form and training format, it provides space for participants to explore aspects about themselves through reflection and observation. As very aptly put in an article of Forbes Leadership Forum, theater-based training is “an antidote to workplace negativity.”