It pays to rehearse scenarios for success, say Ivan McKenna and Ciarán Bermingham, founders of RealLearning.ie and the hosts of a new 'Increase My Presence' workshop series with Everyman Theatre in Cork.
The first of these workshops kicks off on Thursday, September 12. Participants will come away with a greater ability to harness their own personal presence when leading, influencing and inspiring enthusiasm in others.
Ciarán Bermingham is a celebrated actor, with credits in Game of Thrones, The Tudors, Kilnaskully, iKeano, Bittersweet and The Young Offenders. Ivan McKenna is a respected musical director, with credits including Riverdance and iKeano.
Ciarán and Ivan hatched the idea of launching Real Learning while working together on iKeano, the phenomenally successful musical that reset the Roy Keane vs Mick McCarthy World Cup feud in Roman times.
Ciarán was a late convert to theatre, having held senior retail roles with Next, Brown Thomas, Garibaldi restaurants and a trading role with the Musgrave Group. When we spoke, he was rushing off to Dublin to lead a workshop with Masters students in TCD.
“Some of my school teachers would probably have a stroke if they heard that I was now teaching Masters students in Trinity College how to do things better,” quipped Ciarán. “I am loving this work. In one way, working with the corporate world is just another acting exercise.
“We are playing roles, like chatting standing at the coffee counter. It's a form of improv. The participants are given a title and a role to play. Perhaps the biggest thing they gain from this is a boost in confidence.”
Ciarán describes Ivan as the “brains” of the business.
A qualified classical music director, Ivan also brings 25 years of organisational development experience in HRM and HRD roles, notably in financial services. Ten years on, their business continues to grow.
Bringing theatre into a business context may seem like an unusual approach, but Real Learning has enjoyed ten years of successful engagements with clients such as Irish Management Institute, TCD Business School, DCU Business School, CUBS in UCC, CIT, Aer Lingus, Paddy Power, Bank of Ireland and PwC.
Real Learning's panel of around 80 experienced actors are really delivering for businesses.
The approval ratings are in the 80/90% range, and the feedback from experienced executives is that the 'Improv for Teamworking' approach effects real positive change, giving business people newfound confidence in their ability to communicate and inspire both colleagues and clients.
The preparation is critical to the clients achieving their goals. A week before the workshop, clients are given ten key questions which tease out areas of skills and behaviours to work on, and they outline preferred outcomes.
Real Learning develops written scenarios in conjunction with the client. The actor is selected based upon this plan. If the ideal actor isn't available, the workshop is rescheduled. Are the results measurable?
“That's the eternal unanswerable question,” said Ivan. “We have had people on the programme who have definitely performed better afterwards.
It's hard to give quantitative data. Can we really take all the credit if a company's sales performance improves?
“What we can say is that we have great qualitative feedback, with 86% of people giving us the highest possible grade.
"We've had people tell us that our workshops have been a real game changer for their business. I'd put a lot of that down to the preparation that we put in to make this a real experience; the term 'role play' doesn't really explain what we do.
“Rehearsal is different to role play. We are rehearsing reality. You're practising your business skills with an actor. The feedback that we have consistently had, since 2008, is that we are moving away from role play and creating real situations.”
Ivan brings a lot of his own prior corporate experience to structuring the approach.
While customising workshops to each client's needs, Real Learning starts with four main topics, focused on presentation skills, presence building, role development and teamwork.
Ivan and Ciarán insist that their work enhances the individual's performance. They say that while “you have to rehearse reality” to improve your performance, the participants remain sincere and true to themselves.
It is about bringing out the best in people. There is nothing fake about the art of performance. And, of course, a key factor in Real Learning's success is the quality of its panel of 80 actors.
Ivan said: “A number of people dabbled in this area of training 15 to 20 years ago, but it didn't work because they'd still go ahead with a course even if the right actors weren't available.
"A lot of our actors bring great business experience, and we only run a programme when the right actor is available.
“When the workshop is working well, you forget that you are talking with an actor,” he added.
You are in a conversation that is real. We're not there to trip people up. Our clients are there to practise something that is very important to their business.
The 'Increase My Presence' workshop in Everyman Theatre on Thursday, September 12, is an open programme. It is not industry specific. It has 15 places in total, with some places still available.