Laying the Foundations

By Kidus Mezgebu, Communication Fellow (CF '17)

It was the first day of the Public Storytelling workshop led by Preceptor Matt Weber and his Teaching Fellow Iman Rastegari. I wasn’t sure what to fully expect. Actually, if you know Matt, you know you never know what to expect. You also know he will find the most creative and entertaining ways to keep you engaged! And when you combine Matt with Iman, the sharp media genius whose love for media can be seen through his countless HGSE videos, then I knew right when I entered the room something special was awaiting us.

Already on the first day of the workshop we were laying the foundations for effective communication. How do we provide effective and proper feedback to one another? A skit acted by Matt and Iman masterfully demonstrated this. What made this skit effective was that most people in the room didn’t know it was a skit until the end of the skit. Immediately after Matt finished making a point about the importance of providing critical feedback in a proper manner, Iman intentionally and sharply pointed out a minor spelling mistake on Matt’s PowerPoint in front of the entire class. Taking Matt’s point about giving constructive criticism properly to heart, Iman reattempted the approach in a gentler manner. This perfectly executed skit transitioned flawlessly to making this simple point: “Praise in Public and Criticize in Private.”

Probably the most powerful segment in the workshop is the exercise we did on the first sentence of your story. Matt asked everyone in the room to close their eyes and remember a story from our past. With our eyes closed he asked us to create the first sentence of this story. After giving us some time to develop this first sentence in our minds, he asked volunteers to stand up and say their line. With everyone’s eyes still closed, you could feel the energy in the room as individuals stood up to bravely say their lines. This gave me complete goosebumps. One of the best parts of this was when Matt awarded the first brave person to share her sentence a full pineapple -- a symbol of how we must be hospitable tellers and listeners or story, although the process can initially be prickly (like the fruit).

There was so much we covered in the hour-long workshop. Most of the people in the workshop were Communication Fellows. We learned as Communication Fellows that we would choose a specific skill and hone in on it. This is because practice makes perfect. Well, not just any regular type of practice but strategically calculated practice -- deliberate practice! The goal was that by the time we were done at the end of the year, we would all be communication experts in some specific and ready to teach as well.

So much happened in the first day of the workshop that I’m unable to fit it all in a blog. I walked away after the hour was over thinking, this should actually be a course offered at HGSE. There was so much to offer and it was presented so effectively. The only thing I didn’t appreciate was that I didn’t get the pineapple. Well, I guess I know next time there is a reward for being the first to stand up and face that uncomfortable feeling you might have.