BullCon 2020 is a women’s leadership conference where career badassery and feminism intersect. Bullcon operates on the belief that leadership is not a position or a title it is action and example, which is why it is the place for feminists who want to make the world and the workplace better.
Many of us wonder how to become a people person, seeking the ability to connect with others intuitively. Interpersonal skills are tough to master! We had a chat with one of our speakers, Jen Oleniczak Brown about her presentation, “Stop Feeling Awkward in Work Conversations.”
Jen Oleniczak Brown is the founder of The Engaging Educator, an organization that has helped over 50,000 people build their communication skills through improv based learning since 2012. Her book, Think On Your Feet: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills on the Job (McGraw Hill, November 2019) has been named the number one best new communication book to read in 2020 by Book Authority.
Hi Jen, first we’d like to express how happy we are that you’re joining us for Bullcon 2020! We’d love to learn a bit more about The Engaging Educator. Can you tell us a little about your mission and how you got started?
The Engaging Educator (EE) started in 2012 as what was intended to be my side hustle. I was working in museum education and got asked to do a workshop on presentation skills for my coworkers. That led to me realizing that a lot of folks struggled with communication, flexibility and public speaking – things that were second nature to me because of improv background. So, on a whim, I decided to run a few public classes titled “Improv for Educators” and they filled, almost immediately. It was fun, so I decided to keep going. Then, we started getting non-educators in our public classes – it turns out at the time we were the only non-theatre teaching improv classes. Every other improv class out there in NYC was attached to a theatre – which meant actors in the class and a performance at the end. We dug in, and decided to be THE group for non-actors. Fast forward 7.5 years and 50,000 students, and here we are!
Mission wise, I’m always focusing on helping people feel like their best and most confident – and in their own way! – self. It’s gotten clearer and clearer to me over the years that people struggle saying what they want to say, understanding what they want and connecting with other people in very real ways. We’re making that happen through improv!
So, we see that you’re also an accomplished author, having recently launched your book, Think On Your Feet: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills on the Job. Can you tell us a little about the book, what inspired you to write it, and what impact you’d like to have on your readers?
The book is another avenue for folks to better their communication skills and connect with that very real version of themselves. It’s not the book you sit down and read in a day: it’s the kind of book that you take a chapter, dive in, and rock some activities in your real life. I’m always looking for ways to get folks comfortable with the idea of improv as a professional development tool – and the book is another avenue to reach folks. Since everyone learns differently, the book reaches a new audience that might be nervous about going to an improv class. My biggest goal? I would LOVE for folks to be better listeners. If you get nothing else out of the book and everything I do, understand that the more you listen, the more you’ll be able to communicate effectively.
Can you tell us more about your Bullcon Presentation, “Stop Feeling Awkward in Work Conversations”? Who should attend your talk and what will they learn along the way?
This workshop is for anyone that has ever felt weird or “less than” in a professional conversation. We’ll first brainstorm those situations where you might or have felt awkward, work through “next time” plans and ideas, and learn to give ourselves a little grace and a lot of permission. We’ll do more than talk: we’ll practice, reflect and plan.
Can you talk to us about an impactful moment in your career?
A few years ago I was going through serious clinical depression. I lost my north star, had no idea why I was doing what I was doing and felt like I should just call it. Turns out, I had PMDD (premenstrual dysmorphic disorder) and needed to get help. I started on anti-depressants, went to therapy and then opened a collective space called Fearless Winston Salem. That space saved me: at the time, I wanted to give up. The space made me show up for more than myself: I had to open up to other people, I was held accountable, and through that, I found myself and my north star again. I also figured out what was so wrong before: I was constantly looking for outside affirmation because I wasn’t proud of myself.
Just last week a friend said, “You’re polarizing, you know that right? How are you ok with that?” And I replied, “Because I’m proud of the work I do.” For the first time in my career, I’m doing this for my mission, my north start and my focus – not for someone else’s.
And lastly, can you tell us one quirky or unexpected thing about you?
I have over 5 dozen houseplants and a partial sleeve Monstera tattoo. That may or may not be unexpected to everyone – it surely shocked a client one day when we were Skyping!
To meet Jen and our other fierce speakers, attend BullCon 2020!