Sometimes, the class clown gets to grow up and actually teach the class.
“Yeah, I was the funny guy in Catholic grammar school,” says Jody Wood, owner of JW Actors Studio on Rockingham Row. “My family had eight kids and the classroom was full. I always had an audience and enjoyed making people laugh.”
Today Wood has turned his strength into a business that helps corporate leaders and sales people work more successfully. “Using improvisation techniques and acting skills helps business people thrive,” says the veteran comic and actor who has appeared on stage, as well as numerous television shows and movies and even video games.
Wood will present a five-week program, “Play For Success,” beginning Tuesday, September 23, at 7 p.m. at Burkewood Creative Studios, 5 Mapleton Road. Cost: $350. Call 609-240-7080 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When a business leader or sales person picks up comedy improv techniques, he or she is really getting new listening skills,” Wood says. “Using improv skills makes you focus on listening, concentration and memorization. These skills readily transfer to public speaking, sales calls, and team buildingS.” Wood, who has 30 years experience as an actor, opened his studio in Princeton two years ago, after working in New York and Los Angeles for most of his career.
Part of his program is aimed at anyone who wants to get into acting as a career, the other part at businesspeople looking for a creative edge that can help them work more successfully.
“Play For Success classes open up with getting people over the fear of standing up and speaking,” Wood says. “Our exercises help them tap into their creativity and let them pull together as a team.”
Such skills can help with a new product launch, team building, and motivating customers or employees, he says. “You can’t accomplish anything in business unless you really are working in a team mindset.
While this is the first five-week program specifically for business people, Wood says all types of professionals have been taking general acting classes from him. “They come in wanting to improve their presentation skills. They walk away with greater confidence that improves how they work every day. And that is good for the bottom line. Confidence helps people do business better.”
The program includes exercises, thinking games, and other activities that give people opportunities to push their creative thinking. One such game is “Yes And,” in which people must add on to what the previous speaker said in a positive way. “We might start off by having the first person say ‘the sky is blue.’ The next person might add ‘Yes, and, it will be blue all week,’” Wood says.
The aim is to keep people thinking about positive aspects of the topic. “Then we bring up subjects that they are actually working on in their offices,” Wood says. “It really opens up how they view a problem or a product launch opportunity.”
“Zip Zap Zop” encourages participants to make quick creative choices while developing listening and eye contact skills. The process encourages teamwork and collaboration. Other games include the “Three-headed Expert” and “Novel,” which force groups of people to work as a team to tell a story, describe a product, or work through business problems. It generates greater cooperation and creative thinking. Wood says, “Novel is such a fun exercise because some people in the group have to improvise as they react to suggestions thrown at them from the rest of the group. It requires thinking on your feet, fast reactions, and the listening skills.”
In addition, Wood keeps the classes relevant by having participants bring in actual presentations they are working on in their own business settings. Not only does he work with them on delivery, he tapes them giving their presentations both at the start of the program and five weeks later so they can see the improvement.
Wood also helps people work as a team through trust-building exercises such as “Trust Circle.” In this game, one person stands in the middle of the group and must walk around the circle with her eyes shut while people tap her shoulder for directional advice. “It’s unnerving to walk around with your eyes closed,” Wood says. “You must really trust the group to guide you.”
By developing great trust and confidence, he says, business leaders and front-line sales people communicate more effectively and work more efficiently. “Productivity rises. Sales meetings go better. For most people, getting in front of a crowd is the biggest fear in life. This program lets people have fun and be creative in ways that relate to their professional success,” he says.
“Using improvisational and acting techniques in business and other relationships really helps you because your fear of failure goes away. You’re allowed to mess up. You’re allowed to do the wrong thing and fix it.”
Wood has worked in the theater and started out with roles on television programs such as “One Life To Live,” “Guiding Light,” “Another World,” and “Law and Order.” He went on to guest star on “N.Y.P.D. Blue,” “Diagnosis Murder,” and “The West Wing.” He also played a continuing role as Wallace Danby on “Boston Public.”
Even though he always made people laugh, it wasn’t easy for the boy growing up in New York City to get started in acting and comedy. His father and uncle were firefighters. “There was an expectation I would be a cop or a firefighter,” Wood says. “My parents had that Depression-era mindset that you needed to get a steady job with benefits. At one point, I really thought I would become a cop. It turns out I play them on TV instead. That’s OK with me,the bullets are fake.”
Wood says his parents never really understood why he wanted to go into acting. But they were very supportive. “Now, I’m supporting others. I find it rewarding to hear back from someone who was in a class. They tell me a presentation went great or they closed a sale. That shows the power of using acting skills in business,” he says