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Professional Development Week kicks off with side-splitting laughs, brain-splitting discussion

The Bryan School’s Professional Development Week kicked off Monday with a room full of eager students talking to each other in southern accents, arguing over a fictional game of Monopoly.

This wasn’t some kind of large-scale medical issue, but rather an improv game headed up by Paul Marks, founder of OTC Improv based in Charlotte. Marks is a seasoned improviser and has been described as “naturally caffeinated” by The Charlotte Observer. He’s worked with groups from Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Panera Bread, and a slew of regional colleges.

Paul Marks improv pic
Paul Marks, the founder of OTC Improv based in Charlotte, has been described as “naturally caffeinated” by The Charlotte Observer.

During Monday’s session at Elliott University Center, Marks ran through everything from beginner improv games to encouraging students to write the alphabet with their non-dominant hand as if they were seeing it in a mirror. If it seems like there was a lot going on in that last sentence, that’s kind of the point, according to Marks.

“The key thing I’m seeing with students is a lack of confidence. That’s a big thing. Once we go to the right side of your brain, you’re more confident. We have to nurture that right side,” he said.

Marks wanted to take students out of their comfort zone, pointing out that if they were scared to speak in an accent or make a zany noise during one of his games, how were they going to take command of a room during a presentation later in their career?

Marks believes whole-heartedly in what improv, and what making connections with the right side of your brain, can do for people. He would know, speaking openly during the presentation about his past struggles with anxiety.

“I didn’t even know. I thought, ‘This is just going to be who I am,’” he said. “Once I saw the improv, I thought, ‘This may be it.’”

Marks says it’s these kinds of takeaways that keep clients coming back. He says without advertising, he’s gone from giving a few talks a year to about 90 in 2019.

During Monday’s event, he asked students to write down what they look for in a leader.

“Not one person said humor,” he said.

Even though he’s probably run that exercise hundreds of times, you could tell it really bothered him. For Marks, there’s unlimited potential that comes with outside-the-box thinking, with making those connections in your brain.

“It’s going to set you apart,” he said.

You can find a full list of Professional Development Week events here.