How Jon Colby taught UIndy students about professional communication through comedy

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Improved communication is the goal when it comes to improvisation comedian and former educator Jon Colby, who ran a workshop at the University of Indianapolis on March 30. The session, called “How to Survive Dinner with the Boss,” is one of the many events that Colby said he has run at UIndy over the past eight years. 

Colby uses his background in improvisational comedy as a tool to educate companies, schools and other organizations about how to become better communicators. He said the event at UIndy focused primarily on how to interact when you are in a professional situation, such as a dinner with your boss. 

“ … Now you are sitting at an event with a bunch of business people, after work, you’re all going out,” Colby said. “Whether you’re an intern, or you’re new to the company, you’re all going out to dinner, how do you kind of present yourself in those moments, so you don’t look or feel like the kid. We’ll talk about a little bit of etiquette, but really, what we’re gonna do is talk about how to have conversations with anybody.”

Photo by Jacob Walton Improvisational Comedian Jon Colby poses for a photo with one of the students who attended his seminar, “How to Survive Dinner with the Boss.” Throughout the dinner, Professional Edge members were at each table teaching the traditional dinner etiquette.

Prior to working as a professional speaker, Colby worked in education as a theater, speech and video production teacher, but before that he had been doing improv starting in college. He said it was when he started to fill in as a teacher at corporate speaking arrangements that he found a passion for what he is doing today full-time.

“I call it my side hustle; I did a side hustle for 17 years or something like that, while I was teaching and it just became more and more of a passion and more and more of a realization that I could do it full time,” Colby said. “I worked with some pretty successful companies where they’re like, everybody needs this, everybody should do this. And so I finally, in summer 2019, quit my job and started doing it full time.”

The event was held through the UIndy Professional Edge Center, and Director of ProEdge Kirk Bryans was the leader of the event for the ProEdge side. Bryans said for years, the center has been doing events surrounding things such as dining etiquette, but this year it was time for a refresh. 

“What we found in the past is that we can teach everybody what fork to use, but it’s really about communication,” Bryans said. “It’s about body language, it’s about ‘what do you do at the table once you do know which glass of water to use?’ And so that’s where Jon [Colby] comes in. Jon [Colby] has done this event with other corporate corporations. He’s done some events with us in the past.  So that’s what he’s really going to focus on. We’ll all be at the table and we’ll talk about etiquette. But at the same time, Jon [Colby], also will mix in sort of the body language and communication skills and what to talk about.”

Colby said the keynotes that he does at UIndy are the exact same presentations that he gives to high level corporations. He said his event sets UIndy students up for success by giving them these skills earlier than most learn them. Colby said that experience of working with rooms of CEOs and other professionals and having them play games and have fun like they are in recess in elementary school are some of the best parts of what he does. 

“… Imagine a kindergarten recess, like you have a certain visual, and then I say imagine a group of college students and you have your visual and I say, imagine a ballroom of 2,000 business executives, you have a picture in your mind, but I have those 2,000 business executives doing what you imagine the kindergartners doing at recess literally, they’re climbing on chairs, even though they’re not supposed to for safety reasons, they’re running around playing basically what looks kind of like tag. I mean, you’re just laughing and having fun, not taking themselves too seriously,” Colby said. “And just learning while having fun and I think it’s something that we as adults often forget about and if I can help reintroduce how to be playful and learn from it, it’s magic.”

Colby’s ability to be funny while also educational is what sets him apart and has UIndy continuing to bring him back in for events, Bryans said. He said those that participate come away with a learned experience and many items that they did not know prior. 

“[The] exit poll with students who have gone through an event with Jon [Colby] before is fantastic,” Bryans said. “He really relates, I’m doing things that I didn’t realize and when he explains that it makes complete sense.”

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