Consultant launches business improv program

Kristen Rampe is using her uncommon skillset — a background in accounting and improv — to help professionals sharpen their public speaking skills.

Rampe, owner of Grand Rapids-based leadership development and training firm Kristen Rampe Consulting, 38 W. Fulton St., added Slide Deck Improv to her repertoire of services in March.

“In business, we encounter uncomfortable situations frequently, whether it’s public speaking or having to fire someone. Those things happen, and they will never go away,” Rampe said. “When you master one, you move up to the next level, where it’s even (more challenging).

“Slide Deck will help you get comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

Rampe’s foray into improv dates back seven years when she enrolled in a class while living and working in San Francisco as a certified public accountant.

“I didn’t do theater in high school, or improv, but I really enjoyed what that type of environment brought out in people,” she said.

She left her 10-year career as a CPA to start her consulting firm in 2011 after discovering her passion for helping people grow.

Connections in Rampe’s Grand Rapids network knew she had done improv.

At the beginning of this year, Liz Briggson, chair of the Young Professionals Committee of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) Western Michigan, asked if Rampe would consider leading an improv session at ACG’s March soft skills event. A fellow committee member, Eric Fischer, a tax senior analyst at BDO USA LLP, had pitched the idea to the committee.

“I wanted to create an event that was well-received, fun and where people learn something,” Briggson said. “Slide Deck Improv hit on all those things.”

Rampe didn’t agree right away because of schedule challenges but soon remembered the first rule of improv: ‘Say yes.’

“It’s the tenet of it, to face the uncomfortable,” she said.

Since Fischer had the idea, the YP committee asked him to be the first “presenter” at the March event. Several additional participants were selected two months in advance.

For the event, Rampe lined up a “slide deck” for each presenter that contained only images, no words. After a few exercises to get the crowd warmed up and create a safe, relaxed environment, she asked for topic ideas from the audience.

Fischer was given the topic “botany,” which he knows nothing about. A video on the Slide Deck Improv website shows him and the audience laughing throughout the PowerPoint presentation as he tried to connect a series of unrelated slides to his topic.

Other topics the audience chose for the ACG presenters were “man bun” hairdos, QuickBooks and rhythmic gymnastics.

Fischer noted professionals in his field tend to cram slides full of technical information and stick to the script when presenting to colleagues, clients or boards of directors.

“Whenever I give these PowerPoint presentations, I focus on the details and not the emotions of the group or having them feel where I’m at,” Fischer said. “I guess that would be what I learned. I am trying to create more of a connection.”

Fischer said his future presentations won’t have that forced spontaneity, but he can learn from the experience.

“It’s given me a confidence, at least from the standpoint of, ‘It can’t be this bad; I’m never going to show up to a presentation with no knowledge of the topic.’”

Brett Karhoff, a CPA and shareholder at Hungerford Nichols, was an audience member at the ACG event. He agreed the format’s value was in developing presenters’ adaptability.

“I’m hoping at some point we can do something like that here at our office as well, to get people engaged and thinking on their feet,” he said.

So far, three more groups have booked Slide Deck’s services, including Amway. Rampe and her fellow improviser, Jason Lieu, will facilitate the events.

Rampe now is offering three main formats: event/keynote improv, classroom improv and DIY kit improv.

The former is what she did for ACG. The second is a two- to four-hour block for groups of 30 or less within a company, where the majority of the class will be expected to participate in the improv.

Rampe still is developing the DIY kit, but the idea is to offer a set of slides and instructions that will allow an organization to facilitate its own event at a lower price point.

Each booking is priced separately depending on “who the audience is, what the event is, what kind of value they are going to get out of it, the locale and what the outcomes are they want to see,” Rampe said.

Beyond the accounting and finance fields, Slide Deck Improv is designed for any type of professional services occupation, such as lawyers, insurance agents, sales, marketing, training and customer service.

“My mission is to help people read from slides less, feel more confident and connect with the audience,” Rampe said. “And at the end of the event, someone will say, ‘I did that.’”

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