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Need to build and motivate great teams? Book Robert David Duncan for keynotes, seminars, coaching and training

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Do you want better performing teams?  Do you want to perform better? Contact Robert David (Rob) Duncan, who can help you and your teams be more effective – in terms of cohesion, collaboration, competitiveness and social skills. Rob is also a Certified Management Consultant who can roll up his sleeves and get actively involved in improving your organization’s performance. A longtime college educator, Rob can work with your organization and continue to add value long after the keynote address.

Featured talks and seminars: 1. Team Intelligence; 2. Competitive Intelligence; 3. Collaborative Intelligence; 4. Social Intelligence.

1. Team Intelligence: Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn – a foreboding calm…

What were the secrets to building a great team on a gruelling 3-month sailing voyage around the dreaded Cape Horn? Join Rob for a first-hand account of a life-changing tall ship voyage through stormy seas and interpersonal strains that ultimately led to a rounding of the “Sailor’s Mount Everest.” Told through stories and pictures, with the keen insights of a skilled management consultant, Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn will leave your team inspired, engaged, and ready for their next challenge!

2. Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical Techniques to get the Edge

What can you do in the next 15 minutes to give your firm an unbeatable lead over the competition? Join competitive intelligence expert Rob Duncan for an entertaining, fast-paced and informative look at a war chest of tools that can be employed cheaply, quickly and ethically to gain a sustainable edge. Drawing on his book “Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical”, selected as a Best Business Book of 2008, Rob will leave your group raring to go on these simple and effective tactics.

Rob Duncan is building intelligent teams

3. Collaborative Intelligence: Enhancing Innovation through Social Media

What do you do when your customer is suddenly the head of your design team? “Harness it to your advantage,” says social networking expert Rob Duncan. Rob’s recent doctoral research confirmed that online social networking is breaking down traditional boundaries between companies, competitors and customers. Intelligent collaboration is the way of the future, and Rob Duncan can explain in straightforward terms why LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and other collaborative technologies are going to drive business in the future, and why you need to be there.

4. Social Intelligence: Building Socially Smart Teams for Winning Performances

What do improvisation, active listening, the reading of micro-expressions, networking and acting technique have in common? They all relate to the growing field of social intelligence. Defined as ‘a person’s competence to comprehend his or her environment optimally and react appropriately for socially successful conduct,’ social intelligence is needed more than ever in business. Join Rob Duncan, New York trained actor and co-author of the book “Improv to Improve Your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation” on an engaging journey through some simple, easy to use and powerful techniques to build social intelligence in your teams.

Contact us for more information at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Simple steps to become a successful film-maker for less than $500

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Simple steps to become a successful film-maker for less than $500

This year has been a great adventure for me in that I have directed several short films that are receiving recognition in the form of official festival selections and an award nomination. I have never been to film school, and each of these films was shot and completed on a budget of around $500 or less, including festival submission fees.

Official Selection for A Special Kind of Love

If you have a desire to make a film, I very much encourage you to do so because it has never been easier.  Also, by doing one simple film you will gain exposure to the entire process from beginning to end. There are so many cool short film festivals out there today – some free to enter – that there has never been a more fun time to have a small inventory of shorts in your repertoire to play with. But let’s start with that crucial first film.

Pick a simple story that matters to you. Use the “rule of 1 or 2″ – think in terms of 1 or 2 characters, 1 or 2 locations, 1 or 2 situations and a simple story arc that can be shared visually in 1 or 2 minutes. Maybe 1 person wonders how it all went wrong, or 2 people meet and something hilarious happens. Maybe you decide to frame a story around that anthill you’ve been observing in the park. Keep it very simple for now  – you have many years to put together your epic feature film!

Write down a simple narrative script. Don’t sweat proper screenplay structure unless you really want to – there is time to learn that later. Focus instead on what the characters will say and do in your story. Think in terms of 1 or 2 pages (there’s that rule again). Craft your story until you can start to see it happening in a 1 to 2 minute film. Building in story elements that are easy to film (daytime, natural lighting, available locations, absence of explosions or car chases) makes your job a lot easier.

Take time to visualize. This is the best lesson your director self will ever get. Take the time to picture your film happening as you sit in the audience watching it, each second from beginning to end. I find the moments before falling asleep to be a great time to do this. Go from the opening credits through to the end. Keep refining this vision to include what the camera sees, what angles the viewer sees and other details. Don’t get hung up on this step though – nothing will happen exactly as you predict, and the result will be magical anyway.

Use your smartphone. Sure, you may want to use a more elaborate camera, but try to avoid the temptation for your first film. The more you are shooting and grabbing quick footage without over-thinking, the easier your life will be. Do the minimum. Remember, all films can be re-shot later if they are that important to humanity – the key here is to learn lots, get to your mistakes quickly, finish something and get it out there.  There are lots of great films being made with smartphones now. Just be sure to hold the camera horizontally if that’s what gives the best video quality – ask an experienced friend if you aren’t sure.

Rehearsal with actors Andrew Hill and Lauren Donnelly

Rehearse with your actors if you can.  Do most of your directing in the rehearsal. If you can’t get actors, don’t let that hold you back – do a simpler story with a voice-over narrative for your first effort. Act in it yourself and use a tripod. The main thing is to get something done, finished and out there. I’ve seen great performances with little or no rehearsal, and I’ve seen extensively-rehearsed efforts come out flat, so don’t let lack of rehearsal time stop you.

Plan and execute the shoot. Divide your script and your vision for your film into filmable chunks, fire up your camera and then go for it. If you can get what you need in one single run from beginning to end, then do it and start editing! Go back and grab close-ups if you need them, but remember this is a first film, not your magnum opus. Every additional shot should be justified by really needing it in your final vision. If you don’t need that complex shot to tell the story, save it for a later film. Don’t over-shoot, and don’t go beyond 3 takes unless there is a compelling reason. There is no “safety” in getting more and more takes, and it just ends up causing agony when you are trying to choose between takes during the edit.

Organize your footage.  Upload your video clips to Youtube from your phone and give each video segment a meaningful name so you know what is what when it comes to editing. Download the footage from Youtube onto your working computer when you get home.

Edit your film. Grab a free trial download of an editor like PowerDirector and just wade in and learn to use it by doing. Buy the software once you find one you like. There are tons of video clips on Youtube that will show you the basics of editing. Grab one of your pieces of footage, drag it into the editor, add beginning titles and ending credits, and hit save. Congratulations, you are now an editor. Now you are ready to pull in more pieces of footage, cut away unnecessary bits and do transitions from clip to clip. When you have a simple, complete cut of your film, save it in a usable format like MP4 or mov. Congrats, you are a film-maker! Now the rest of the job starts.

Submit your film to festivals. Target appropriately. Your first 1 minute film may not be right for Sundance, but it might find a welcome acceptance in a festival geared toward micro short films shot with smartphones. Signing up with FilmFreeway or similar websites like Withoutabox can be a great way to find festivals that will be right for your film. Getting your first official selection or acceptance into a festival is a major confidence builder and you will be starting to build a track record of accomplishment in film. Later on, you can explore how to sell your film or distribute your film for money online, but more likely you will treat your early work as just that – early work – and move on to learn more by doing more films. Congratulations on getting this far!

Nominated for Best Drama Micro Short

Congratulations, now go do it again!

Remember, most people who dream of making a film will not even start. Of those who start, few will finish. Of those who finish, few will get as far as submitting to a festival. If you are able to start and finish a short film, however simple, and get it into a festival, you will be on your way! If these steps I’ve outlined help by encouraging you and cutting through some of the mystery, then I am happy. I encourage you to return the favor by helping someone else in the future.

You will find that the film-making community is a very friendly, collaborative and helpful one.  Most people are more than willing to help out a newcomer and will share their hard-earned knowledge with you. The most important lesson though, is that the film that gets finished and out there is the one that matters. Do your first film fast, by yourself if needed, but get it done. Don’t self-censor your work – get it out there and submit it to festivals, you will be pleased with the results. Best of luck to you!

 

 

Where is the intersection between theater and the workplace?

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Workplace drama

Workplace drama

It’s funny, there is always a lot of crossover imagery between the stage and the workplace. Objectives, heroes, drama kings and queens, getting the right people to play different roles, tragic leadership flaws, double-crosses and so forth. Now that I am taking a step away from the office environment for a bit and rekindling my acting training, I am fascinated by the parallel lessons that can be drawn between the two worlds. A few months ago, I wrote here about the useful skills that people can gain from acting training – things like hitting your marks, learning how to improvise (always say yes), and using your full body as an instrument of communication.

The insights I have been gaining over the last couple of weeks can add to and enhance these earlier lessons. Here are a few ideas that may help you bring more “drama” to your workplace:

  • The art of analysing the script: The playright provides a framework of words, characters and given circumstances. The challenge is to figure out what isn’t there – it is the job of the actors to fill in the missing pieces with meaning. Otherwise we’d just get up there and read, and the crowds would stay away! As leaders in organizations, we should also be looking at the scripts we have been handed, and really take the time to analyse them. Who wrote this script? Are there other versions or other scripts I am not seeing? What is missing from the story on the page? What do I and my team need to add in order to flesh out the full story and make it truly inspiring?
  • The art of soft focus: We are trained in movement class to start to use our peripheral vision to see who else is in the room, and to avoid banging into them. Even when the director tells us to go crazy and flail around to all four corners of the room, we remain aware of each other. So it should be with the competing interests in an organization. We should be creating cultures where the differences are expressed, respected and where soft focus is encouraged to avoid bruising.
  • The art of understanding a character’s objectives: At the most basic level, characters act out of need. The job of the actor is to consider what it is their character needs, what is in the way, and what they are going to do about it. This last piece is where the actor’s choices make the difference between a truly memorable performance and a more ordinary one. For example, your character may need more than anything to gain the love of another character, but there are lots of ways to get there (intimidation, charm, kindness, trickery, deception, collusion etc. etc.). In the workplace, look around at the characters in your midst. What is their overarching need? Are they getting it met? Are you helping or hindering? Why? The more you can understand the other actors in your midst, the better you can manage around their actions.
  • The art of going larger: The training at the Stella Adler Studio is always exhorting us to be LARGER! What this means is that instead of making acting choices that are safe and tame, make larger, more dramatic and more passionate choices. Is your character trying to “tell” (yawn…) somebody something? Or are they trying to “convince” (better…) somebody of something? Or are they trying to “scare the sh*t” (now we’re getting somewhere…) out of somebody? Similarly in organizational life, making larger choices makes for a more interesting performance!

 

When in doubt, go large

I want to hear what you think! Please feel free to weigh in here with your comments. To explore having me speak to your team or group on drama in the workplace and other related themes, please get in touch with me at rob@robduncan.com or via the contact tab on this page.

Our new book – Improv to Improve your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation

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Now available on AMAZON!

I was thrilled to be involved in this collaborative writing project, in which co-authors Brent Brooks, Rick Crain, Leah Henderson, Jim Hogan, Vanessa Lowry, Deborah Thomas, Scott Williford, Mark Wyssbrod and I all contributed chapters. Working from the “ten commandments of improv,” each of us wove a chapter story about how the techniques of improvisation have helped each of us in our business careers, and how they can help you. The ten commandments of improv that are woven throughout the book are:

Book: Improv to Improve your Business

Book: Improv to Improve your Business

Trust.

Agree on stage.

Listen.

Don’t be funny.

Avoid questions.

Be average.

Stay in the moment.

Mistakes are good.

Make others look good.

Have fun!

It was terrific to work with such funny and talented co-authors, and I know that you will find this book as much fun to read as it was to write! Watch for Improv to Improve your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation on Amazon early in 2011. Advance media enquiries and booking speaking events on this topic can be arranged by emailing me at greatcapes@gmail.com, or following the contact tab on this page.

The core business of a good manager

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Rob Duncan in South Africa
10,000 miles away, my team is doing a great job!

The other day, someone asked me what the core business of a good manager should be. It was an excellent question, and one that I feel a great amount of passion for. I took a few moments and tried to distill my thoughts into a brief set of principles. So here goes – my list of the things a good manager must do well:

1. Work with the senior executive and the team to set the team objectives.

2. Organize the right people to tackle those objectives.

3. Listen, teach and coach. Don’t micro-manage.

4. Remove barriers to success for the team wherever possible.

5. Absorb a lot of the noise and stress from above and outside so the team is freed up to achieve its goals.

6. Report on successes and challenges, objectives and outcomes.

I am interested in your lists and thoughts as well. Please get in touch and let me know what you think. Feel free to comment here or be in touch with me privately via the Contact tab on this page. I am also available to speak to your teams and groups on this topic – one that I am very passionate about!

An actor repairs…

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Stella Adler Studio, NYC

Stella Adler Studio, NYC

I just survived my first week at that amazing actor’s bootcamp known as the Stella Adler Summer Conservatory. It was an incredible week, with class after class of intensive training from the people who (literally in some cases) trained Brando, DeNiro, Ledger and others.

Now, I am no longer a young athletic man, but the highlight for me had to have been surviving and actually really enjoying the 2 hour dance/movement class late in the week. Sure, I sweated, and was none too inspired during the “let your glutes dance the Vivaldi across the room” exercise, but hey, I had an awesome time. And furthermore, I can now say that I have, on at least one occasion, danced while sober!

Stella Adler Studio is a great training ground for those who want to act as a profession, and for those who know they could use a little more “performance” in their day-to-day lives.

When I stumbled out into the sidewalk at the end of the first week’s classes, I felt 10 feet tall. I was standing straight, walking from my pelvis, holding my throat clear, and breathing deep. When I ordered my iced quad expresso at the Starbucks, people turned and looked as my new voice reverberated around the walls!

When I got back to my place, I had a good long soak, and reflected on the changes that had happened in me, after only a week. I felt stronger, more centred, and more assured of the fact that I am fascinated by acting and want to make it an even bigger part of my career.

We’ll see what next week brings…

The “do-not-do” list for good leaders

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I had a very enjoyable breakfast chat this morning with my good friend Alejandro, and the subject of a “do-not-do” list came up. Unlike a to-do list, the do-not-do list is a reminder to ourselves of the things that we either don’t want to be doing or shouldn’t be doing.

Do-not-do list

Do-not-do list

This got me thinking about leaders, and the many things they should not be doing. I wonder if all leaders shouldn’t keep their do-not-do lists handy at all times. What would be on such a list? Here are a few ideas, and I hope you will weigh in with your own comments and additions:

A do-not-do list for good leaders

  • Do not do anything that one of your staff could do. Hoarding the work and failing to effectively delegate is a critical flaw, especially for new managers. It may be true that you can do the best job on several tasks, but that isn’t why they pay you the big bucks. Your job as a leader is to apportion the work fairly among your staff, to develop and stretch the talents of your team, to have your eye on the big picture, and to lobby for your team’s success. The first question to cross your mind when a new task comes in should be “Who else could do this?” If you have more than 3 items on your personal to-do list, you probably aren’t delegating enough – time to reassess and reassign.
  • Do not be a perfectionist. Delegation is one of the scariest things a manager does, as it often flies in the face of what got the leader promoted in the first place. Leaders often progress upwards because they are very hard on themselves, and are sticklers for producing good work. It can be gut-wrenching at times for perfectionists to release a task to someone else, knowing what they will get back is only 80-90% of the quality they could do themselves. Get over it! It is much easier to help refine the work of a dozen team members who have made a good effort at a dozen tasks than it is to hoard the work and add it to your growing to-do list.
  • Do not micro-manage. Nobody likes being micro-managed. Leadership is about engendering and modelling trust and accountability. Be clear on what the task being assigned is, how it fits into a bigger context (why it is important), what resources are available to help get it done, and when it is required. Then GO AWAY! You can check in if you sense that something is going off the rails, but otherwise, just back off. We hire highly-qualified and motivated people who are good at what they do – let them do it, without interfering or being overly controlling. When you micro-manage someone, you are telegraphing the message that you don’t trust them to get things done, which is very unmotivating, and is also a poor use of your time.
Rob Duncan at the Helm

You can't steer the boat and micro-manage it too

What do you think? Feel free to comment on this post and share your own “do-not-do” items.

To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about leadership and related topics, please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

What everyone can learn from actor training

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A few years ago, following up on a dream from my youth, I went to study acting in New York. I was fortunate to have been accepted into the Stella Adler Studio for a 12 week course with Maureen Megibow, and I made the most of it by taking all the additional training I could get my hands on. Famous for producing talents like Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro and Martin Sheen, the Stella Adler Studio is one of the great old New York acting schools, and I quickly realized that I had made a wise choice. In terms of technique, Adler’s version of “the method” has always struck me as being a lot more accessible than many of the other variants. With Adler technique, the focus is on “what does my character want?/what is in the way?/what will he do about it?” In short, I don’t have to relive the death of my childhood dog to play a father paralyzed by grief at the loss of his child. It’s make believe – get it?

Rob Duncan and fellow cast members in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings

Rob Duncan and fellow cast members in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings

After I returned from New York, I was able to draw on my actor training in a number of ways. The first was through acting itself. I was quite pumped up by all my New York acting experiences, and was able to get cast in both short and feature-length films, as well as a play. But perhaps more interestingly, I was able to use the training and coaching I got in a number of useful ways.

Actor training made me a better teacher, speaker and manager – and can help you. Consider these examples:

Developing stage presence: Theater training helps you understand your body as an instrument of expression. You learn how you move, which of your mannerisms and habits help you express yourself, and which are a hindrance. You also learn simple tricks like understanding where the light is in a room and how it is (or isn’t) hitting you so you can get into a position that makes you look less like a shadowy goblin!

Hitting your marks: Another trick of the trade is working with marks. When you do stage and film work, everytime you move, you are aiming to land on a particular spot. Most of the time, the mark is literally marked on the floor with a masking tape “X.” The same is true in giving a presentation or teaching a seminar. By scoping out the venue, I usually like to work out a few choice spots to stand, where the lighting is good and the audience gets a good view of the screen if I am using one. Masking tape is usually part of my gear, but I have also used pennies on the floor in a pinch. The idea isn’t to remove sponteneity, but rather to have some guidelines of where to come to a rest – this actually frees you up to be more spontaneous!

Exercising your voice: I worked with great coaches like Roger Simon and did a masterclass with Andrew Wade from the Royal Shakespeare Company who showed me how to treat my voice like a muscle and exercise it, so that you can actually relax more, and project farther at the same time. Roger has a great workout where you power up your voice in 20 progressive increments, with a view to “smashing the lightbulb across the room” with the final one. Both Roger and Andrew were great for clarity and enunciation.

Learning how to improvise: I trained in improv at the Gotham City Improv, and it is an incredibly valuable skill to have in the workplace. Improv at its best involves creating a hilarious shared story with a group of people – a story that moves fast, never misses a beat, and ends up where nobody predicted! The trick with improv is to understand that when the story comes to you for input, all you need to do is move it along a tiny little bit – you don’t have to hit a grand slam or deliver the knockout punchline everytime! Removing that anxiety from yourself lets you be a more effective and giving team player. Sometimes you just have nothing, so you simply offer up something like “…and then she jumped on the bus and…” and toss it over to another team mate. The key is to keep it moving, and then when you least expect it, you’ll say something hilarious. Will anyone who was in our class ever forget the substance known as “boil matter?”

An early film poster from my ongoing "Before he was Famous" days!

An early film poster from my ongoing "Before he was Famous" days!

There are many more lessons to be drawn from acting training, including the power of intention, making bold choices and growing a thicker skin. But no matter what you do as a profession, I highly recommend heading down to your local community center or night school and taking a class in acting or improv. It will enrich your life and career in ways you never anticipated, and you might just have fun! To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about theater in the workplace, please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Why you need to make time for adventure!

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Rob Duncan bound for Cape Horn

One of my very favorite keynote addresses that I give is based on my experiences of sailing around the dreaded Cape Horn on a square-rigged sailing ship. More living people have been into outer space than have sailed around Cape Horn, the sailor’s equivalent of Mount Everest. Sailors who have rounded the Horn gain access to a secret society of mariners who enjoy privileges such as the right to wear a gold hoop earring in your left ear, the right to eat with your feet up on the table in any ship’s galley, and the magical ability to urinate into the wind!

Cape Horn is legendary for 100 mile an hour winds, 40+ foot seas, wicked storms and only 8 days of sunshine a year. There are some 800 ships at the bottom of the sea there, and some 10,000 sailors have lost their lives trying to round the Horn. When I read these accounts as a young boy, I knew I had to go there one day (much to the disappointment of a worried mother)!

Rob Duncan Navigating the Horizon, Cape Horn Earring in Place

Rob Duncan Navigating the Horizon, Cape Horn Earring in Place

It took a few decades, but I finally got to fulfill my dream – complete with storms, 75 days of confinement with surly (and wonderful) crewmates, shredded sails, broken masts and seas the size of small apartment towers! When I tell audiences what it was like to walk away from a great (but less than thrilling) job and hop on a sailing ship as a deckhand to pursue a childhood dream of rounding the Horn, the best part for me is when the audiences share their own Cape Horn type quest with me and with their neighbors. I still get emails from audience participants who tell me I inspired them to take a risk, take a step out of the ordinary, and pursue a personal quest. For me, that is what being a speaker is all about.

Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

There are a lot of lessons to be learned in stepping away from the ordinary and following a quest. Some lessons are about handling fear and doubt, about teambuilding, leadership, and finding your inner strengths. Many of these lessons are captured in my book, Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn. To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about “lessons from a voyage around Cape Horn,” please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page. Your audience will leave the room inspired, uplifted and ready to tackle their next challenge!

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