On the sofa with…Jen Dionisio

I interviewed Active Voice coach Jen, to find out what she gets up to when she’s not helping leaders thrive.

Rachel McConnell
Lead with Tempo
Published in
5 min readJan 2, 2024

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Jen sitting on an armchair with plants in the background
Clowning around…and improving her leadership skills in the process

Hi Jen, when I got wind of the fact you’ve done some clowning workshops I was intrigued, so here we are!

I’d love to know how you stumbled upon clowning. Did you have a specific motivation to find something in particular you wanted to do away from work? Where did the interest come from?

It started with a business trip back in 2018. I was in Oslo with my friend Dani, who is just one of those people with a whole bunch of talents you wouldn’t even know about. And over dinner she randomly mentioned she’d been to clown school. So of course I needed to know EVERYTHING.

In my head clowning conjured up creepy images of Pennywise or of the circus. But in fact it turns out that clowning involves a whole heap of process and hierarchies, so in a way it’s a lot like leadership! After our trip, I pestered her to create a Find Your Inner Clown workshop for a couple of years.

Initially, I thought about clowning as a tool I could tie back to work in some way, but then realised that — no, no more professional development. During the pandemic, I knew I wanted to spend time doing something that wasn’t intellectual. Something where I wouldn’t be too much in my head. So I looked for a clowning course on my own — and I found one called Clown for People Pleasers, run by Laura Geiger.

That sounds interesting…

It was so fun, like playful practice-fighting. It was great for people pleasers — which people in content often are — as it’s designed to make people act out things that feel rude or mean or socially unacceptable. For example, one activity paired you with a partner who would keep saying ‘please’ over and over again and you were only allowed to keep saying ‘no’. Practices like these took things that were really scary and made them gleeful. Normalised them. I wanted to just keep doing it over and over again!

So I signed up for a clown school based in L.A and took an online course on the Trickster. It was super interesting to learn how the tricksters of history have spoken truth to power, highlighting manipulation, hypocrisy and things like that. At one point we made up our own religions — each one having its own beliefs, rituals, and dress code. It was amazing how quickly we bought in to these systems we all created. You can see how easy it is to fall victim to group-think!

That’s fun…almost like improv?

Yeah, it was a lot more like that than putting on facepaints and juggling! One day we had to show up as a character that made us feel like our most confident. Apparently mine is a glamorous, old movie star in red lipstick and a fancy coat. It was a really fun way to play with who we are — and could be.

That sounds liberating!

It was! I now work 1:1 with the same teacher who taught Clown for People Pleasers. Every morning she sends me a song to dance to — to shake off my seriousness and let myself go.

We also talk a lot about devotional practices — to let a little magic into each day! It could be anything, from noticing a patch of the garden I hadn’t paid much attention to before to really listening to the birds outside.

I love that! And how do you think doing this has made you a better coach or leader?

It’s made me much more aware of when I’m in autopilot mode and not being present. Also — I can better see when that autopilot means I’m acting in a way that doesn’t actually feel like me.

Performance and play helps me embody a bolder way of being that doesn’t come naturally. It’s let me practise saying hard things — to make it easier to do in the real world. And it’s a confidence builder. We all spend a lot of time worrying about what we should look like in front of other people. But nobody looks cool or smart when they’re clowning around!

There’s also that undercurrent of rebellion — speaking the truth with no fear of consequences. In real life I have to pull this back a little, but it does help me be more edgy than is my comfort zone.

It does sound like you have to naturally let go of those limiting inhibitions. It’s a good metaphor for life, isn’t it? It sounds so cathartic too, to be able to say things we can’t normally!

So who do you think would benefit from this kind of thing? Is there a specific type of person that should just get in there and do it?

Definitely those who tend to fade into the background a bit — but have a deep, hidden desire to be bigger, louder, and bolder.

But they’re probably the least likely people because you’d say that to them and they’d be like ‘Oh my god no way!’ So how would you reassure them that it will be amazing?

You know that knot in your chest you get when you’re in your head, stressed and overthinking decisions? It gets rid of that. It helps loosen you up and realise that you can show up just how you are, not how you think you should be.

That’s such a good bit of advice: show up in a way that is more authentic and be less worried about what other people think of you, and I guess once you’ve been through this sort of activity you realize it actually doesn’t really matter. Do you have any last words of advice?

Find activities that don’t require you to be good at them, where you can just let yourself go. I also sing in a community choir. It’s all a way of reconnecting to play — we lose touch with it as we get older.

That’s so true, it sort of resets you a little bit, doesn’t it? Jen, you’ve inspired me, and I’m sure everyone reading this will feel compelled to try something they maybe hadn’t even thought of before. Thank you so much!

Tempo is a community for content leaders, tickets to Lead with Tempo are available now.

Jen works for Active Voice, who offer coaching for leaders.

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Rachel McConnell
Lead with Tempo

Content and design leader. Found of Tempo. Author of Leading Content Design and Why you Need a Content Team and How to Build One