If you’d like to be a more confident speaker, the good news is that there are tried-and-tested techniques that anyone can learn. Less-Stress London finds out how RADA in Business can help…
By Margaret Nicholls
In today’s world of work, the pressure is on to be a polished performer. Whether that means making an impact in a meeting, promoting your business on YouTube or giving a presentation at a conference, having good communication skills has never been more valuable.
But for most of us, these skills don’t come naturally. We need a little help and a lot of practice before we feel confident enough to work the room at networking events, let alone deliver a TED talk.
That’s where a drama coach can help. The connection may not be obvious at first. Your ambition is probably not to be the next Tom Hardy or Emily Blunt! But using a drama coach for business won’t actually teach you how to be an actor.
Charlie Walker-Wise, Client Director and Tutor at RADA in Business, explains: ‘We’re not coaching people to become actors. It’s not about becoming something you’re not. It’s actually about trying to be your best ‘you’.’
Many people go to RADA in Business for coaching because they want to perform better in some area of their professional lives.
‘That might be to do with nerves,’ says Charlie. ‘They might have a big interview coming up, they could be struggling with a relationship at work or they have a big presentation that they need to get right. People come seeking more confidence.
‘And confidence is at the heart of what we do.’
The three pillars of good acting training: use your body, your breath and your voice
Charlie explains that the starting point is to build up an awareness of how you come across.
‘At RADA in Business, we take a very practical approach,’ he says. ‘Our work is about how you think you’re being perceived and how people actually perceive you.
‘Then we help people focus on the three pillars of good acting training: how do I use my body, my breath and my voice most effectively in any given situation?’
Use your body to feel grounded
One physical technique focusses on how we can use our body to feel more grounded and to give a greater sense of presence.
Charlie says: ‘When we’re nervous, we raise the centre of gravity in our body up into the upper chest and we lose the connection with the floor.
‘Getting your feet grounded, putting your weight equally between both feet, making sure your knees aren’t locked, is really important to a sense of presence, so that we can be present in our own bodies and quite literally present with the people around us.’
Breathe to overcome your nerves
When we’re tense and nervous we can’t think straight. Learning breathing techniques can help overcome this, just like an actor on the stage.
‘The key to nerves, as any actor knows, is that if you forget your lines they don’t come back to you until you start to breathe,’ Charlie explains.
In tense situations our breath is much more shallow, which is really unhelpful, particularly when we need to be feeding our brain with oxygen in order to think properly and perform well.
Charlie says: ‘At RADA in Business, we show you some physical techniques which bring you back into the present, help manage those nerves and get more breath in the body.
Finding your voice
Learning how to use our voice well is a skill that we would all like to have. And according to Charlie anyone can learn how to do this, it’s just a habit we need to learn.
‘The first thing is to try to use a supported voice, which means there’s a breath behind the voice,’ he says. ‘The muscular power in the voice comes from the belly, and that allows us to speak with conviction and power.
‘We also focus on the musicality of the voice, showing how you can hook your audience’s ear with your voice as opposed to speaking in a monotone or with no rhythmic variation at all.
Make an impact in a meeting
Meetings can be challenging and it can be hard to make an impact. Some people never stop talking, others never say anything. You might face people who use aggressive language. Role plays can be a useful way to practise for these situations.
‘We often bring in actors to adopt those behaviours so you can practise. We create a safe space where people can get things wrong and then try to get them right.’
Most of us dread having to give a presentation to a large group of people. In fact surveys reveal that the majority of people fear public speaking more than they fear dying!
‘The best thing to remember is that it’s not about you,’ says Charlie. ‘It’s actually about your audience. If we can focus on what our audience needs then we take some of that pressure off ourselves.’
The most common mistake we make is that we’re so desperate to get off the stage that we speak too quickly.
Charlie explains: ‘We deliver our content as quickly as possible then we get off and go ‘Phew! Thank God, that’s over!’ And that doesn’t really serve our needs.
‘We need to take time and the way to do that, funnily enough, is to keep breathing. So between the thoughts that we’re trying to communicate, we allow space, we breathe, we allow the audience to digest what we have said.’
You may not win a Bafta, but once you learn the right techniques, and with practice, your performance can only get better and better.