I have always had a love for public speaking. I talked about my ten minutes of improvisation in front of an audience of 2000 people in another blog post. I am also an advocate of continuous education/professional development so recently I attended a presentation coaching workshop. It was run by Stewart Bewley , an actor and founder of Amplify – a company that is deeply embedded in the Startup and Corporate world. They use techniques from acting (stage and screen) to deliver the most brilliant workshops on improving presentation and communication skills.
The two-hour workshop I attended ran in a venue near the Olympic Village in East London with a diverse group of participants ranging from venture capitalists from the City to startups to young creatives from the world of advertising agencies. The vast range of personalities was incredible. There were the loud, overly enthusiastic people like myself to the more timid who were quite literally shaking when we did the first exercise (the transformation we saw in them at the end of the workshop was unbelievable). We started off with a short introduction by Stewart who explained how the workshop would run and he wasted no time in getting us working on the first exercise. This involved us working in teams and developing a story – in three minutes. We got very creative and ended up with a storyline which was outrageous (and quite funny as it involved green unicorns and a pink wallet in Central Park – don’t ask!).
Little did we know that Stewart was about to ask us to act out the story in front of everyone else in the room. Guess who played the green unicorn? Yes, yours truly. It serves me right as it was my bright idea to include it in the story. Stewart went on to give us breathing and voice exercises before telling us the next step would be to act out the same play but this time rather than speak the words, sing them in opera voices! The room went dead quiet while we all silently had minor panic attacks but with Stewart’s encouragement, we shook off the fear and quickly got right into it. I should also mention I couldn’t sing if my life depended on it. We were all nervous but more importantly, we were determined. The most brilliant teamwork came into play and there was a lot of empathy from the more outspoken members of the team towards the more timid. It really got me thinking of how we approach teamwork in our workplace. We might not be asked to act out a play in opera voices during a meeting, but we are often put in situations where we need to get a message across persuasively with little prep time.
Drawing on techniques that actors use is highly valuable in this context because in a way delivering any message is about performance – just a different type of performance. There tends to be a perception that training/workshops have to include death by PowerPoint and be seriously boring but they don’t.
I have been working with Ruth Sacks on launching Leadership Perspectives at Westminster Business School which is all about creative approaches to improving communication. We have an executive coach with an OBE, a comedian and a former member of the legendary rock band “King Crimson” running workshops on communication aimed at people in board and sub-board level. We have designed these to be serious yet enjoyable, creative and different. We tend to be risk averse when we sign up for training and development. But sometimes signing up for something that will push you outside your comfort zone can be a really rewarding experience.
Just one piece of advice – don’t include a green unicorn in your storyline!
This blog is written by Nihal Salah
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