Arriving at the London base of Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) on a damp evening in late September, I felt a tingle go down my spine. After all, it is home to some of the greats of stage and screen. Actors and actresses such as Mark Rylance, Diana Rigg, Michael Sheen as well as bright new stars such as 2019 Emmy Award winners Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Ben Whishaw.
The reason for my visit was to participate in the annual Masterclass run by RADA Business in collaboration with the City Women Network (CWN). RADA Business is the corporate strand of the world-renowned acting school and teaches people how to use the body, breath and voice to make fundamental shifts in their communication style and leadership impact. Keen anticipation created a buzz among the 30 or so people at the social before the event started. We were not disappointed. The evening proved to be informative and fun yet thought-provoking and challenging.
The theme of the Masterclass was ‘Embodying Leadership’. The event was led Kate Walker Miles, a vocal coach at RADA Business and an accomplished performer in her own right. She also possesses a degree in Experimental Psychology. During the 90-minute workshop, Kate put her considerable talent and expertise at our disposal. Under Kate’s tuition, we tried out a variety of tips and techniques to improve personal impact through effective use of the body and voice. Kate reminded us that learning a new habit takes time and practice. The application of effort being key to long term progress. What if we fail? Then we’ll learn from the experience and try over again.
With Kate’s words of encouragement spurring us on we were soon working in pairs and also as a group to support each other. We experienced the truth of the quote made famous by American author, Maya Angelou. She said: “People may not remember what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Kate helped us to gain awareness of the power of being fully present with another person. It takes mindful discipline to focus utterly on another person. Being curious and interested in another person can make all the difference to the depth of connection made.
We concentrated on the importance of preparation before delivering any communication and noticed the difference that this makes to how messages land. Techniques include scanning the body to identify and release tension through stretching and relaxing the muscles. Kate led a series of vocal and breathing exercises to nourish the body. These relax your physical frame and settled your mind in preparation for what lies ahead. You are more likely to express yourself clearly, stand your ground in stressful situations and cope with nerves when you are comfortable in your skin. Most importantly, Kate used humour to help us relax and enjoy the experience of experimentation.
Top tips shared included:
- Before a presentation or essential communication, warm up by finding somewhere private where you can stretch and yawn expansively as this will help relax your jaw. The brain also enjoys the physical stretch as this tells it that the body is healthy and safe.
- Take a few moments to breathe fully. Relax your belly and let your breath drop down low into it. Take some gentle breaths feeling your belly move. Enjoy the sensation of being nourished as your breath flows smoothly into and out of your body.
- Imagine your voice coming from the belly rather than the throat. Work with your breath will create physical ease, and this will create mental calm in you, and your audience.
- Stand tall by imagining a golden string pulling you up from the top point of your head. Maintain that posture as you speak, and your lungs will thank you as they enjoy the expansion gained with each breath.
- Ground yourself by imagining your footpad as a three-pin plug pushed into the floor. Visualising this encourages you to place your weight equally on all four corners of the feet.
- Take in the whole of your audience rather than just one or two people. Making eye contact with the people you are talking to will help your voice carry to them.
- Think of the outcome you want from your communication. What would you like your audience to know, think or feel as a result? Being clear on intention means you can hone your message and delivery it accordingly. For example, do you wish your audience to reflect, respond or act upon your words?
- Pause to create space for your audience to absorb the key points of your message. It enables you to remain mentally present, which will help you to vary your pace and pitch, as you stay with your thoughts, rather than rushing to reach the end.
The evening drew to a close with a quick-fire improvisation exercise that tested our creativity and filled the room with laughter. Travelling home, I reflected on what I had learnt from the experience. Daring to do something out of your comfort zone need not be overly scary, as long as you approach it with an open mind and a sense of adventure.