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To prepare or not to prepare?

Charlie Walker-Wise answers the question.

As the parent of a young son, I’m getting ready for the first time I have to announce “do as I say, not as I do”. It’s a statement I’m not looking forward to but whether so explicitly stated or not, it’s a dictum every child experiences.

On reflection though, it’s not only said to children. In a conversation with a non-training colleague recently I was talking about how I don’t always prepare in the same way to coach participants on my courses. This might seem something of a shocking confession. “Cheat” I hear you say, but this is not necessarily true.

The training that my RADA in Business colleagues and I deliver is based on an experience. The training might be a transformative experience or journey (I started here and now I’m all the way over here), but the learning itself is something that is experienced. It is not simply considered, or pondered, or discussed; it can be seen, heard, felt and touched by both the learner and the other people in the room with them. This work is inhabited more in the body than it is in the mind. It’s a way of learning that traditional education ceases to employ beyond the age of about five years old.

Transformation for participants on our courses is achieved by experiencing the techniques, building their own context and relationship with them and then trying them out in their work lives. As they put these into practice, they become more familiar and hopefully these new habits replace old, less helpful ones.

There is a big “however”. While you can go on a football skills course to learn how to be better at playing football, you would recognise that you need to spend time drilling the skills in order to put them into effect during a match. It is the same for participants on our courses: the skills and techniques we offer are rarely the panacea that people hope for without sustained practice; and practice takes time, effort and is repetitive. Not everyone has the time to do enough practice so we account for this by giving people specific preparation exercises to do right before they have to deliver a speech, have the difficult conversation, go into the interview and so on. If you’ve already been on one of our courses you’ll know how much emphasis we place on preparation and rehearsal.

Now back to me and doing as I say… I have to confess that I seldom prepare in the way I coach participants on my courses. That’s not because I am lazy or that it doesn’t work, it does. It’s because I’ve spent so long training in these skills myself, through my three years training as an actor at RADA and continuing development, my years of experience as an actor and director putting these skills into practice, and my years of delivering training courses where I have to be the very embodiment of what I teach.

I prepare but not perhaps in the same way I might encourage you to if you come on a course. After years of practice I am able literally to feel my way into the effective communication state that I train people in. I know what it the physicality of an effective state feels like and simply need to reconnect with that experience. I don’t need to think about it as thinking is rarely helpful in the moments immediately before you are “on show”. I go back to the very essence of our work, in order to get myself into a state where I am grounded, present, relaxed and breathing. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. To do it well takes time and practice. If you can spend nearly two decades at it like I have, that’s great; if you’ve got other things you need to do in that time, you may need do as I say and not as I do!

Taking Executive Presence across the pond

Last week, RADA in Business flew across the pond to deliver our Executive Presence for Women open course programme in Toronto – and we made sure that we packed our hats and gloves in preparation for the -10oC temperature!

Executive Presence for Women is a programme specifically designed for senior women in business, supporting them in overcoming the common challenges that women face in their business careers. Our senior tutors, Sheelagh McNamara and Lisa Åkesson equip delegates with the skills and techniques to find their voice, hold their space and make their desired impact in order to enhance their personal effectiveness and career progression. The programme has been running for two years and is highly successful in the UK and abroad.

This is the third time that we have delivered the course in Toronto. This time delegates included senior women from Accenture, Procter & Gamble, HSBC and Mawer Investment Management. We received fantastic feedback, with one delegate describing her experience as ‘outstanding’ and ‘transformational’.

As well as running our open course programme, we were also invited to deliver a personal impact masterclass at Communitech for their women’s network. Communitech is an industry-led innovation centre that supports tech companies at all stages of growth and development – from start-ups to rapidly growing mid-sized companies and large global players. The masterclass was led by Sheelagh McNamara and explored skills in how to come across with authority, presence and credibility in the technology industry, and how to build and maintain confidence at work.

All in all it was a fantastic week, and we look forward to returning to Toronto in the near future. 

Alice Younger, Client Associate

Click here to find out more about Executive Presence for Women. You can also   find out more about our two new courses for women: Confidence & Presence,   for women entering the workplace, and Impact & Influence for middle management level.

Are 'killer heels' killing women's impact?

The findings of ‘High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes’, a report by the parliamentary committees for Petitions and for Women and Equalities, was published yesterday. The report urges the government to fine companies that force their employees to wear high heels, responding in particular to the case of London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from her job after refusing to change from her flat shoes into high heels.

Nicola’s experience paved the way for many women to share their experiences of being forced into a uniform of high heels, causing pain and discomfort. Yet many women embrace high heels as a tool to boost their confidence in the workplace and gain height. There is a perception that a pair of heels can boost your authority – yet could it also cause adverse effects?

Sheelagh McNamara, voice coach and lead tutor on the RADA in Business Executive Presence for Women course, talks here about the effect that sky-high heels can have on women’s vocal and physical presence.

“Most women (although not all) will wear some sort of heel in a situation where they want to create impact, and that in itself is not a problem. The difficulty comes when you wear vertiginous heels, and even more so when those shoes have a platform. They don’t allow you to connect with the ground properly, as your weight is pushed forward onto the front of the foot. In order to maintain an upright position you have to lock your knees, and the moment you do so your abdominal muscles become tight in order to keep you stable. Once that happens, the diaphragm cannot contract and your lungs can’t expand to allow you to take a full breath. And breath is what you need to drive right through to the end of a sentence and land an idea effectively.

Wearing high heels can cause your breath to become shallow, your pitch to become high, you speak rapidly and you’ll sound breathy. All of this lowers your authority and impact. While we’re not talking about aping male voices, we do associate gravitas with a slower pace and deeper pitch.”

So if you’re still attached to your favourite pair of Jimmy Choos, can you overcome this? Sheelagh points to RADA’s acting training as an example of how performers conquer the problem: It’s not practical that all actors can wear flat shoes – in some historical dramas even the men will be in heels – but during their years of training they are taught to cope, in a training tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. They’re able to let their knees soften and the belly relax, so they can access their breath and land the line.

As well as affecting your vocal power, if you’re not comfortable in the shoes a high heel can leave women lacking in balance and grounding. The image that comes to mind is of a businessman striding confidently through an office or airport, while his female colleague scuttles behind in a tottering pair of heels. The woman is literally struggling to keep up with her male counterpart.”

Many women may feel that an extra level of height is useful, especially if they work in a male-dominated industry – yet there is more to making your impact than the clothes or shoes you’re wearing.

RADA in Business courses cover core elements of physical presence, ensuring your posture is giving you the grounded, balanced stance to speak with confidence and authority. One female course participant, who struggled with feeling short, spoke of her amazement at feeling two inches taller after a RADA in Business masterclass – without changing her shoes!

“You don’t look taller just because you’ve got high heels – it’s also about posture”, Sheelagh explains. “If you are engaging, people look at your face and gestures and listen to what you’re saying – they’re not analysing the rest of your appearance. Without doubt, heels make many women feel confident and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s about being realistic”.

Should a company’s uniform policy be allowed to take away choice and voice? Whether the issue is an enforced dress code or implied societal pressure, the experiences of many women who responded to Nicola Thorp’s case suggest that clothing is still a fundamental part of how women believe they are perceived. High heels do not hold the answers to authority and gravitas; in fact, they challenge women’s ability to access the status they can powerfully convey through the physical tools of body, breath and voice.

Read more about RADA in Business’s training courses for women at all stages of their careers: entering the workplace, middle management and executive level

Find your voice, hold your space, make your impact.
Courses for women at the start of their career, middle management and senior executive level.

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