We can finally talk about our role in coaching Courtney Wood, a finalist on The Apprentice 2016.
Courtney may not have won, but listening to him in defeat, and to everyone else who watched him develop throughout the series, you could be forgiven for thinking that his pitch represented an unmitigated victory. From Karen Brady to Rhod Gilbert of The Apprentice: You’re Hired, everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of disbelieving relief that his presentation had gone so well.
Courtney came to RADA in Business the day before his pitch for a crash pitching course. The techniques used became the dominating topic of You’re Hired, with everyone noting the extraordinary transformation. Even Karen, in the final scenes in the boardroom, complimented Courtney on how well the pitch had gone. Everyone agreed that it made a huge difference. Courtney himself said that he felt he was on safer ground talking about his own brand which he lives and breathes everyday, but that being pushed outside his comfort zone before he pitched was a great help.
How did it work? Charlie Walker-Wise lifts the lid on that 'exercise', and explains how it helped finalist Courtney Wood shine in his final pitch.
"We were asked to be part of The Apprentice final and we ended up with more airtime on the You’re Hired programme following it. One exercise in particular became a running theme with Rhod Gilbert, the You’re Hired presenter, who made it part of his opening segment.
The exercise in question was one where I wrapped my hands around Courtney’s waist and got him to walk forward while delivering his presentation as I pulled against him in the other direction.
Admittedly, the exercise looks a bit weird. But one of the reasons I think it got so much attention was that Courtney’s presentation style improved so dramatically. The You’re Hired show’s panellists including comedian Hal Cruttenden couldn’t believe something so seemingly odd, and so far from both acting and business, could have such an impact. Cruttenden, himself a drama school graduate, said he’d never seen the exercise. With it causing such a stir, I thought I’d explain why I did it and what it intended to achieve.
The first point worth noting is that I don’t think I ever specifically experienced this technique while I was training at RADA. In fact, the first time I encountered it was in Belgium while delivering a course with my RADA in Business colleague Willi Richards. However, it is still a technique rooted firmly in drama training.
To understand this let’s first go back to Courtney. The pressures of making a primetime television show meant that Courtney and I had a very limited amount of time together, leading to the more than 60 seconds of screen time eventually broadcast. What was clear to me immediately on meeting Courtney was that nerves and associated physical tension were holding him back when speaking in public, especially a tendency to hold his breath. I had little time and needed to make a big change, which called for a technique that would have an immediate and significant impact.
Following some core work to help Courtney find a sense of relaxation and grounding, I asked him to deliver his speech. He was very tentative in his delivery and what I would call “held”. All his energy was sitting in his chest and not flowing through his body. He had no connection with the floor and no stable base to communicate from. In that moment I could see that the best way to get him physically engaged and help him use his breath more was to give him something strong to work against. While the edit failed to show you the difference in the theatre at RADA, we can see from his final pitch to Alan Sugar that the experience helped him find an ease and confidence sorely lacking earlier in the series.
One of the most rewarding things for us in the final was to see him preparing and practicing in advance of the pitch. We talk about the importance of preparation and rehearsal until we’re blue in the face here at RADA in Business and it’s incredibly rewarding to have such a clear example of the benefit that rehearsal can make.
I’ve already had a number of former clients jokingly ask if I’ll do the exercise when I next work with them. The answer is, maybe. It’s not one size fits all. All our tutors at RADA in Business use a wealth of exercises and techniques. One of the key parts of our job is to diagnose who needs what, and adjust our training to help them succeed. Courtney may not have won the Apprentice but he won many fans and stunned his mentors, the audience, and half the nation in his ability to deliver a confident, credible and authoritative presentation.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I wasn’t one of the stunned ones. Good luck Courtney, may your trophy-shaped sippy cups take the world by storm."
You can watch the episode on BBC iplayer here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b086yl47
The last fortnight has seen two TV debates in the US election campaign as Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump went head to head on 26 September and 9 October. Voice coach and Lead Tutor on our Executive Presence for Women programme Sheelagh McNamara was keeping a keen eye on their body language and public speaking skills at both debates. So – how did they do?
Click here to see our analysis of the second TV election debate.First debate – Monday 26 September
It was an almost perfect performance from Hillary Clinton in terms of delivery. Not only had she clearly put in the time to prep and rehearse which gave her gravitas but her body language and vocal skills were finely honed.
- Clinton held her space effectively throughout. Her stance was stable and grounded. Her posture open, there were no head tilts and her eye contact was direct and engaging.
- Vocally, Clinton has an impressive range that she uses to full effect. While her overall pitch is fairly deep, lending her greater gravitas, she uses the variety of pitch available to her by employing brighter and higher notes to keep her speeches interesting and persuasive.
- Her pace is steady, using appropriate pauses for emphasis, making her statements easy to follow without appearing hesitant. Like her husband she uses pause masterfully.
- Content-wise, Clinton was well-prepared and sure of her facts. She worked in enough disclosure of her personal life – “My father was a small businessman. He worked really hard, he printed drapery fabrics on long tables” – without going overboard, making her seem approachable and genuine. Yet she also remained on topic when the conversation was derailed into personal attacks. “Let's talk about two important issues that were briefly mentioned by Donald. First NATO.” she continued firmly, in response to Trump’s attack on her temperament.
- Finally, Clinton gave a masterclass in dealing with interruptions and derailments. While Trump attempted to interrupt her allotted time repeatedly (“I did not. I did not. I did not say that.”), Clinton did not allow the interruption or even make eye contact with him, instead driving through her point straight to camera with calm confidence.
- Having willingly admitted to certain mistakes on email security, there was just one notable mistake during the debate. On the receiving end of Trump’s accusations, Clinton threw up her hands to exclaim:
HILLARY CLINTON: I have a feeling that by the end of this evening, I'll be blamed for everything that's ever happened.
Victimhood is not what I associate with Hillary. This moment seemed to show a lack of control and appeared both negative and defensive.
Other than this blip, it was a presidential performance from Clinton with bright energy, forceful leadership and plenty of gravitas.
In contrast, Republican candidate Donald Trump began with low vocal energy and continued to perform erratically.
- His vocal performance was lacking: aside from the much-documented sniffing, Trump’s monotone pitch and rapid pace undermined his purpose and meaning.
- Instead of supporting his breath from the diaphragm his breath was high held as he sniffed in and grabbed breaths. This resulted in a voice that sounded panicked and emotional.
- He used long rambling sentences. The lack of pauses made him even harder to follow. The overall effect was of someone who was flustered, out of control and unprepared.
- Unlike Clinton, Trump never smiled throughout the debate which made him come across as angry in contrast to Clinton’s calmer approach. He had a habit of narrowing his eyes and his gestures were staccato and started close to his body, before chopping out to the sides. These remove the sense of openness and direct communication with his audience. He also uses a ‘stop’ gesture with his palms flat out at the audience.
- His content showed less planning than Clinton, often repeating the same soundbite rather than building a structured argument. His non-sequiturs and tangents even drew laughter from the debate audience at times:
TRUMP: So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is – it is a huge problem. I have a son. He's 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it's unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it's hardly doable.
- Trump also interrupted Clinton or the chair no fewer than 51 times – not only is this a rude tactic, it is usually ineffective. In Trump’s case, it merely gave Clinton the opportunity to show how well she could deal with the attempted derailments.
Overall, Trump appeared erratic, out of control and lacking positive energy. In delivery and communication terms, this first debate was undoubtedly a big win for Clinton.
US presidential election: TV debates
Second debate – Sunday 9 October
It was a frosty opening for the second debate, without the customary handshake. Both candidates looked tired as they entered this gladiatorial arena.
Rule number one for politicians (or wannabe politicians): Learn from actor training and know that you are on stage all the time! That means no down time – and none of the pursed lips, unfocused eyes, hovering and pacing in the background from Trump while Clinton was speaking, described by many on social media as ‘creepy’.
- Trump appeared lethargic and de-energised as he walked onto the stage. He looked straight ahead, as if displaying tunnel vision, which made him look less comfortable than Clinton who took in the whole room.
- The sniffing continued! (Even Larry the Cat has a view on this @Number10cat…) Trump tends to grab quick inhales of breath through the nose, holding his breath high and sounding combative. Vocally, Trump once again demonstrated a lack of range and spoke largely in a monotone.
- His body language similarly lacked energy, spending most of the debate either pacing around the stage in the background or slumped against his stool. While in the first debate he displayed hyperactive body language, here his delivery was wooden for the most part. We were very aware of the mic when Trump was speaking, as he handled it clumsily – it had more ‘presence’ than it should during his responses.
- While Trump appeared better prepared than last time, he did not show adequate contrition in regards to the footage of his comments about women. By using pronouns (‘she’ and ‘her’) when referring to Clinton instead of her name, he appeared disrespectful and dismissive. His remark ‘I cannot believe I'm saying that about myself, but I guess I am a politician’ demonstrated his stream-of-consciousness thought as opposed to careful preparation and undermined his position on the stand. (Margaret Thatcher’s remark comes to mind: ‘Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.’)
- On her entrance, Clinton took the lead by walking slightly ahead and turning to acknowledge all of the audience, using her peripheral vision well. She understands the importance of camera angles and made sure Trump was visible in the background while she was speaking.
- In contrast to Trump, Clinton handled the mic with ease so we barely noticed its presence. She moved it fluidly from one hand to another as she spoke, meaning her range of gestures was not impeded. Clinton continued to use clear and decisive gestures, in particular one that has become particularly associated with her – the ‘hand on heart’ gesture. It is a difficult gesture to fake, as the movement has to occur a split second before the word is spoken, but Clinton uses it effectively to suggest that something really matters to her: ‘I want to be the President for all Americans’.
- Clinton’s body language was once again solid, her stance centred and open and her composure presidential. When she moved it was always towards the audience and with purpose and effect. Her facial expressions demonstrate her calmness in the face of interruption and personal attacks: she is able to pause, give a slight smile and continue without becoming flustered. The pause enables her to gather her thoughts instead of giving an instant emotional response and her ability to withstand Trump’s 18 interruptions demonstrates confidence and gravitas and to not be easily swayed in adversity.
- Content-wise, Clinton’s experience in politics showed through. She turned her 30 years of public service experience into an asset (‘Right out of law school I went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund… I started off as a young lawyer working against discrimination against African-American children in schools and in the criminal justice system', and later, 'four hundred pieces of legislation have my name on it’). She also cleverly allied herself with Michelle Obama, quoting her powerful put-down: ‘When they go low, you go high’.
While Trump appeared to have put in more rehearsal and preparation this time, and despite the personal and aggressive tone of the debate, in communication and presentation this was another overall win for Clinton.
Click here to see our analysis of the first TV debate.
The Guardian money feature 'Dear Jeremy' regularly publishes career-related questions and concerns from readers. Recently the feature included one reader's problem about being listened to and respected in meeting scenarios:
"My contributions at meetings – formal, informal, by email or telephone – are always ignored... This is sapping my confidence and self-esteem, and probably the way I present whatever it is I would like to say. I am also aware that I am not a particularly assertive person. Can you give me some handy hints on how best to make effective contributions to meetings?...I sense that people switch off to what I am saying."
We asked RADA in Business tutor Claire Dale how she would answer the reader's problem:
When leading the RADA in Business Personal Impact in Meetings courses, I meet and train a lot of people on our courses who struggle with these concerns. There are some straightforward techniques you can use to increase your impact in meetings.
- You say you don't feel you are a particularly assertive person. To enhance your sense of gravitas when you contribute, ensure you are sitting up straight, speak slowly and clearly so that you have time to think. Breathe in deeply enough to reach the end of your phrase - the more impact your speech has, you should find your ideas land more forcefully
- Even if the chair has invited you to make your point, don't just talk to them, or one or two others, engage everyone around the table. Use eye contact and turn your body to face different members of the meeting as you speak, so they are all involved in what you're saying making your comment much harder to ignore or brush over
- Before you speak, think about your key point, and think about what the aim of your point is - are your trying to persuade the meeting of something, reassure them, or even energise them? Make sure the tone of your voice fits your purpose. If you're certain of what you're trying to achieve, it will help to connect with your audience.
The golden rule is think, breathe, speak - take your time, use your body and voice and you'll be able to make your impact more effectively.
Click here for more information about Personal Impact in Meetings.
Find your voice, hold your space, make your impact.
Courses for women at the start of their career, middle management and senior executive level.