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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!

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