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Anxious about making presentations? Acting school RADA has some tips about how to come across as more confident.
Business women in leadership positions across the UK are still facing barriers at work on their journey to the top.
Previous research by The Institute of Leadership and Management, for its Ambition and Gender at Work report, found that 73% of women felt barriers still existed for women seeking senior management and board-level positions in the UK, compared to just 38% of men.
Similarly, our study at RADA Business looking at beating workplace anxiety revealed how women often feel more anxious than their male counterparts in key business situations. For example, 33% of women felt nervous giving a presentation to colleagues or customers, compared to 21% of men. This highlights the need for businesses to show a commitment to women as they climb the career ladder, in order to sustain a pipeline of female leaders with a belief in their own ability – and the confidence to operate as an equal at senior level.
By applying some of the practices RADA uses to train its actors, women can communicate more effectively and improve their leadership performance in business. But what are these techniques, and how can we begin to use them in a working environment?
Understanding how to flex your leadership style so that you can approach every scenario in an appropriate way can equip you with the tools to deal with a full range of challenges. For example, certain situations might require you to be authoritative, empathetic, analytical or inspirational. The most effective leaders are those who can strike this balance authentically and adapt their skill set. It’s important to firstly understand the type of leader you are, and the type of leader you could be, by focusing on your true strengths and weaknesses. In our courses we liken the workplace to a stage, and this is applicable for leaders who are constantly under the spotlight. By shining a light on all aspects of your performance, you can begin to build the necessary skills to refine it.
To deliver your message with authority, it’s essential to learn how to effectively hold your space. We tend to contract and physically minimise when we feel under pressure or unsure of our expertise, yet this can lower our status and weaken our impact as leaders.
Making a simple shift in how you use your body when presenting or speaking in a meeting can have a direct impact on how you come across to others. Try planting both feet firmly on the floor, hip width apart, when sitting or standing, as this will help you to feel more grounded. Having a solid base to operate from helps to portray confidence in your own ability to lead a discussion, and will assist you to deliver your message effectively. Owning your space can help you to speak up and own your achievements.
As well as utilising your space, it’s vital to make a connection with your audience by maintaining eye contact. This helps your message to land with impact as it is an effective way to build trust and engage others – another important part of persuasive leadership. It enables you to develop stronger working relationships with your colleagues.
Good leadership also relies on influence. Once you’ve made an initial connection with your audience, it is just as important to convey your message with clarity. Nerves tend to make our voices seem shaky or underpowered. Taking a moment to focus on your breath before you begin to speak by breathing out and in, slowly and deeply, will help to steady you and can give your voice greater energy. Experimenting with a different pitch may also help you find greater gravitas, especially when you need your message to land.
Starting to equip yourself with these skills is helpful for business professionals at all career levels, and it’s important to find time to practise these techniques to communicate well with a range of audiences – whether you are positioning yourself as an effective leader in a current role, or aspiring to a leadership role in future.
*To learn more about RADA Business, including leadership courses and courses for women at different stages of their career (comprising aspiring manager, manager and senior executive level), visit www.radabusiness.com.