Impact and Influence for Women: My Two Days with RADA Business

Friday, 10th May 2019

Guest blog by Sarah Glynn, Kuits Solicitors

Just one of the perks of being asked to judge the Made in Manchester Awards this year (in addition to meeting lots of talented young professionals and the free biscuits), was that I was invited by one of my co-judges from RADA Business to attend one of their new training courses in Manchester.

Most people will know RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) as the leading institution for training actors and technicians, having produced leading names such as Alan Rickman, Gemma Arterton and Kenneth Branagh.

Fewer people will have heard of its corporate training arm, RADA Business, which was set up 11 years ago to generate a vital source of income for its community education and outreach work; and to subsidise its course programmes, which remain committed to attracting a diverse array of students from a range of financial and social backgrounds.

Well-established in the capital, the institution has now brought its training programme to the North. Their courses are designed to create confident business leaders, underpinned by the core principle that “powerful words need powerful voices”.

RADA Business currently offers five courses in Manchester, ranging from presenting and storytelling skills, to increasing personal impact at work. As the youngest member of a seven-strong management team, I felt that their ‘Impact and Influence for Women’ programme, which is “specifically designed for women at management level, enabling you to drive towards the next level of your career with impact and gravitas”, was for me.

The course was delivered across two full-day workshops at HOME (Manchester’s centre for international contemporary art, theatre and film – not from my own house, unfortunately), which added positively to the sense of purpose and performance. Groups are kept to a maximum of eight, so you spend lots of one-on-one time with the course tutor.

The underlying premise of the course is to arm you with the voice and body presence needed to feel and be confident in tough business situations. Research shows that words only account for 7% of someone’s ability to influence others – whereas tone of voice accounts for 38% and non-verbal communication for 55%. The trick is, it seems, not to worry too much about what you say (within reason), but how you deliver it.

The course’s all-female cast meant that everyone felt able to speak honestly and, often, vulnerably about their experiences at work. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the topic, it turned out that all of those attending were senior female figures operating within a male-dominated workforce or management team. On a personal level, it felt extremely empowering to spend two days with women who shared similar challenges (and, sometimes, levels of self-doubt) to me.

The desired outcomes of the group ranged from speaking more confidently in meetings and being more assertive, to being an effective leader and staying in control of difficult conversations and situations.

The first morning was spent valuably, identifying and addressing our underlying default behaviours and bad habits. From there, the course became much more ‘physical’ – this is, in my opinion, is what sets it apart from other public speaking/impact workshops out there, which in my experience tend to focus on structuring your speech (the “what”, rather than the “how”).

Let’s dispel a concern – while the programme is delivered by classically trained actors, the course itself was not overly “dramatic”. Yes, there was some Shakespeare. No, at no point did I have to pretend to be a tree swaying in the wind. All of the content, though different, had a practical purpose.

The first day covered some helpful breathing techniques and voice work aimed to help you project your words to a large audience with confidence and impact. There was also some body work aimed at creating physical presence when standing or sitting down. While this felt a little strange at first, take it from someone who scraped a ‘C’ in GCSE Drama – no acting skills are needed!

The programme reaches an impressive crescendo on the final afternoon, when real actors arrive to role play the real-life ‘difficult scenario’ you submitted to the organisers prior to your arrival, putting every technique you have learned over the course of the two days to the test in a very memorable and effective way. Watching on as a perfectly nice TV and film actor named Joe transforms into someone you have found it difficult to work with is quite a surreal experience – and one that, I must say, was rather cathartic.

Will the programme push you out of your comfort zone? Certainly. Will you return to work with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence in your own ability to have influence and impact on those around you? Absolutely.