Acting out confident communication

  • Passage by Lian Zhang (Painting, 2013)

We spoke to Ben Gallacher from Central School of Speech and Drama about how exercises drawn from acting training can help us all improve how we communicate with clients, colleagues, collectors, employers, and others. Try it out for yourself tonight if you're coming to our sold-out workshop on confident communication – or if you didn't get a ticket in time, you can also follow live on Twitter as it happens

We've worked in communication and voice training for a number of years, with teachers, TV presenters, lawyers, MPs, everyone. The root of the training is how to become more confident, more persuasive, how to have more rapport with people and how to increase your communication skills. It's an increasingly competitive market for recent graduates: it's more and more important to come across as professional and a good communicator.

Our workshops are experiential, it's very much about doing it yourself. We try to employ the metaphor of the rehearsal room. You get up, give something a go, if it doesn't work you move on and if it does work you might use it again at a different point. It's about trying things out and seeing what resonates with you.

As a drama school we approach communication in a highly physical way: how to increase the range and colour of your voice, how to project yourself into a room and hold people's attention. Body language is about building awareness. Actors' training makes you more aware of a room or space, how you stand or sit, how that impacts on the people around you. We're just looking at increasing people's awareness of how they hold themselves. With an actor, it always comes back to bring to find 'neutral' in how you stand and with your voice as well. 'Neutral' is where you come back to before you find a character, it's a 'clean' state where you aren't showing any particular information about yourself.

Even in a short workshop, you can make improvements in your awareness of your body. I often liken it to going to the gym: if you go just once it makes a bit of a difference, but the more you go, the more change you will see. The space outside the training room is where the real change happens, as you apply the techniques to real life.

A lot of the time we deal with people who have an aversion to speaking in public. The fear is cyclical and self-fulfilling: the more scared you are, the less likely you are to try it, and you never give yourself the chance to improve. We all have the ability to communicate in public – yes, some people find it easier than others, but it's a normal thing to be asked to do and everyone needs to be able to do it. We recognise that people get nervous, but we can offer strategies on how to use that energy in a positive way. The more you present in front of an audience, the more confident you will become.

Our workshops are a safe space to try things out. Often people who are nervous of speaking in public end up only experiencing public speaking when there really is something at stake. They put off trying it out until they really have to, and then they're in a situation where anyone would be nervous!

Sometimes we encounter resistance from people who think they will have to do actory things like reciting Shakespeare in the nude, which we don't do! What we do in the training room is respond to the people who are in the room. We have specific objectives we are working towards but the people in the room lead it. If someone has something they want to explore, we facilitate that. It's more like drama school, it's about empowering people to build skills they can use in other areas.

I did three years of acting training, which means I've had lots of experience of getting it completely wrong! As an actor you misinterpret and make bad choices all the time, and you learn from that. That's how you improve.