Alison Sutherland: Helping women to improve their impact in the workplace

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Improving women's impact in the workplace

The pressure to make a substantial impact in the workplace can be a cause of stress. If this anxiety builds, it can actually hamper our capacity to perform to our best ability and communicate effectively. Many of us will recognise the sensation of losing our train of thought, a rising heart rate, flushing, or sweaty palms that accompany times when we are put under the spotlight.

Our study at RADA Business*, All the workplace is a stage, reveals how, in traditionally male-dominated workplaces, women can often feel more unsure of their performance than their male counterparts.

For example, nine per cent of women find they always have the desired impact when communicating at work, compared to eleven per cent of men; and only eight per cent of women find it easy to get their voice heard at work, whereas 15 per cent of men said this was the case.

This highlights the need for businesses to show a greater commitment to women as they climb the career ladder to build and sustain their impact in the workplace, and supply them with the confidence to perform to the best of their ability in every situation. By applying some of the practices RADA uses to train its actors, women can drastically increase their levels of success.

The techniques we offer help women to put themselves forward for senior roles. We focus on body, breath and voice skills, which encourage them to own their achievements, take up space, and land their message with impact.

This training is of course valuable to both men and women, for people at every stage of their career in a multitude of different industries. However, we have found our pioneering women’s programme enables participants to focus on specific challenges faced by women in the workplace, particularly those occupying, or looking to move into, senior executive roles: from tackling imposter syndrome, to owning your space and your message.

But what are these techniques, and how can we begin to put them into practice in a working environment?

When we talk about using techniques from acting, we are not talking about feigning a different persona. Rather, it’s about delivering the best version of yourself – confident, authoritative and authentic.

To make a good first impression, it’s essential to use your peripheral vision, particularly when entering a new space. This helps you to absorb the atmosphere of the room you’re walking into and shows your audience that you are engaged and fully available to them.

Making simple physical changes can change how you feel and how you present yourself, enabling you to recognise and combat the triggers of stress and anxiety when communicating. For example, you need a solid base to operate from. Plant your feet on the floor when sitting or standing and try to ensure your weight is evenly distributed across both feet. This avoids looking like you’re ‘on the back foot’. The same applies whether it’s an interview panel of two people or hundreds at a TED Talk.

It might sound obvious, but when we are anxious or nervous, we stop breathing. The key is not to breathe in but rather to breathe out. Get rid of the stressed air and the tension associated with it and make room for a new breath and a new energy.

Unlocking the power of your voice is key to making your desired impact. Avoid raising your voice at the end of the sentence when you aren’t asking a question as this can signal that you are seeking approval and in turn lower your status. State your intentions and achievements with pride. Experimenting with a different pitch may also help you find greater gravitas, especially when you need your message to land and hook the audience from the offset.

Abigail Lerman, Chief People Officer at Stella McCartney enlisted the help of RADA Business to work with her staff on a range of issues, including overcoming anxiety in speaking to people in different areas of the business with impact. She has also taken part in one-to-one bespoke coaching sessions with RADA Business tutor Sheelagh McNamara, who also leads our Executive Presence for Women programme. She describes how the techniques she has learnt have had a major impact on her performance at work:

I had an important presentation coming up and wanted to learn how to be more impactful when presenting. What I learnt from the training was how to use my body and breath to create impact, through planting my feet firmly on the floor and using diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Whilst these may have been simple techniques, I don’t think you learn this style as well with any other training provider. We do some training in-house at our offices with the RADA Business tutors, but we especially enjoy training at RADA, as it feels like we are walking on the floorboards where many famous actors have walked before.

The effect of improving communication shouldn’t be underestimated. It is an ongoing process that requires constant practice to maintain impact at all stages of your career.

These techniques not only instill confidence and impact in individuals’ performance, but can help the whole team or workforce communicate better – generating more resilient and effective organisational performance.

*RADA Business, the commercial arm of world-renowned drama school RADA,

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About Alison Sutherland

Alison Sutherland is a marketing and communications specialist. Throughout her career she has supported large and complex international change communication programmes within the finance sector. She is also a trained opera singer and has sung in the UK and globally for a number of opera companies and at independent concerts and recitals.

As Client Director at RADA Business, Alison consults with global companies to create bespoke performance programmes, as well as leading the women’s portfolio internationally. She brings the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s embodied pedagogy to the corporate market place with a breadth of parallel expertise; combining her knowledge of the corporate world with her experience as a professional singer.

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