Well, you don’t actually have to break a leg, but do uncross them, don’t stand with them too close together, or too wide apart, don’t bend your knee and do open one leg out to the audience. And don’t smile girls, your smiles are precious and to be given sparingly! Whilst you’re at it, don’t pin your elbows into your waist and if your feet and arms are telling you they want to move, go with it. But do it slowly, confidently, deliberately – captivate the room.
So began a day crammed full of useful insights into how myself and a colleague come across in various scenarios, reinforced with role plays to build upon, and eliminate, certain character traits. Traits we weren’t always conscious of, despite feeling generally perceptive about how we are received. It seems I, for example, have a tendency to impose an Australian, upwards inflection, on my speech when nervous – such as the start of presentations. In no uncertain terms, I was told that this made my otherwise perfect Southern Standard English (my Yorkshire heritage is rolling in its grave at this point!) sound rather girly! Not exactly the effect I’m generally aiming for in presentation scenarios. Speech exercises (to practice in front of the mirror at teeth brushing time) and a number of body language role plays later and I’ve been set on my way to becoming a compelling presenter.
From the moment I entered the stage doors of the Noel Coward Theatre and weaved my way through the rabbit warren that is backstage, I was captured by the magic of the place. For one day only, I was Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, at the finishing school any modern-day female sniffs at but every little princess wants to attend. Be assured, every modern-day female should be offering their right leg (broken or not) for the opportunity to attend such a course.
Today I learnt the je ne sais quoi that makes certain people so charming, so compelling, so present. The tricks of slowing down actions, using your eyes, opening up gestures and pausing effectively, that are immediately recognisable in said charmers. The best secret weapon? The power to influence and persuade – to have the pull factor. That is, the useful tools for initiating and directing difficult conversations into an outcome where people choose to follow you rather than feeling pushed. This was all termed as being high status, without any of the negative connotations that is often associated with the phrase.
As always, the mantra is practice makes perfect, so, whilst the rain in Spain is falling mainly on the plain, I shall be attempting to delight my companions with my newly acquired charm, wit and high status!