It’s no secret that acting helps with building confidence. Being in front of a camera or a theatre full of people whilst pretending to be another person requires guts and an unfaltering belief that you are succeeding in suspending your audience’s disbelief. It’s no easy task, that’s for sure.
So, when I was invited along to attend a class on presenting with confidence at NIDA, I was expecting something dramatic- to recite Shakespeare in front of each other, or crying on cue. As you can see, I was expecting wild things. What I wasn’t expecting was simply greeting my colleagues.
Our instructor for the day, Sarah Grenfell ordered us into a small circle, and with a keen smile on her face told us the first task of the day –
“Introduce yourself to each other and include a fun fact.”
Confused glances were exchanged. Shuffling awkwardly towards each other as we shook one another’s hands, smiled and said our names. The absurdity of introducing yourself to someone who you’ve worked with for months, and in some cases, for years was not lost on us and soon we were trying to hide our giggling under our breaths. Phrases like “I have a party this weekend!” and “My birthday is coming up!” were floated throughout the room as we exchanged our fun facts.
“Now.” Sarah turned to the group. “What was something that stood out when you were introducing yourself?”
We looked at each other, unsure of what to say. Other than finding the activity extremely funny, there wasn’t really anything in particular that stood out.
“Eye contact.” She smiled. “When I was walking around introducing myself, barely any of you made any eye contact. Why’s that?” The question hung in the air. She seized on the silence to continue her point. “When we’re talking with our friends in our daily conversation, do you notice that you barely make any eye contact? You would rather look at the ground or past your them. Our attention is never focused on the subject we’re talking to. So now,” She clapped her hands and with another smile pushed us into our next activity.
“Let’s try this again, but this time, I want to see eye contact.”
That proved a harder task than I had imagined.
There was something extremely unsettling about staring at someone in their eyes, shaking their hand with as much earnest you can muster, and then telling them you’re planning on going to a concert over the weekend.
My confidence didn’t build immediately, and I felt silly and quite inadequate, unsure if I was doing the right thing at all. But that’s the beauty of NIDA’s course – it was a slow, uncertain journey that eventually leads me to claim ownership of my self-esteem. In the words of my instructor of the day: “You are an actor!” And on that day, I was learning how to play someone who was fearless.
For the next eight hours, we were assigned various tasks with different purposes; we were told to walk around as if we had a crown perched on top of our head, that escalated to putting on an imaginary cloak, and then a heavy torched fitted to our chests. It turned out that these seemingly odd tasks were intended to correct our posture. We were told to recite rhymes whilst pulling an exaggerated expression. It turns out, that was to improve our enunciation. We were taught how to breathe properly. I learned I have a bad case of “shallow breath” when I’m nervous- and that happens every time I’m around clients, so I always ended up sounding unconvincing, even to myself. The course helped make us aware of and overcome these small unconscious habits we all posses which make us appear unconfident.
We learned how to enunciate. We learned how to sit. We learned how to walk into and command a room with a single sustained glance and a nice smile. We learned how to punctuate every sentence with gusto, and how to speak with conviction.
Slowly but surely, I took steps towards tweaking my voice, my tone, my posture. It was the little things that did wonders, small changes that I never would’ve considered vital to how I present myself as a person.
I walked in expecting to spend eight hours just jumping around, learning how to read off a prompt and jotting notes about acting techniques. In the end, I ended up leaving with valuable presenting skills, interpersonal skills, and a newfound confidence. I learned how to demystify the presentation process, and create the kind of presentations that have an impact and resonance.
I would recommend NIDA’s Presenting With Confidence to any corporate group looking for a great team bonding experience with valuable professional outcomes.