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The Voice of Leadership

The worlds of business and theatre share a profound connection, say Josie Sutcliffe and Dr Diana Theodores, leaders of the Praxis programmes, Walking Your Talk High Impact Performance and Confident & Creative Presentations Sheridan Winn reports.

Inspirational management and leadership have much to do with the power of performance. You may have the best report to announce, the most cogent piece of strategy to convey, but if you do not communicate it with awareness, energy and focus, your message may miss the mark.

Enter the theatre and you find a world of colour, imagination and story. It`s an inspirational, tough and gritty place in which `anything is possible`.
The groups of creative, motivated people here take `playing` seriously - it`s their business.

Diana Theodores and Josie Sutcliffe demonstrate how every aspect of theatre goes on in business. "These two worlds share vision, energy, communication, innovation, the need to take risks, the power of failure," says Theodores. "They both involve change, transformation and delivery of the product. We bring the two visions together in a highly creative, but practical, approach."

Business and theatre are engaged in processes - through deadlines, people skills, organisation, research and development. They harness individual talent, yet require people to work as a team. Where a company needs to retain its clients, theatre needs to engage an audience. Where b usiness is concerned with the continuous professional development and life-long learning of its employees, successful theatre is based on the continuous development, training and the growth of its performers. At the heart of each is sales turnover - whether it is delivering a service, product, or `putting bums on seats`.

Highly skilled in business development and every aspect of theatre, Theodores and Sutcliffe bring extensive experience to the Praxis programmes. They see a growing awareness in business that the Arts have much to offer - and that business has much to bring to the Arts. "The climate is one of enormous change," says Sutcliffe. "People are awakening to the belief that business needs more than just to make profits, and that everyone has the potential to be creative in their work and life."
The two-day introductory course, Confident & Creative Presentations, harnesses the creativity, essential skills and strategies needed for impressive performance. "The essence of every effective business transaction lies in good communication," says Theodores.

They look at ways to increase spatial awareness - many people are `blind` to the space around them and `working with` the audience. "We teach people to enjoy the interaction," says Sutcliffe. "We want them to understand that presenting can be a pleasant experience, not something to rush through. People often forget that they need to make a connection to individuals, not just `speak to a group`. We look at how you listen to the people around you. How do you hear things? How do you organise, very quickly, into effective and dynamic groups? How do you improvise?"
A common problem in presentation is that people lack self-awareness of their body language - and the message and the body do not match. I feel very excited about this project, they may say, while standing with their arms crossed. "They may look at the floor and speak in a monotone or circle around the point, not getting to the guts of what they are trying to say," says Theodores. "They, literally, do not `speak up`."
"It is about interaction, not just delivery," she adds. `You will learn new ways to use technology to support you. There is no substitute for a strong, live body presence."
The in-depth, five-day modular programme, Walking Your Talk High Impact Performance* aims to develop delegates to their peak performance level. "The people who will be attracted to this programme will want - and need - to go further," says Sutcliffe.
Theodores and Sutcliffe commonly find even senior managers feel vulnerable speaking in front of their peers. "These people may already have a vast box of skills for presenting themselves in a variety of arenas," says Sutcliffe. "We offer new tools. We work to a point where they can relax and search deeper. We look at how they connect to their bodies, their passion - their more authentic selves. It`s about asking how can we be honest and vulnerable - and yet very robust."

The programme draws on the notion of story, rehearsal and repetition.
They play with the idea of the arena - a place where the imagination can go wild for a while. "If you want to think `out` of the box, you have to first be `in` a box - the rehearsal room," says Sutcliffe. "This is a safe place where anything can happen. This is serious fun - people really do enjoy themselves."
As well as delivery and improvisation techniques, the development of writing skills forms a core part of Walking Your Talk*. The programme is supported by different mind/body practices, to enhance good breathing and relaxation. "Optimum performance is about being alert, yet relaxed," says Theodores. "We help people to learn to `go with the flow` and be creative, yet at the same time advance their ideas, be alert to information. There is no one standard - it is very much about coaching the individual."

What drives a story, they demonstrate, is the constant search for clarity and innovation. "Artists are not interested in `pushing the envelope` - they`re inventing the envelope," says Theodores. "Theatre is an ongoing process, in which the players are required to make the story fresh at each performance. Businesses today have to work creatively and effectively with continuous change. Theatre brings new ways of looking at that."

"We aim for shifts in perception," concludes Sutcliffe "We provide a safe environment in which people can take risks, to think and behave differently. Many people learn to play for the first time. It`s transformational work."

*Please note Walking Your Talk: High Impact Performance now has a new title "Beyond Presentations: Speaking to Inspire".

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