Interviews

Talking Business - Barbara Warren (NIDA)

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Up next on Talking Business is Barbara Warren, head of Corporate Performance at the National Institute of Dramatic Art or NIDA. Just as an act troop requires strong teamwork to give the best performance possible, staff need to be able to work together effectively so that business runs smoothly. Barbara teaches acting to a range of corporate clients to build teamwork, leadership, presentation, customer service and communications skills.

Welcome to Talking Business Barbara.


BW Thank you Peter.

PS Barbara, I’m sure people on the plane are saying, ‘hang on, NIDA and business?’ How did that happen?

BW I hope people on the plane are saying that. It’s a curious mixture but obviously a very relevant one. If you think, just for example, the role of a director in theatre, it’s an incredible leadership position, and in regards to acting and performance, all the time people are being scrutinised for their performance in leadership positions, so the context for us is that we are well placed to be able to offer these programs and access the range of skills that performers need to utilise to be very effective in business.

PS I’m kind of thinking of a CEO who can pretend the company’s going really well, that’s a really valuable skill to have isn’t it?

BW I really like the use of your word pretend there because we’re acting...

PS I’m being facetious.

BW Oh absolutely, but that’s a very good question because that’s one I’m frequently asked. An actor doesn’t pretend, an actor embodies the very skills of making sure we understand what it’s like to be that person in that place at that time, and therefore for us, we really do look at that approach of a CEO or any manager who had to really be true to themselves in regards to how things are going and convey that – the richness of the language they choose and the messages for example. So it does come back to theskills of how you embody performance.

PS Yes, so important because there aren’t many natural born leaders and people, because of their skills and their success, are often promoted into a position and all of a sudden if they realise they’re not really good at being a public leader, they’ve lead themselves brilliantly to get to a position, but leading others is another skills set again isn’t it?

BW It absolutely is, and it’s so important for people to feel comfortable in public speaking engagements. We all read the statistics that people would rather be dead than do public speaking, and it’s a fascinating statistic for me. We want to make sure that people are very excited by the process of public engagements and therefore fi nding a way to be able to really access those skills to make their presence felt, have an impact and be influential, all the skills that obviously are required for those roles.

PS So do people who feel as though they have a weakness in that kind of public presentation come to you and say ‘look, can you make an objective assessment of what’s wrong with me and then make recommendations on how I can improve?’

BW Two scenarios there, people who clearly identify that they are challenged in that area and would like a bit of an audit from us in regards to how we are perceiving them, and also people who really enjoy the process of speaking but would like to find techniques and a few tips on how they can really enhance the wonderful skills they’ve already got. So for me I always believe that anybody, regardless if you’re terrified of public speaking or it’s something that you enjoy, you still need to practise it, you still need to access the physical and the vocal skills that go with that.

PS We’re talking to Barbara Warren from NIDA. Barbara, the teamwork aspect, how does NIDA participate in improving teamwork in corporations?

BW This is a fantastic area for us because it really does allow us to access our creativity, so for us we would have a whole range of activities where a team could come in. It might be as simple as putting on a morning TV show so everybody has to think about what their role will be there and how they access their creativity, what they’re hobbies are to speak freely about them, so it becomes a task with purpose and significance in that people really have to work together to achieve that product at the end, and then they’ll
get to see their show back. That’s obviously a hilarious time for them, but also the very essence of theatre games, Peter. People really underestimate the spirit of play and the importance of that, of being able to setup a context for a group to explore, to investigate, to have a laugh. So to really think about how you can garner the intellectual strengths of a group of people and that can be done through a range of theatrical games. Team work is vitally important in theatre, if you don’t all pull together you don’t get a show on and that’s a great metaphor that we can assist business with.

PS Do you find people come to you and say I’ve got a sales team and I’m just not really sure how they are personally relating to customers? Can you guys make an assessment and make recommendations of being more engaging with people? Is that the sort of thing you can do?

BW Most definitely, that’s the very thing that we do, and more importantly, you know people are recognising that without relationship, without that point of engagement, there is no sale. So the immediate transfer of skills from our world to the business world become very pertinent.

PS Is it possible that someone could be a fantastic seller over the phone but face to face it is completely different and the skill development could come from a place like yours?

BW Absolutely, and more and more I feel that people are relying on personal contact so people are looking for that way of establishing rapport very quickly. If you take someone away from a telephone (which in our language is a prop) and you put them in front of a person, then
immediately the interaction has changed, and if you cannot access those personal skills that we’ve been referring to, then obviously the business relationship is doomed. It’s very important that people really do understand the context of an actor/audience relationship, in this case, presenter audience relationship, and really take the time to consider and be considerate to what the needs of the audience are.

PS Are there are scenarios that you can create on behalf, for example, of management so they can hold up a mirror to their staff showing them how their currently behaving to customers or to each other by creating sort of role plays, and then as a consequence are you happy with the way that it was played out? Do you do those sorts of scenarios?

BW Absolutely, it’s a technique where you can actually get like a board, for example, to be involved in various scenarios but also to use our professional acts, that’s an enormous area of our work, where our actors are given a script by a client and we will actually go through a variety of situations and then their staff go, oh well, that person there did A, B and C and if I was in that situation I would do this, give them an opportunity to try out the alternatives, and I think in real-life, in real-time we don’t really get that opportunity so it’s very important to examine and have a look at a style of playback theatre where you’re seeing a very real workplace scenario be revealed right before your eyes. It’s very exciting and it’s wonderful and playful again.

PS I guess it creates a line of action as a response to when a certain situation comes up, someone would be saying, this is the way I should handle that sort of situation?

BW That’s right, and part of the way I teach is to really make sure people understand the inherent value of rehearsal. If you haven’t thought about it, if you haven’t visualised it, if you haven’t seen all those alternatives, then you are leaving yourself completely exposed to a whole range of failures. Now, it’s okay to fail as long as you learn from that experience, so yes the scenario that you’ve created there is very true, it does give people that opportunity to see possibilities.

PS When you where talking about that it reminded me of my early days in radio working with two pretty well known people, Andrew Denton and Doug Mulray, and one day I said, ‘how can you guys always be so ready with the quick response?’ and Doug looked at me very seriously and said, ‘Switz, in this game, research your adlibs’, it works in business as well does it?

BW It does Peter. People always say to me ‘but some people have just got that natural ability to walk into a room and they’re the presence’. They really work at that, they really rehearse that. I don’t know any substitute for good preparation or rehearsal, there is none in my view, it really is something that you have to put your heart and soul into and care greatly about and maybe it’s the element of care that’s also lacking in a lot of business presentations.

PS Great. Now, before we go, what’s the website if people want to learn what NIDA’s doing for business?

BW It is www.nida.edu.au and our link is Corporate Training.

PS Great. Thanks for joining us on Talking Business.

BW Thank you Peter.

Talking Business airs on Qantas Inflight Radio. Click here to download complete Talking Business transcripts from the Qantas website.

Published: Friday, June 19, 2009

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