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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006, 18:31 GMT
Wherefore art thou results sheet?
By Will Smale
BBC News business reporter

Rada tutor Greg de Polnay
Rada's Greg de Polnay says correct breathing is core to speaking skills

"Some people do still come in with the misconception that we are going to ask them to dress up as trees," smiles Andrew Lewis of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada).

Speaking in the rarefied environment of Rada's historic headquarters in Bloomsbury, central London, Mr Lewis and his colleague Greg de Polnay are detailing the work the famous acting school does for some of the UK's biggest companies.

For while the sensitive and refined world of acting might seem a million miles away from the hard-nosed business community, Rada is in fact in hot demand in the UK's boardrooms.

For the last five years, it has been offering business people and companies training courses in everything from public speaking to report presentation, leadership and team-building.

It even offers special courses to politicians, to enable them to deal better with situations in which they might face tough questioning.

And there is not a single human tree in sight.

Just the same Rada tutors who over the years have tought such famous alumni as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh and Glenda Jackson.

Presentation 'tools'

"If a business person wishes to improve their public speaking skills, we don't have any involvement in the actual content of their speech or Powerpoint presentation," says Mr de Polnay.

It is far from just an enjoyable day out pretending to be an actor
Rada's Andrew Lewis

"Rather, we give them the tools they need to deliver that content in the most effective possible way."

With a variety of different course lengths available, from one or two days to more intensive one-to-one tuition, Rada in Business' clients range from accountancy giant Ernst & Young to insurance firm Prudential and even the Department of Trade & Industry.

"Ahead of a public speaking engagement, many business people put 100% of their efforts into the actual detail of the presentation," says Mr de Polnay, who has been a Rada tutor for 15 years, and prior to that, a professional actor for 21 years.

"But this is actually only 7% of the audience's attention. Instead, 55% is on the person's appearance and 38% on their voice.

"We help them to better develop this remaining 93%."

Nerves and sceptics

At a typical Rada in Business training day, people are taught everything from how to improve their posture to breathing and speaking skills - with each making many presentations in turn and seeing how they improve as the day progresses.

Lord Attenborough
Lord Attenborough is a Rada old boy

"Breathing is absolutely vital," says Mr de Polnay.

"It is central to how you make your presentation in a clear and confident manner, rather than rushing through."

Mr Lewis, a Rada in Business account manager, says that while some participants can initially be nervous, the training events are intended to put people quickly at ease.

"We get some who are terrified when they come along, and others who can be rather arrogant and sceptical," he says. "So it is a question of psychology and balance.

"The courses are always held in informal venues, such as rehearsal rooms, rather than hotels - we call it the 'wooden floor' effect - and people are asked to wear casual clothing.

"For the more initially sceptical, they quickly realise that the courses are very, very professional, and that they can learn a lot.

"It is far from just an enjoyable day out pretending to be an actor."

Some large companies - who shall remain anonymous - now even call upon Mr de Polnay or one of his colleagues the day before they pitch for multi-million pound contracts.

"We have chief executives and chairmen who want us to help them choose which of their staff should be making the big presentation, and how it should be best approached," he says.

"We help them make an impact, instead of dying in 'death by Powerpoint'."

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