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3 Oct 2014
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Politicians Acting Up
by Rory Maclean

On the wall of the first floor bar of the Old Vic Theatre, London, there's a picture of the three great actor knights. Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud. They were the mute witnesses of a new scheme that brings local government and acting together.

Four local councillors from Hammersmith and Fulham, London, were there to get a taste of what William Richards, acting coach and director of RADA in Business, could do to improve their presentational skills.

William allowed them to chat and discuss what made them feel nervous about public speaking and presentation. He then took them through some exercises which involve standing in certain ways and assessing the effect that had on an audience. This was not going to be the standard "how to speak and be interviewed" session that's provided by many companies doing media training.

For a start William always works without shoes. He says he can teach better in socks. His black polo neck and track suit trousers contrast with the rather more formal attire of a couple of the participants. The language of the course also clearly comes from a rather more a theatrical background: there was slightly nervous laughter from the councillors during a section on the importance of breathing, when he told them to "let go of your bum". The councillors were also taught how, in general, consonants in a sentence provide information and vowels provide emotion. William demonstrated the way different voices, registers and speeds affected the perception of the person speaking.

The scheme is being offered to councillors throughout England and Wales. It's been organised by the Improvement and Development Agency, which is a body set up to raise standards in local government. IDEA has negotiated a special rate with RADA in Business for the courses. These now cost roughly the same as other courses designed for those in local authorities, at approximately £250 per person.

IDEA believes that, with councillors often having to pitch for European money, anything that can give them an edge when making a presentation is likely to prove useful. There is also the hope that councillors will be able to engage more effectively with members of the public.

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