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National Theatre Blog

Theatreworks: Women in leadership – commanding presence, boldness and passion

How Theatreworks techniques help build and strengthen women leaders

When it comes to leadership, women have come a long way. We are seeing more and more strong women leaders the world over, but there is still a lot of work to do.  

‘The work we do coaching women to command presence, take up more space and to have the confidence to be themselves in the workplace can go a long way to cultivating strong women leaders at any stage of their career,’ says Didi Hopkins, a senior facilitator for Theatreworks, the National Theatre’s own professional training programme.


Rehearsing for success

The long history of leading ladies in theatre is no accident. An actor’s job is dependent upon her making an impact and taking command of her presence on the stage or screen. Actors spend hours in rehearsals playing with how to use their voices, body language and breath, ensuring that when they are in the spotlight, they come across as the strongest, most passionate version of themselves – and the characters they portray.

Exuding this level of confidence, boldness and presence are the building blocks of strong leaders in any field. And while a female executive may not be paid to spend days rehearsing her presentation to the board, that does not mean she cannot learn the skills needed to deliver them with impact

Theatreworks applies the same techniques actors and directors use in rehearsal rooms to help organisations of all types cultivate strong leaders. ‘Our experiential training is all about being present and in the moment,’ says Hopkins. ‘By focusing on the importance of purpose – of why you’re in the spotlight at any given time – our workshops highlight why what you say and how you say it matters, helping you to convey your message with clarity to any audience.’

Theatreworks participants experience what it’s like to deliver every word clearly and with impact, with coaching from the professional facilitators running the course. They rehearse acting techniques for the voice and the body to learn how these affect communication.


So why just focus on women?

‘Often when I’m training in rooms with men and women, women can still take up less space and are less comfortable about developing their skills in front of men,’ Hopkins explains. ‘I’ve also found that they are more likely to be honest about their frustrations when they are in a session with only women.

Women-only training sessions can be an asset to any organisation’s leadership development programme. They are not designed to give preference to one gender over the other, but to empower participants to take risks and engage with the tools they need to become stronger leaders.

‘Our goal with these sessions is to connect women with what they already do well: communicate. Theatreworks provides the safe space of a rehearsal room to give women the opportunity to test their assets as communicators and to discover their potential so they can be themselves, with enhanced skills, in the spotlight,’ continues Hopkins. ‘Our workshops help women leaders to establish clarity. Not just in communicating the message they want to convey clearly, but in achieving clarity of purpose so both the speaker and the audience understand why they need to hear the message and their purpose for being there.’


Pitch perfect – speaking with conviction

Another area women find less intimidating to address in female-only training sessions is that of voice control. So often women are judged more harshly than men when it comes to something as basic as their tone of voice.

‘A tone considered to be authoritative and strong from a man can be perceived as aggressive or angry when it comes from a woman,’ says Didi Hopkins. ‘I spend a lot of time working with my women-only groups to hone their voices so even the most high-pitched or softly spoken of the group come across as centred, calm and energised.’


From invisibility to centre stage

In a world where women can and do play centre stage as equals to men, women need to ensure they are visible. Didi Hopkins offers advice on how to be a strong, visible leader: ‘Breathe, take your time, speak clearly, keep your energy up, don’t let anybody get in your way. Be passionate. And most importantly, be yourself.

‘Women generally have to work harder to be bold and be brilliant,’ she says. ‘A lot of work still needs to be done for women leaders to be fully developed and in the room. But the good news is, this is happening.’

Interested in learning more about how to incorporate Theatreworks into you your learning and development programme for women? Please get in touch with us at [email protected]