People always talk about being ‘authentic’ at work. But is it just putting on a show? Not quite. There’s a real, powerful authenticity that comes from experience in theatre, says Karl Green.

On stage, everything revolves around the story and the audience. It’s the same in the working world. We want to connect with our colleagues and clients, to make them feel something and take action.

As someone from a performance background of over a decade, and recently pivoted career from dance and musical theatre to coaching and development, I have witnessed the transformative impact performance skills can offer in life and careers. My background in performance has undoubtedly equipped me to be a stronger communicator.

The essence of authenticity, the power of language, the nuances of tone, the significance of body language, and the dynamic interplay of energy – all these elements from the world of performance art and theatre seamlessly intertwine with the dynamics of the professional working world.

Just as an actor strives to embody the essence of their character authentically, professionals aim to express their ideas and intentions genuinely. The authenticity in theatre emanates from a deep understanding of the character and the story, much like how professionals align themselves with the purpose and objectives of their projects and teams. This authenticity, whether on stage or in the boardroom, carries a palpable power that resonates with the audience or colleagues, fostering trust and connection.

The Power of Words & Tone

Theatre taught me the immense power of language. Remember, only 7% of communication is based on words themselves. The tone, the rhythm, the way we paint a picture with our descriptions – that’s what makes a message truly resonate.

Imagine delivering feedback via email. Instead of just saying ‘lazy’, wouldn’t it be more impactful to describe the body language that conveys laziness? Suddenly, the recipient has a clearer understanding and visual reinforcement of your point.

Tone, akin to the melody of a musical performance, infuses communication with subtleties and nuances that shape its reception. Just as an actor modulates their tone to convey various emotions and intentions, professionals can wield tone to evoke specific responses and perceptions. Whether it’s fostering enthusiasm in a sales pitch or conveying empathy in interaction with a team member tone can bring your words to life.

Crafting Your Delivery

Just as actors break down scripts, we can analyse our communication style. What’s the goal? What do we want the audience (our colleagues) to feel and do? Is it a board meeting where we need to inspire confidence, or a one-on-one where empathy is key?

The tone we choose, the way we use pauses and emphasis – these are all tools to shape how our message lands. Think of different dance styles – each requiring a different energy and presence. Tailoring our own ‘performance persona’ to the situation allows us to connect on a deeper level.

On receiving a script or a song, I would annotate the words to discover the tone. What story am I telling? Is it a happy story? Is it a sad story? Do I want to add a dramatic pause at the end here? It’s important to consider what impact you want to have using your tone. Do you want to flourish or create a bit of pzazz around a word? Harden or soften it? It’s really helpful to put these in your notes, speech or script.

Learning from the Masters

Feeling a bit nervous about stepping outside your comfort zone? Embrace the ‘rehearsal room’ mentality. Just like actors, we can experiment, fail, and learn from it. Start small – find a power word and create a physical action to go with it. Over time, you’ll build a repertoire of communication techniques that make you a more impactful presence.

Think about stepping into the shoes of a different dance style, and what that requires of you. For example, if you’re going to deliver to your board meeting, would you go and wear your tap shoes because you need to be precise, on beat, rhythmic and make sure you have all that information to hand? Or can you be a little bit more contemporary in a team meeting for example and go with the flow?

Sometimes for people who aren’t performers, we look at taking inspiration from other people around us. We can tap into a ‘performance persona’ when it’s required. Famous artists who have that performance persona’s include: Eminem and his alter ego Slim Shady, Beyonce becomes Sacha Fierce, Madonna becomes Madam X, and David Bowie, had four including Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Zane and the White Duke.

Each of these different personas require something different from the artist and impacts their music, style, body language and performance. If you could be anybody on stage, or if you could take some amazing skills or some amazing qualities from some incredible performers, what would they look like? How would you embody them, and how would you like them to then go and show up in the world?

Over half of our communication is via body language

Body language, comprising over half of human communication, serves as a silent but potent medium for expression. In performance art, gestures, posture, and movement convey a wealth of information, enhancing the narrative and character portrayal. Similarly, in the workplace, conscious control of body language can significantly influence how messages are received and interpreted. Whether it’s exuding confidence during a presentation or mirroring the body language of a client to establish rapport, mastering the art of nonverbal communication can help land your message more effectively than only relying on words and tone.

Consider how you can lift the words off the paper and use them to create gestural movement. I like to use this one because it’s quite simple. For example, how can you mime ‘drinking a cup of tea’. It’s easy isn’t it? Telling a story using our bodies through gestures, mime or dance can be simple but incredibly powerful.

Different dance styles require you to be different things. And much like different audiences or settings, they require you to be different things. Depending on what you’re performing, your audience will require something different from you. Do you need to be high energy? Full of charisma? Perhaps tap into hip hop or musical theatre? Do they need the jazz hands, or do they need fast paced, action or perhaps a lyrical routine where there’s a little bit more back and forth, there’s a little bit more fluidity in terms of conversation?

Across words, tone and body language, we always look at: who am I, who am I telling the story to, who am I performing to, and what do I want them to know? Also, what do I want them to feel? And then, what do I want them to do, or discover?

When I was starring in the Take That musical, we wanted our audience to know that this wasn’t a story about Take That the band. It was a story about a group of girls who grew up with the music of the band, and how the music marked every occasion in their life.

We wanted them to feel emotionally connected to each character and see themselves in each part of their lives. We wanted to create feelings of happiness and sadness throughout the performance. Finally, what did we want them to do? Well, we wanted them to love it. We also wanted them to discover that in times of loss, there will always be an element of mourning, but then also remembering.

If you still feel uncertain, I’d encourage you to test out dialling up the different communication techniques. Don’t be afraid to fail, instead of letting fear and discomfort hold you back, think of it as testing and learning, to find out what works for you.

Much like when you’re in a rehearsal process, it takes months to get to the final product. It’s important to take time to discover your strengths. Discover some of your blind spots, and areas you could improve on. When dancing, I struggled to turn clockwise, I could only pivot anti-clockwise. With practice, falling, failing and tripping over my feet I learned how to get better at it.

Being comfortable with performance isn’t about putting on a fake act. It’s about using the skills honed on stage to become a more authentic, impactful communicator. We can leverage the power of words, tone and body language to connect with our audience and achieve our goals. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Let’s make them feel empowered, inspired and ready to take action.


Karl Green is a performance and wellness coach at Wishfish Coaching & Development and Secrets from a Coach.