A Knight to remember

Anyone who has read my biography will know that I also dabble in the world of showbiz. Towards the end of 2012 I had the chance to produce and direct a short play which was being recorded for radio.

A couple of the challenges I faced brought me directly into contact with the techniques I coach as a Working Voices trainer – relaxation and performing under pressure. Not only did I have to deliver the finished product by the end of the day but I also had to deal with the nervous anxiety I felt from working with one of the greatest British actors of his generation.

As a coach I am often told by delegates that they get nervous and distracted when working with or talking to senior people. This was one of those situations. The person I was to work with for the day could certainly be classed as a ‘senior person’ in relation to my experience in radio production. I don’t wish to name drop but suffice to say he is not only a Knight but also an Emmy, Tony and Olivier award winner, has worked with the likes of Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier, and been directed by the likes of Robert Altman, Kenneth Branagh, Ridley Scott and now… me… and this would be my first EVER radio production!  No pressure then…

It was time to practice what I preach.

1. Recognise the anxiety.
Arriving at the studio well in advance of the cast I had already noticed my anxiety levels were rising – increased heart rate, nervous fidgeting, increased effort to focus. I knew these reactions would impact on my ability to perform if I didn’t take action.

2. Outcome thinking
I began to focus on the positive outcome I wanted to see – Everyone involved enjoying the process and a fine piece of radio drama at the end of the day.

3. Mental relaxation
If I started to think negative thoughts – “I can’t possibly direct him!” – I would stop the thought, recognise it as a stress response and focus on my responsibility, “You’re the director, you’re here, focus on the task in hand, he’s a person like anyone else”.

4. Physical relaxation
A minute before his arrival I took a few deep breaths. No-one noticed this small, physical act but the impact was highly beneficial. My heart-rate relaxed, I reduced my mental anxiety and I became excited about meeting this person – not nervous.

5. Be yourself
I avoided trying to be the person I thought he might want to meet and focused on being myself. As a result I was relaxed when we met, giving me the chance to realise just how warm, engaging and friendly he was. I wasn’t obsessed by how I was coming across so I could appreciate the company I was in.

These anxiety management techniques can be applied whenever you meet ‘senior’ people. The pay-off for me was that I briefly got to know and work with a delightful and hugely talented person (who just happened to be one of my heroes) and we all had a fun, enjoyable and highly productive day.

Which, after all, is what you want if you get the chance to work with Sir Derek Jacobi.

Oh dear… did I just name drop!

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