In conversation with

Abi Eniola

Actress and Communications Coach at RADA Business



With equal parts nerves and excitement, the Sonder & Tell team attended a presentation skills workshop last May, hosted by RADA Business – and we had the pleasure of meeting Abi Eniola, who was our coach for the day. We learnt lessons on how to use tone, pitch, volume, pace, pause to tell compelling stories. We discovered how to maximise our impact by harnessing the power of the breath and body. And importantly, it was an opportunity for us to celebrate the team’s strengths and instil a sense of confidence within ourselves.

3 months on and we still channel what we learnt from Abi when we host events, run client workshops and give talks. The lessons have been invaluable. So how could we not share some of the wisdoms we took from Abi, with you too? Read on to find out Abi’s first memories of great storytelling and performance, why her coaching work is important to her and Abi’s top tips for better presentation skills.

Question and Answer

Growing up, what were the stories and performances that caught your attention and inspired your own work?

I loved stories, full stop. That said, I was particularly drawn to stories of adventure and great intrigue. Any story in which the protagonist had to solve a mystery (the premise for all great stories, of course) would get my vote every time. Stories transported me to different worlds and I was addicted to them. The first live performance that I remember was of Rumpelstiltskin, performed by a small-scale, touring company at my first primary school in Manchester. The spellbinding moment was when Rumpelstiltskin stamped his foot in rage and disappeared in a cloud of red smoke. To my five-year-old self it was clearly magic. No further explanation was required.

Your work at RADA Business harnesses the elements of theatre and applies them to the world of business. How did your interest in the overlap between business and drama come about and what do you think businesses can learn from the world of theatre?

In 1995 I got involved in something called forum theatre. It’s an improvisatory form of theatre that empowers groups and individuals to change the way they view challenges they face with others. By changing the way they view the situation and narrative, they are able to create new strategies with which to approach the challenge. It was a time when theatre-based learning was pioneering a new, experiential approach to workplace development and I was approached by three actors who had set up a professional development company. We would reflect the workplace stories being enacted – back to the participants, so they could reframe difficult situations. It brought two worlds together – theatre and business.

When an actor rehearses a play, they spend several weeks learning how to tell a powerful story in order to transform the way in which their audience thinks, feels or behaves. They experiment and receive a lot of feedback about how their communication is being received. By the time the curtain goes up, they feel reasonably confident about how the message will land, as a result. In the workplace, people also need to communicate powerful messages and stories in order to positively influence others. Yet, they don’t often give themselves the opportunity to tell the story in different ways and receive feedback. Doing this can help people to inspire and influence others far more effectively.

“In the workplace, people also need to communicate powerful messages and stories in order to positively influence others. However, they don’t often give themselves the opportunity to try out different ways of telling the story and get feedback, beforehand. Doing this can help people to inspire and influence others far more effectively.”

What do you hope to achieve with your coaching work?

The recurring theme throughout my life and career in theatre, has been that of finding my own voice and empowering others to find theirs. It continues to impassion and inspire me. I feel privileged to walk alongside people, as they embark on the journey to discover their best selves.

What are the common presentation mistakes you see people make, and what are your top 3 tips for better presentation skills?

It isn’t that people make mistakes, it’s that people often have habits that don’t serve them when trying to put their messages across. A common habit is scripting. Unless you have the skills of a professional actor, a script will restrict you and stop you from being truly present with your audience. When people script, they often become tense and go into their head, searching for their lines. This restricts the flow of thoughts and they appear inauthentic. Secondly, anxiety and nerves often make people speed up and go into ‘transmission mode’, rather than ‘receiver mode’. Taking your time to pause after thoughts and ideas, allows the audience to receive and fully absorb the message. A third unhelpful habit is a lack of clarity about the core message. Instead of starting by asking oneself how they want the audience to change as a result of the message, people often fill their presentations or stories with too much information, which dilutes the real message. Be clear about the outcome you want, before you begin.

From an actor’s perspective, how can storytellers take words on a page and transform them so that they resonate when performed aloud?

Structure. All powerful stories and presentations have a hidden structure. All great storytellers trust the structure to take their audience on a powerful journey; whether written or spoken. Use the language you would use if you were speaking. Many people switch to much more formal language when writing and then use the same language when speaking… and wonder why-they aren’t able to connect properly with their audience.

“All powerful stories and presentations have a hidden structure. All great storytellers trust the structure to take their audience on a powerful journey.”

Some speakers that you think are brilliant?

I find Michelle Obama incredibly inspiring and relatable. The educator – Ken Robinson – always sounds very spontaneous and vibrant, but he illustrates the power of great preparation. I once attended a wedding at which Sandi Toksvig was the best woman. She was effortlessly funny, thoughtful and engaging and no one wanted her speech to end! Brene Brown has such wisdom: her speeches are insightful inspiring, and she understands the power of an emotional intention.

What’s next for Abi?

To continue helping people to find their authentic voice and share their stories.

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