Speaking with confidence doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Speaking up in a workplace setting can also feel challenging — and this is often particularly true of those in a junior position, women, and people of color.
A technology-focused venture capital firm observed this trend among many of its more junior staff. Although they were highly intelligent and good communicators, they were less comfortable speaking up in front of senior partners. One of the leaders of the firm had participated in an Acting with Power workshop with our founder, Rich Braden, and believed that the tools she learned in his class at Stanford could be useful for her colleagues.
How we did it
We worked with the participants over the course of two workshops, combining lectures with improv to help them work through and understand the ideas. The overarching premise is that power exists — in every interaction we have each day, whether we notice it or not.
We wanted the participants to understand and define power, enabling them to more easily identify different forms of power. To illustrate this more clearly, participants engaged in several exploratory activities that helped them understand how power shows up in their daily lives through both verbal and non-verbal cues.
From there, the objective was to teach them how to stretch their authentic selves. We guided the participants to push outside of their comfort zone to develop a set of tools to more effectively navigate power and achieve their desired outcomes. Participants practiced reading quotes in the ‘voice’ of different people, from a queen to a preschool teacher. While the activity may have felt uncomfortable or silly, it demonstrated the importance of considering not just what you say, but how you say it. Through this series of activities, folks saw that in order to have power, they needed to act the part — and over time, it would begin to feel more natural.
By the end of the workshops, participants developed new skills to help them more appropriately act within the context that’s demanded from them. They learned to both “power up” and “power down,” understanding when and how to show up differently in different spaces.
The tools they learned didn’t just serve to make them feel more comfortable speaking up, it also helped them feel more confident in sharing their ideas in more public settings. By the end, more junior team members were well-versed in the intricacies of power structures and felt more confident navigating them effectively.