Category: Tips

Personalise your pre-performance ritual


Recently we wrote about overcoming nerves, but what about warming up? As performers, speakers, teachers, facilitators, we all have our own rituals to prepare us before we face our audience.

Creating your own personalised ritual can take years of trial and error. When to eat? How much sleep do you need? Do you stretch? Sing? Do a crossword? We all have our own traditions and sequences to get us in the zone.

But once you refine it, your ritual can become a reliable friend. It can be the trusted sequence that prepares you to perform at your best.

We surveyed our company to find out what kinds of warm up rituals they do. The answers are as varied and individual as our ensemble members!

We are creating a resource page of warm up rituals. What’s yours? Let us know in the comments section below.

Our company says:

1. Connect with the breath.

Lie in semi supine, flat on your back with knees bent up, head resting on a largish book (either 20 mins at home earlier in the day or briefly during the warm up). Take a moment to be still and notice the breath.

2. Stretch (and shake out nerves).

We all have our personal favourites from yoga poses to Grotowski-inspired specific sequences. The repetition of a routine that reminds us of past performances can be as important as the stretches themselves.

3. Warm up the voice

Humming, trilling,  yawning, brrrrrr (vibrating lips), rrrrrrr (trilling tongue) sounds, singing. And of course, tongue twisters!

Will you wander with William and Wanda-

4. Connect with fellow performers.

Group warm-up exercises force us to make eye contact and be ‘in response’ to our fellow performers. Zap is a great one for this reason. Nerves often send us retreating into our own heads, so anything that can encourage presence with other performers and playfulness is good. Being gentle & positive with co-performers before a gig is important.

What are your top three warm up rituals? Let us know in the comments below.





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5 hot tips to stay cool under pressure



Whether its presenting, auditioning, interviewing or leading a team, all of us get nervous. Here are some hot tips to keep you cool and calm under pressure.

1. Focus on the Breath

An oldie but still a goodie. We all hear this one a lot. But breathing is still the first thing we forget to do when we are under stress. And its the best remedy to calm a brain reeling from overwhelm, nerves or stage fright. Breathing deeply sends much needed oxygen to our brain which helps us to think more clearly and calms our nervous system. The best thing to do just before you present is your favourite deep breathing practise.

Try this: Before you walk into the room or onto the stage, put your hands on your belly and take a few deep breaths into your hands.

2. Power Pose (in the bathroom)

In her TED talk, Amy Cuddy reveals her research that our bodies can change our minds. By holding a power pose for two minutes we can significantly increase risk tolerance, increase testosterone by 20%, decrease the stress hormone cortisol by 25% and feel more assertive, confident and comfortable: the best way to feel when facing a group of people.

Try this: arrive early and hold one of these power poses in the bathroom (or a private space) for two minutes before you enter the presenting space. Sounds strange, but it works.



3. Dress well

Sounds shallow, but it can save a lot of stress. Take time the day before to plan out what you’re going to wear. Choose clothing that is appropriate to the occasion, but also make sure its comfortable. Make sure you’ve worn it before. If you sweat, make sure it’s dark or loose enough that it won’t show. Make sure you can move your arms and sit down comfortably. Take the time to make sure everything is clean and (if necessary) ironed.

Planning in this way will make your preparation smooth (no panicked running around the house or last minute changes) and will make sure you feel confident and comfortable on the day.

4. Tell a story

If you’re presenting, open and close with a story. Throw a story in the middle of your talk. Stories grab listeners attention like nothing else. Stories are memorable and connect the listener to your content instantly. If you feel people have stopped listening, you haven’t included enough stories. Turn boring content around with an interesting anecdote.

If you’re interviewing or auditioning: connect with the decision maker with a story that will interest them. Even better – make them laugh.

5. Practise precision: no waffling or waving

If you can say it in less, do. There’s nothing better than a presentation that gets to the point, tells a few entertaining stories and sprinkles humour throughout.

If you know you wave your arms about or feel uncomfortable standing in front of people, put something in your hand. A pen, a whiteboard marker, a presentation clicker or something related to your situation. It will ground you and give those flapping arms something to hold on to.

What’s your tried and true tip for staying calm under pressure? The more tips the better! Share them with us in the comments below.

Good luck out there! Stay cool.


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The group that sings together, stays together


When did you last sing?

Today we want to share with you one of our favourite songs. We sing together every rehearsal, every training, every warm up. We sing together to warm up to each other, to open up to the space, our voices and our hearts. We sing to let go of our day so far and arrive in this moment with these people.

We sing because it feels good.

Somagwaza was taught to us by Jo Salas when her and Jonathan Fox (co-founders of playback theatre) visited Australia in 2013. Somagwaza is a song from South Africa where choral singing plays a major role in traditional Bantu music. This song is sung when young men are initiated into manhood.

Where’s your favourite place to sing, shake it off and feel good? Let us know in the comments below. 

This stirring song has been popular in our workshops, and we’ve recorded it just for you. Its in three parts which are on separate tracks and the final track puts all the parts together.

You can download it free from Sound Cloud and use it in your own workshop, dinner party, warm up, family reunion or any group of people wanting to feel good.

Hint: when putting the three parts together, make sure all three parts say the word ‘Somagwaza’ at the same time. Therin lieth the harmony.

So come on over, listen and sing:


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Soft skills are the new black[Crown]-Keep-Calm-And-Use-Your-Soft-Skills (1)


Did you see the article in The Age recently titled “The rise of soft skills: Why top marks no longer get the best jobs”? The journalist John Elder described how leading companies from Australia and the UK are valuing more than ever ‘soft skills’ in their workforce.

So what exactly are soft skills?

They are skills that build personal connection. Have you noticed how things are more likely to go our way when we are able to make a genuine connection with someone? Soft skills help us do that. They are skills in emotional intelligence, communication, conflict resolution and using collaboration (rather than compromise) to solve problems. Its something we can all relate to.

Soft skills really can be a game changer.

Associate Professor Jennifer George is director of a new masters program at Melbourne Business School that is offering business training that includes a soft skills program complete with actors from Melbourne Playback.

We join the participants for sessions in voice projection, posture and presentation skills. Later on we do ‘real-play’ sessions where our actors play scenarios with such as the boss who the participants have to break bad news to.




For skills that are inter-personal, there is no substitute for trying it out in a safe place, with an actor who isn’t actually your boss.

The ability to have a go, get feedback and have another go is invaluable as a way to learn these skills. They can’t be mastered by theory alone.

What soft skills do you want to master? You elevator pitch? Listening? Collaboration? Share them in the comments below.

And try this: ask a friend to have a go with you. Make up a scenario based on your target soft-skill, play it out together, talk about how it went and try again. Give yourself permission to do it really badly. Make it fun. You’ll be amazed how easy it becomes.

Read the full article from The Age here

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Seven Techniques for Effective Presentations

Ian David Melbourne Playback facilitator working with Qantas on presenting skills

Presenting to any sized audience can be daunting and fill you with anxiety. You are the focus. All eyes are on you. Expectations are high. Everything you say, everything you do, your appearance, your tone of voice, your gestures and the content of your presentation play a part in the efficacy of your delivery. Knowing what you want to say is only part of the whole equation. You want your presentation to have an impact and for the audience to remember the information.

The following techniques provide some suggestions on how to accomplish exceptional presentations. Melbourne Playback is offering Training Days in May and “Presenting with Confidence” and “Use Story to Communicate Vision” will support you to realise these concepts. More information and bookings go to or email email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Know your audience

Whether you need to persuade or just inform, you need to understand a number of things about your audience. Who are they? Why are they there? How experienced are they? This helps you frame your content in a way that resonates most strongly with your audience.

Be an expert

No one likes to be told things that they already know. Know more than your audience. This means doing your homework and having evidence for your assertions. Be clear about how you arrived at your opinion.

Prepare your speech

This might feel like an obvious one. But so often, people have not written down what they are going to say. They have a few notes scribbled down on a bit of paper and suddenly in front of hundreds of people they can’t read their notes or understand what they were thinking in the first place. Writing down what you want to say before hand, even if you don’t read it while your up there, helps consolidate your thoughts and ideas. It can provide you with a structure about how you might approach your material.


Rehearse alone, in front of people, film it, record it – do it again and again and again. You need to know what is coming next. You need to know it inside out and back to front. You want it to be second nature. Once you think you cannot possibly do it again – do it again! Keep refining. Keep asking yourself; Is this clear? Does my presentation logically flow? Am I presenting in an engaging way? Am I waffling on? Remember; less is more.

Anecdotes are your friend

Inserting a personal story or a story that acts as an example is an excellent way of connecting with your audience. It makes complex concepts comprehensible. It does this by allowing the audience to use the imaginative side of their brain and understand the point of your presentation from a humanistic perspective. This increases their understanding about why your presentation is important.

Vocal Tone

You may have written and rehearsed the most exciting speech in history, but if you present it monotone, your audience will disengage. When we are speaking casually to our colleagues, friends or family we use lots of dynamic tones to emphasise a point or to help articulate the story we are telling. Sometimes this exciting dynamic voice disappears when we present. Nerves are usually the culprit. The first step to ensure that we speak with dynamic vocal tone is to be aware of our tendency to flatten tone. A good friend can help with this when they listen to you rehearse! Are you too loud? Too soft? Too monotone?

Body Language

We subconsciously read so much into the way people physically hold themselves. The best way to present is to make sure you are standing tall and relaxed – confident and open. Leave your arms on the podium or down by your sides when you are not using them to make gestures. Make sure your gestures are natural and spontaneous. Maintain eye contact. Make sure the clothes you choose to wear facilitate easy movement and do not distract from the incredible amount of work that you’ve put into this presentation.

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Ten Tips to Improve your Interpersonal Communication Skills

At Melbourne Playback, we specialise in working on our communication skills – in our workshops, presentations, performances and rehearsals. How to develop your communication with your colleagues, employees and supervisors is one of the main skills we can offer to you and your organisation. We believe that there are four main areas to focus on:

  • Awareness. Be present.
  • Listen. Empathise. Understand the story.
  • Be bold.
  • Be generous. Make your partner look good.


1. Start to observe your own behaviours.
How does your tone of voice affect those you are talking to? How does your body language affect them? How are you affected by other people’s tone of voice/body language/choice of language (not necessarily content – try and focus on the way information is being conveyed).

2. Develop an awareness of eye contact, your own and the people you’re communicating with.
How do you feel when someone avoids eye contact with you? Are there times when your level of eye contact may be making your interlocutor feel uncomfortable? Different cultural groups have different norms when it comes to eye contact. Try and be sensitive to what you perceive is appropriate for different individuals.

3. Breathe!
Awareness of your own breath is a very important tool. This can become particularly useful when the interaction is disturbing you – you feel intimidated or angry. Becoming aware of your breath and allowing yourself to breathe before responding in a challenging situation can give you both a chance to calm down and see more clearly. If you can explain your position in a centred way, it’s more likely that the other will be able to understand your perspective.


4. Practice really listening.
If this interaction is potentially important, try to allow your interlocutor to finish their train of thought before interrupting with your response. If you don’t understand something important fully, ask questions. Aim to understand!

5. Remember that there may be more than one ‘right’ way.
We are all different and different methods will work for different people. Try and see things from other people’s perspectives.

6. ‘Never take anything personally.’
Much easier said than done! But it’s important to remember that a person’s reaction to you will always be conditioned by their previous experiences – perhaps there’s something about you that reminds them of their mother, perhaps their dog was run over this morning. This doesn’t mean excusing bad behaviour, but it does mean leaving space to not jump to conclusions. If you are aware of how you are reacting in the time of the interaction, you are less likely to say or do something that you regret later.


7. Where appropriate, try and maintain open body language.
Closing off the front of your body – crossed arms, hunched in shoulders, turning your torso away from the other – can be perceived as an unwillingness to listen and a defensiveness about your own ideas.

8. Search for the appropriate balance between assertiveness and acquiescence.
(Again – easier said than done!) Especially, develop congruence of content of communication and manner of communication in this regard. Are you trying to stand up for yourself at the same time as looking down, maintaining a hunched posture, speaking softly and mumbling? You are definitely sending a mixed message and will probably not achieve the result you desire. However speaking too forcefully while requesting something tricky may also backfire.


9. Where appropriate acknowledge the other person’s abilities, input and strengths.
No matter how much your boss or employee might be annoying you in this instant, there must be something positive they bring to your organisation, or even something positive you know they do in their home life. Keeping a part of you aware of that will help to keep an interaction calmer and more constructive.

10. Be patient with yourself and others.
Don’t over-react if you realise you’ve made a mistake. Apologise calmly. Where appropriate, be ready to forgive others for inappropriate communication.

WORKSHOP: Master the language of communication

In May 2014, Melbourne Playback is offering an active workshop to bring new awareness and mastery to your verbal and nonverbal communication. With a focus on authenticity, the tools gained will help you; express your true self more confidently, increase your likelihood of getting what you want, avoid conflict and maintain good relationships.

Who should attend?
Business professionals, leaders and small teams wishing to develop strong working relationships by enhancing interpersonal communication skills.

Find out more information on our website.

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Communication Tips – The Power of Listening

Playback Theatre is a form of theatre that encourages a high level of communication between all involved. The facilitator / conductor, the performers and the audience are all engaged in deep listening and because the performers are modelling empathic and active listening techniques, they encourage empathy between audience and storyteller.

Our ensemble have brainstormed ten communication tips derived from their experience listening and reflecting thousands of stories. The 10 tips below all apply as much in everyday communication as they do in Playback Theatre.

In Playback the performers do not ask questions, they listen to the whole story and they imagine themselves in the storyteller’s shoes before responding. It is the facilitator’s job to ask questions, but also to get out of the way and let the storyteller tell the story that they want to share.

  1. Listen to understand first, then to be understood.
  2. Remember you have only one mouth and two ears for a reason. Listen more than you speak.
  3. Listen to the speaker rather than listening for your own response.
  4. Remember the power of stillness and pause.
  5. There’s no harm done speaking a little slower.
  6. Learn people’s names and use them when you speak with them.
  7. Ask questions, get to know people by asking them about themselves. Be interested in what they say and see if you can find common ground.
  8. Let people finish. It’s hard to stop yourself when you have a good idea, but it can be great to hold that thought and let the person finish. What they finish with might change how you respond.
  9. Put your phone away when talking. Give your full attention.
  10. Not all cultures use direct eye contact.
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