How To Improve Communication Skills Through Acting
Have you ever wished you could be as expressive as the best actors? Have you ever wanted to master the art of communication, be it for business, personal life or any other area of life? If so, this article and the exercises herein are 100% for you. They reveal a fascinating way how to improve communication skills.
How To Improve Communication Skills Through Acting
Part 1 of Communication through Acting (FUN and for absolute beginners)
What is it an actor does?
An actor tells a story. An actor plays a part. More than anything, however, an actor communicates. An actor brings thoughts and feelings to life through the strength of their communication skills, and one of the key skills an actor must have in order to be able to communicate effectively is an expressive body.
Look at Johny Depp in Pirates of theCaribbean, Jack Nicholson in the original Batman or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (amongst many others) and you’ll immediately recognise the power of the human body as a means of communication.
Imagine if you could share the same great communication skills as those top actors. You’d be better at giving those presentations at work; better at expressing yourself in everyday speech; more charismatic as your expressive body brings you to life; the benefits are endless. The only question remaining is how to improve our communication skills to such a high degree.
The answer, quite logically, is by doing the same exercises top actors do, of which this first exercise, based on the work of Michael Chekhov, is one of the most important and best.
Michael Checkhov shows how to improve communication skills.
Who was Checkhov?
Michael Chekhov is one of the most important acting teachers of all time and the brightest student of Stanislavski, the father of method acting. More importantly for our purposes, however, Michael Chekhov was a leader and pioneer in developing the expressivity of the human body. In other words, he’s one of the most important figures in the development of methods of improving communication skills.
The Importance of Naturalness in Communication Skills
One of the biggest mistakes made by people wanting to improve their communication skills is that they look for “canned” answers: they want to know which limb to move at which angles to express whatever they want to express. For instance, a pick-up-artist might want to know how to express confidence through their eyes and might end up staring at a girl’s eyes and looking like a complete psycho simply because they read somewhere that “looking in the eyes expresses confidence”. Well, here’s a reality check: the human body and the human mind are not so simple. These “canned” movements almost invariably end up looking stiff, unnatural, fake and dishonest and will most often put people off you.
Whether it’s in business, in love and relationships or just in general chat, people like other people who are natural. Conversely, people are rightly distrusting of those who are fake. Any good actor knows this, as does any wise person, and thankfully Michael Chekhov knew this too.
So, how to improve communication skills naturally. . .
In Chekhov’s To The Actor he begins with a set of exercises that are very easy to perform, but exercises which will immediately increase both the range of our expressivity and our mastery of communication through movement. The execises are rather drawn-out, so here we shall use a refined and simplified version of Chekhov’s exercises that has been adapted to be used for non-actors to improve their communication skills.
Try to have FUN when doing these exercises. A sense of childlike fun is arguably the most important attribute an actor can have and is immensely important in communication skills (hence why children are so much more express than adults).
Exercise for Improving Communication Skills
In this exercise you will need to be standing on the floor with at least a few feet of space all around you. Stretch your arms out wide and make sure you’ve plenty of room (though don’t worry, whilst we’re about to do some movement this certainly isn’t Turbo Jam lol).
Make sure all movements in this exercise are relaxed, comfortable and performed with ease
In order to extend the range of our bodies, and hence to increase the overall potentially expressivity of our movements, we need to get used to the idea of using our body to communicate, and to do that, we need to realise the range of movements our body is capable of making.
Now, you are going to slowly stretch out and reach outwards in various directions (you choose where to reach). You can do so with any part of your body you wish, but simply reach outwards in large, broad movements that are relaxed and comfortable.
Reach one way with one body part, then gracefully move around and reach outwards with another body part in another direction. Again, don’t worry about which way you’re reaching or what part of your body you’re reaching with, the idea here is to be as natural and relaxed as possible and simply get used to moving your body in larger and more expressive ways than you normally would. The idea is to feel what Chekhov calls open (normally we hold our bodies in a protective, closed off way, but here we’re reaching out, we’re giving our bodies to the world, we’re being expressive, we’re being open). So reach here, reach there, reach with this arm, reach with that leg, and explore this sense of openness.
Note: If you’re anything like I was when I began to use these exercises at drama school you’ll probably find it quite silly and want to laugh. Do so. Laugh out loud, have fun. Remember, this isn’t “exercise” it’s expressivity, and a huge part of expressivity is having fun, being natural and just going with your feelings. So if you want to laugh, do so, if you feel silly doing the exercise that’s fine too. Just have a laugh and start moving your body in more expressive ways than you normally would.
Next, try to make your body really really small. Imagine the space around you is actually contracting and you are being forced into a tiny space. Pull your arms and legs in, even your face, your lips, your ears and your nose. Feel everything becoming tighter and play with this sense of tightness the same way you did with the sense of openness above.
These two basic exercises will get you used to the idea of moving your body expressively. Continue to do the exercise until you notice and distinct increase in what I’ll call the “life” of your boy (feel as though your body is more alive, more energised and more expressive).
Once you are beginning to feel the range of expressivity of which your body is capable (and once you’re noticing an improvement in your communication skills through your body), begin to make different purposeful movements. For instance, imagine that you are throwing a ball over your head, or pulling an object along the ground or any other iconic movement (pushing or pulling or throwing etc). Allow yourself to really explore those senses. What is it to pull an object along the ground? What does that feel like in your body? Notice the sensations in your body that occur when you think of these imaginary exercises (like the throwing of the ball over your head). Simply be more aware and more sensitive to your body.
Finally, to conclude this first exercise in increasing your expressivity and improving your communication skills, choose a few typical movements that you can imagine well and perform them with your body. For instance, we all know what it’s like to hit a nail with a hammer. Perform this movement with your whole body (though without the actual hammer of course). Feel your arms going back over your head and your back bending over, your neck following, then feel the thrust as your body goes forward, your arms comes back over your head and down, striking down on the hammer.
I hope you can see the idea here. It’s about playing with movement. Simply explore the range of movements of your body, try acting out some more actions like we did with the hammer. Simply have fun and recognise the inherent expressivity of your body. Doing so will improve your communication skills whilst making sure you remain natural. Do this exercise for ten minutes just a few times and you will very quickly begin to notice an improvement in your communication skills through movement.