Break a Leg (in Business): Using Acting Techniques to Elevate Your English Communication Skills

Some of the most effective communicators in the world are actors. It’s true – actors are masters of conveying emotions, telling stories, and captivating audiences. But what if I told you that you don’t have to be an actor to use their techniques to improve your business English communication skills? As someone who’s experienced in both acting techniques and language teaching, I’m excited to share some of the most valuable tips on how to use actors’ techniques to elevate your speaking skills in a business context. So, let’s take a page out of the actors’ playbook and discover how we can become confident and impactful communicators in our business English interactions.

But first, let me share a little history of two acting teachers, Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler, who were teaching their techniques to students in New York throughout the early to late 20th century and have remained influential every since.

Sanford Meisner was a leading force at The Actor’s Studio and developed the Meisner technique, a method of acting that emphasizes the importance of active listening and responding authentically to others. Meisner believed that acting is about “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” and his technique focuses on developing actors’ ability to listen and respond in the moment. Stella Adler founded the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Adler’s approach to acting emphasizes the importance of using one’s personal experiences to inform their performance, and her technique focuses on developing actors’ ability to use their imagination and emotional recall to create authentic and impactful performances. Adler believed that acting is about “the art of being human,” and her technique emphasizes the importance of empathy, truthfulness, and authenticity in acting. 

The techniques developed by Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler are valuable tools that can help us deepen our understanding of how we communicate with others. By applying their techniques to our daily practice of improving our speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, we can enhance our ability to effectively convey our ideas and connect with others on a deeper level. As these four language skills are interconnected, using the techniques of these renowned acting teachers can help us become better communicators overall.

First and foremost, it is important to listen actively and respond authentically to others. This Meisner technique is vital in building strong connections with others, especially in a business setting. To practice, try the “yes, and” exercise, where you respond to everything someone says with “yes, and…” followed by an additional comment or question.

Did you know that studies show we only retain 25-50% of what we hear? Active listening can help improve retention and build better connections.

Next, it is important to use your whole self to convey your message, as emphasized in the Adler technique. Standing tall, with your chin held high, and using hand gestures to emphasize key points can convey confidence and conviction to your audience.

Did you know that your body language can affect how you are perceived by others, and can even impact your own confidence levels?

Repetition exercises are also important in building the ability to listen and respond authentically. For example, repeating back someone’s words with genuine feeling can help build empathy and understanding.

Did you know that repetition exercises are often used in therapy to help build social skills and confidence?

Additionally, using your personal experiences to inform your delivery can add authenticity and depth to your communication. Visualizing a time when you felt confident and successful can help convey those feelings to your audience.

Did you know that emotional recall can help overcome stage fright and improve performance?

Finally, seeking feedback from colleagues or language coaches is essential in fine-tuning your delivery and identifying areas for improvement. Regular feedback can help improve engagement and performance.

Did you know that employees who receive regular feedback from their managers perform better and are more engaged than those who do not?

Incorporating these techniques and exercises into your language learning and communication practices can help improve your skills and confidence in delivering impactful and effective business English presentations and conversations. So, why not try incorporating some acting techniques into your language learning practice and take your communication skills to the next level?

Accent Reduction?

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” 

– Amy Chua

There are some who offer “accent reduction” lessons. Since our accent is attached to our voice which is attached to our being – our identity – accent reduction implies that, somehow, we are not good enough. It reminds me of “conversion therapy” where people are trained to suppress a part of their identity in order to fit in to some kind of ideal. What I think people are trying to help students with is pronunciation. This, of course, is key to being understood. Our varying languages use different muscles in the mouth and different breath patterns to create the sounds that make sense to native ears. By calling pronunciation work “accent reduction”, we are reinforcing the idea that individuals need to be “fixed” in order to belong. As a result, because “experts” are saying that you need to reduce your accent to be better speakers, students believe it and carry on with their English language learning with less confidence in their abilities. Why contribute to what has been a long-standing bias in many places? For instance, a “working class accent” in England kept you in your place and limited your social capital. Accents are so intimately connected to our sense of being. Think about what the word “reduction” implies. What are students reducing their accents to? As lovers of language, we know the impact words can have. I encourage people to reflect on their choice to use the words “accent reduction” by considering the limitations you are putting on yourself and the learner about how language can be spoken, and, how the words, “accent reduction”, can deflate the confidence in people who are making the courageous effort to speak in a new language.

I offer an alternative choice of words, simply, accent practice.

As actors work on accents to create a character, individuals practice to acquire an accent and explore their multi-faceted identities. An interesting example of accent modification depending on geography is Gillian Anderson. She has been known to speak in her American accent when she is in the United States, and in her British accent when she is in England. It is understandable that one may want to sound like a native speaker because they want to fit in and would feel more comfortable if they sounded like their peers. If this is a goal that will uplift a learner and instil more confidence, then accent practice can be a fun exploration. By calling it accent practice, and continuing to work on pronunciation, we are not diminishing their natural accent in English, instead, we are adding more to their communicative toolkit and allowing their authentic voice to blossom!

New Year – New Habits

Start good new habits this year by checking out “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. He writes on page 143, “If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it….Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. The more you repeat an activity, the more the structure of your brain changes to become efficient at that activity.”

Learning a language is training, it is practice, it is rehearsal. As your coach, I keep you accountable, motivated, and supported in your language learning. It’s a good habit to start practicing one aspect of your English learning for 10 minutes every day. Let’s talk about how by…..

Booking your free 30 min strategy session with me!

In the 30 min meeting with me, we will 

– discuss your current situation and your challenges

– brainstorm immediate steps you can follow to improve your communication and presentation skills

– develop a long-term plan to achieve your improved job performance

If you are ready, message me to book your free 30 min strategy session with me. 

Look forward to speaking with you!

“Down the rabbit hole”

Idiom Chat with The Joy of English ( and guest, Catherine Lough Haggquist!

“Down the rabbit hole”

The idiom, “down the rabbit hole” is widely used and means to pursue something which leads to other questions or problems or actions. It conveys the sense that someone spends some time doing something without a clear goal. We tend to use this idiom when we talk about using the internet. We may have clear goals at the outset of our pursuit but quickly become distracted by other things we find online and end up “down a rabbit hole”.

To help you, below are some examples of using these idioms.

“Once I started researching online, I ended up down a rabbit hole of information!”

“The website was a rabbit hole of pages and links.”

The etymology of this idiom comes from Lewis Carol’s story, Alice in Wonderland, where Alice literally falls down the hole of the White Rabbit and encounters a place full of strange and wondrous things. 

Here is an interesting resource:

In this week’s video, Catherine and I chat about our experiences as entrepreneurs navigating the internet to help us build our businesses. 

CHALLENGE: Catherine uses two synonyms that tie in with “down the rabbit hole”. Can you name them?

“On the ball”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English with guest Bronwen Smith!

In today’s video, you will hear how Bronwen uses the phrase “on the ball”. This idiom is widely used and means to be alert and ready, or to have aptitude for something. Information about its etymology can be read here:

Here are some examples to help you:

“She had to stay on the ball while she waited for her meeting to start.”

“You’ve got to be on the ball when you are answering questions during a presentation.”

Bronwen is an actor and teacher who knows all about staying on the ball. Her profession requires her to practice techniques that help her to stay on the ball, which is really a state of total presence, in order for her to perform at her best. Nervousness is something we all deal with when we perform on stage, in a meeting of colleagues, or during an English language test! Here, Bronwen shares one of her strategies for staying present, staying….on the ball!

“Strike while the iron is hot”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English! with guest, John Prowse!

“Strike while the iron is hot”

In today’s video, we use the idiom, “strike while the iron is hot”. This idiom is widely used and means to take advantage of something immediately while the opportunity exists.

Here are some example sentences to help you:

“These offers don’t come along often – I would strike while the iron is hot if I were you!”

“We’ve been waiting here a long time and we haven’t seen a taxi yet. Let’s get that bus! Strike while the iron is hot!”

Today, I speak with actor and mechanic John Prowse. John and I catch up and then talk about the etymology of the idiom of the day!

“Break a leg”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English with guest, Michelle Coulter!

“Break a leg”

In today’s video, we use the idiom, “break a leg”. This idiom is widely used and means “good luck”. So, instead of wishing someone good luck on their endeavour, you may instead choose to say “break a leg!”

The etymology of this idiom has many theories. Some say the phrase originated from theatre makers’ superstition that evil spirits inside the theatre may be outwitted by wishing the opposite of good luck to actors about to step on stage by wishing something bad like breaking a leg. Another possible origin of the phrase might be that of the actor breaking the leg line of the stage when they performed in order to get paid. More information on this can be found here:

And, here is a dialogue to help you:

Person A: “I’m going to give my presentation on idioms in 10 minutes.”

Person B: “Break a leg!!”

We also use the term “hot potato” which means something that is hard to handle or a topic that raises contentious feelings.

For example, for some, vaccination injections is a hot potato issue.

More on the idiom “hot potato” here:

Today, I speak to Michelle Coulter. She is a dear friend, a community activist, an Oxford alumnus, a prolific traveller…just a few of her many accomplishments. Most impressively, Michelle is one of the kindest people I know! Here we discuss her daughter’s first stage performance and the usefulness of idioms in everyday conversation.

“A lot on my plate”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English! with guest, Amil Rasheed.

“A lot on my plate”

In today’s video, we use the idiom, “a lot on my plate”. This idiom is widely used and means to be very busy or to have a lot of responsibilities to deal with.

Here are some example sentences to help you:

“I can see by looking at my schedule that I have a lot on my plate today!”

“Can you help me with this or do you have a lot on your plate right now?”

Notice that we use the verbs “have” and “got” with this idiom and the possessive adjective can change to indicate who is busy. For example:

“She has a lot on her plate.”

“I’ve got a lot on my plate.” Here, a native English language speaker may use reduction and it will sound like this: “I gottalot on my plate”.

Today, I speak to Amil Rasheed, who coaches business English communication to IT professionals. We discuss our entrepreneurial journeys and Amil’s busy schedule!

“Time on my hands” and “Killing time”

Have you come across it before?

It means to have a period of time when you have nothing you must do.

It can be a great idiom to use when you are planning to do something in the short term or long term.

To help you, below are some examples of using this idiom.

“Now that she is retired, she has a lot of time on her hands”

“I have some time on my hands today so I can help you with your work.”

There is another idiom “time to kill” that means to have a period of time to do something before something else. It is similar to “time on one’s hands”. An example is:

“I had time to kill before class started so I grabbed a coffee at the cafe.”

There is no specific etymology that I can find for “time on one’s hands” except for references to its first use in 18th century literature. I surmise, however, that the expression might have something to do with the hands of a clock and not actual hands of a person. Anyway….

Here is a conversation with my friend and teaching colleague, Gordon McKee. He had some time to spare, so he saw a movie…..

“Cool as a cucumber”

Have you come across it before?

It means to remain calm in stressful situations.

It can be a great idiom to use when you are describing yourself or others who have managed to remain composed during a heated exchange or when giving advice to others about how to handle a stressful situation.

To help you, below are some examples of using this idiom.

“She was as cool as a cucumber during the job interview.”

“Even though Peter Quill/Starlord was intimated by Thor, he tried to act as cool as a cucumber!”

My good friend and actor Michael Benyaer and I have a morning chat and he uses the “Idiom of the Day”! If you would like to learn more idioms and improve your communication or presentation skills, get in touch! Let’s connect and learn to stay “as cool as a cucumber” in stressful speaking situations!

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