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How can simulation help executives to communicate with impact?

Your heart is pounding. You are rushing. You stumble over content you have rehearsed over and over. In a small group you are confident and persuasive, but speaking in the spotlight in front of an audience, you just don’t have the same impact.

Does this situation sound familiar? If so, I sympathise. As a musician, I know how frustrating it can be when you don’t feel you have achieved your potential in a performance.

It is, however, possible through self-awareness and training to become a more confident and impactful performer. In the Imperial College London and Royal College of Music Centre for Performance Science we help performers from all walks of life to excel in the spotlight – from executives giving investor presentations to musicians playing in major concerts.

In this article I will describe how our Performance Simulator is enabling Imperial College Business School executive education participants to improve their leadership, communication and performance skills.

Learning and Excelling in the Spotlight

When practice doesn’t always make perfect

A challenge faced by all performers is that rehearsal environments are unlike performance environments. A usual musical rehearsal space, for example, is normally quiet with few distractions. Mistakes do not have adverse consequences in the rehearsal room. We then perform in environments like auditoria where we can be easily distracted by external influences such as bright lights and unpredictable audience members. Making a mistake in a high profile performance can have significant negative consequences.

We have shown in our research that skills learned in practice environments are often not successfully transferred to performance environments. To overcome this problem, performers need to practice in what my colleague, surgeon Professor Roger Kneebone, has described as ‘low risk contextually rich’ environments. These are environments which look and feel close to a real performance situation, but where performers can experiment and make mistakes without negative consequences.


The Performance Simulator

The Performance Simulator is an internationally distinctive training facility. It includes realistic back-stage and on-stage areas and uses projection screens to recreate scenarios such as concerts, speeches, auditions, and press conferences. We can control how our virtual audience responds to a performance and we use audio-visual recording to study how our performers react under pressure.


Using simulation to improve business performance

The Performance Simulator is a wonderful resource for executive education. It enables executives to benefit from ideas and techniques from different performance disciplines. For example, the Performance Simulator has enabled us to use a practice technique often used by musicians and sportspeople called Performance Profiling for the benefit of business executives and entrepreneurs.

Performance Profiling is a process whereby performers define what success looks like in their own terms and learn to be self-aware by evaluating their capabilities and skills development needs. It can be used individually or for group performance.

We use Performance Profiling in executive education to help our participants advance their leadership and communication skills. The Performance Simulator is an essential element of this process, giving executives the opportunity to experiment with communication and performance techniques in different environments and in front of different audiences. Executives can receive immediate feedback on their performance in the simulator and, because the simulator is a realistic performance environment, they develop skills which are more likely to be effective when applied in their day-to-day professional lives. Afterwards we work with the executives to plan in a structured way how they will follow up and continue to develop their skills.

Executives often come away from sessions in the Performance Simulator with a greater appreciation of the important role played by non-verbal signs such as gestures and facial expression in impactful communication. They are more self-aware, motivated and confident in setting personal goals and evaluating their own performances. Most importantly and rewardingly they leave as more authentic and impactful communicators better equipped to excel in the spotlight.

The Performance Simulator is a great piece of equipment that is used in multiple executive education programmes including Leadership in a Technology Driven World, and our Executive MBA.


Dr Terry Clark is a Research Fellow in Performance Science at the Royal College of Music and an honorary Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Terry is working with Imperial College Business School and Enterprise Lab to develop research and pedagogical initiatives focused on the use of interdisciplinary experiential learning to facilitate the development, real-world application, and assessment of business and entrepreneurship skills.


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