Don’t Be A Hack, Instead Master Your Communication: The Artist’s Way

written by Hilary Blair

Which pig are you?

In a world of quick fixes – we can miss the mastery.

In a world of making a quick buck – we neglect the nuance of relationship.

In a world of faster, bigger, better – we may end up with one shot results that can’t be replicated…or don’t hold up over time.

We often miss the artistic journey to mastery.

We are drawn to skipping steps. We want to get to the end faster – and even first. In business we meet folks who want to jump past to the outcome. They have no time for process until, by default, they come back around realizing the first steps suggested by someone really were essential to success.

Mastery takes time.  Yes, sometimes the hack is helpful and a good quick fix.  And yet, for the long haul, mastery will yield higher performance with better results.

Remember the three pigs and, finally, the brick house.

Shortcuts sometimes get us places faster, and sometimes mess up the lawn

Bumbling forward for a quick solution or an outcome rarely benefits anyone.

How often do we, in business and life, have to go back because we tried to find a shortcut?

We love shortcuts – how can I do that faster?

What are the quickest ways to become a better communicator?  What non-verbals should I do or not do? This is all surface communication hacks.

There are entire articles now on 10 hacks for this and 5 hacks for that – Hack now becoming synonymous with shortcut. Hacks are respected and craved because they save time – in the short run.

When do they sabotage?  When do they result in more work? Repeated work? Incomplete or destructive outcomes?

The straw and stick houses simply blew down.

Know when shortcuts are appropriate

There’s a reason some processes are called hacks. They skip to the end, and often, some key essences are lost along the way.  When people are called hacks, they are seen to come at things without any artistry or mastery.

I’ve been creating short cuts for communication learning for the last 15 years – ever since I switched from working with artists to working with business people. My traditional theatre training, with its thorough stepped processes, quickly lost the interest of my business clients.  They were eager for quick fixes.

Many professionals want the solution now – and the process only if they have to. And indeed while the quick fix works for some of the troubling situations and problems, be cautious.

But excellent communication is an art. Or better said, it can be an art.  For the subtleties and the nuances to be finessed, it must be learned and embraced as an art. Mastery of any art takes introspection, skill break down and exploration, and repetition and commitment.


When we want to step up our game – we add the art

Often, we are so focused on the end product that we miss the art process that got us there.  A movie, a painting, a live concert — Sometimes we hear them heralded as an instant or overnight success.  That myth messes with our own goal setting.  When we look into the history of the artist, it’s rarely a story of instant success. There are hours and days and years of committed practice that led to the so called “instant success.”  They were dedicated to the mastery of their art.

Golf is the same. I’ve played – and I’m intermittently good.  But to really become a master, I need to break down the process and become an artist of golf.

You don’t become the best by jumping to the outcome. You don’t become the best swimmer you can be by jumping in the pool and imitating what you think Michael Phelps is doing. You break down your stroke, your breathing, your kick, your push off, your dive, etc. piece by piece,

The art and nuance is discovered in the process of creating and learning and trying and failing and trying – resulting in true mastery.

Actors are often dismissed as being fake, overly expressive, pretending, etc.

True master actors – who mastered the art by committing to the process of training – are not fake or hacks. They move us emotionally to a place of truth and reality.  Acting is being real in imaginary circumstances and demands a disciplined practice.  Being fake in imaginary circumstances is the hack.

This works in all areas of our lives:

Most of us can cook. But when does it have the art? The mastery?

Classroom teachers – some are artists – some are utilitarian.

We Can Look Like We’re Doing it Excellently – And Still Miss the Point

Even good intentions can have a poor result if the mimicry is not undergirded with skill and nuance. An actor ended up with voice trouble because, in a large voice class, he learned to mimic what was being shown, but somehow, he missed detail of correct use for vocal extremes and created bad habits of misuse not “seen” from the outside.

The downward dog of a seasoned yogi has so much more going on versus a brand new yoga student in their first weeks of class.  The nuanced differences may be lost on the casual observer. They may feel they are doing the same move, but the trained eye and practitioner can see, sense, and recognize a very different nuanced position.

Tai Chi isn’t slow because it’s an old people’s movement exercise. The practice of Tai chi consciously and deliberately engages each and every muscle.  As a martial art, (and yes, it is an art as we define it) the masters move very quickly.  While the beginners move slowly – awakening their awareness of their own physical bodies.

At the bowling alley, I can move like I know what I’m doing, I have seemingly great form – created from imitating those around me.  But the proof is in the strikes – which are few and far between.

In the presence of any master, we may not know what is different, we may not see the art, we don’t see the breakdown of process and refinement — but we can feel the difference. We can feel that something truly is missing.

Think of all the other areas of our lives where we have “faked it until we made it.”

Do we really want to do that with our communication?

Reverse Process: Feels Backwards

Actors spend their initial training on breath and body – authenticity. Then move to sound and words. Then finally to written text.

But in business, I often see impatience and a need to jump to starting with the end first.  Results driven.

I first noticed this backwards approach as a voice over teacher.

Voice over is a very intriguing career dream.  Cartoons, animation, books, movie trailers, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, etc. – we fantasize hearing our voices.  It’s often a childhood dream being pursued.  I taught voice over for years.  Initially, I knew that anyone who was seriously considering this career needed to take an acting class, an improv class, and a voice class before they even thought about the nuances of voice over.  But I quickly realized that that is a very hard sell, even though most of the successful voice over artists are trained in acting, voice and improv.  So, in order to get the incoming novice connected, I learned – do it backwards.  And I began to notice that students who were serious about a career would exit the first voice over class series saying “Hey, I should take acting.” Or “Hey, I’m going to take a voice or improv class.”  And I’d respond with a satisfied grin and “Great idea.”

What of our communication? What of our voice and body? Yes, we all communicate every day, but when do we take the time to commit to mastery? When do we take the time to learn the art and process of excellent communication?  Are there deeper connections to our non-verbals – to our word choice? How can we connect more deeply and be sure our values are represented – our heart is present?

If we truly want to transform, we need to adopt the artist’s self-awareness and dedication to building the detailed skills that lead the artist to mastery.  You might  jump to the end, but then come back and commit to process.

Rehearsal, Practice, and Repetition.

Rehearsal, practice and repetition do not mean the loss of spontaneity.  Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The more we know our moves and possible variations, the more spontaneous, flexible and in the moment we can be with our responses.  Lack of rehearsals and practice makes us stiff, narrow and limited in our choices.

It’s the nuance and specificity that sets the amateur apart from the professional.

Communication skills are no different.

Nuance and specificity, benefits of trial and error, come with study and practice: The art of Mastery.  Master your communication by accessing the art of the process.

In a world increasingly drawn to time saving hacks, be an artist. Real communication is an art.

Speaking and Moving and Blocking, Oh My!

TIP:  Walking and Talking: Remember, when you speak, your body is there to help connect you and your message to your audience.

Speaking, Moving and Blocking

You have essential, change-making ideas and information to share.

Perhaps you are in a meeting or giving a presentation.

No matter the setting, you need to bring along your whole body to the task.  Any good idea needs and deserves your full involvement as does your audience in order that the message is more swiftly and easily understood.

As usual, the tricky part is the how. How do we move effectively? What if you feel odd moving? What’s right?


What is effective movement?

Effective movement is movement that is directly connected to our message and does not contradict. When we are aligned with voice, non-verbals, and message we send one coherent communication. Then our verbal message is enhanced, clarified and reinforced by our physical movement.  

It is different from choreography.

Choreography is specifically connected with dance  – and literally means “dance writing”.   We don’t need to be scripted. Simple movement in response to our thoughts is perfect.  We may have to reconnect with our natural gestures and movement, or learn to trust that they are appropriate.

In theatre, actors’ movement is called blocking.  This term comes from the days when directors used small blocks to represent actors as they planned stage movement.  

A director’s  goal in blocking a play is to make the relationships and the story clear to the audience – for it to make sense. As speakers we want to use the same process and think about how our physical movement will clarify our message for our audience.  How we move in space, interact with it and impact it all send strong non-verbal messages and we want it aligned with our verbal message.

If a director’s blocking is good, it seems natural and spontaneous.  It appears to spring from the needs and desires of the character in that moment.  All the movement seems honest and supports the story at hand. Speakers who bring that same organic, natural feeling to their movement on stage connect more strongly with their audience and are more easily understood.

Often if a speaker’s movements become too practiced and tied to each nuanced phrase – it becomes too much – too cumbersome, too mannered – too fake.


Be wary of cheerleading movements.

Sometimes blocking can seem off rhythm  The words and movements are almost syncopated. And the movements are often quite literal in reference to the words being spoken.  We often identify this as cheerleading movement.  

READY (clap!)  OK! (fist in the air!)  


Our blocking as speakers is best if in response to our audience.

Actors on stage are in dialogue with the audience.  A character in a play is in dialogue with the other characters on stage – and the choice of movements is directly related to getting what they need from the other actors.  The same must be true of the speaker.

If a speaker is focused on themselves, they will appear to be nervous and simply pacing, or on the other end of the spectrum, they can appear to be parading themselves. To speak effectively, we want to move in response to the audience and how they are reacting to what we are saying.  We move to or away, provide gesture or stillness, depending upon the audience’s needs.


To Move or Not to Move, That is the Question:

  • Should I plant my feet?

Well, yes, if that is the best connection to your audience. Don’t plant your feet if it makes you feel cut off from the audience. Also, yes, because grounding oneself at the outset provides a beginning point for the audience. They know the presentation is beginning.

  • Should I move?

Yes, if it connects you to your audience. No, if it is about you and your needs. Physical movement needs to have engaged, purposeful meaning and should flow like it does when in conversation with a friend.

  • Should I go out into the audience? Is that better?

It’s better if the audience needs that – but if they need more to see you, then stay where you can see them.  Walking in the audience does not mean better connection with the audience.  

  • In a meeting, versus a large speaking venue, is standing better than sitting?

If it is about the audience – yes. If it is about you, no, – And oddly enough, standing is not in and of itself about the person standing. In actuality, standing is deferential. Do you respect your audience enough to stand? Or is it about you and your embarrassment about taking the focus that keeps you seated? The latter is not as helpful to your audience.


Movement Mastery Tips:

  1. Be a Border Collie: Move on stage in direct response to the audience to keep them engaged and connected to you.
    Avoid wandering or pacing. That’s about you and your nervous energy and not the audience.
  2. Let your hand and arm gestures flow. Let them move to help you form your thoughts and share them with your audience. If they are enhancing your message they will not be too much.  


  1. ”The Flight Attendant” – Parallel movement of your hands and/or arms up and down is not effective for you audience.  
  2. Hands should not be more enthusiastic than your voice because they can become distracting.  
  3. Unilateral hand and arm movement is generally more organic than hands in unison – unless you are showing how big the fish that you caught was.

Know and Own the space.  Fill the space with you, your energy, and your ideas!

Written By Hilary Blair

Pass the Peas, Please

CollaborationCollaboration is first experienced when that tiny spoon comes toward your face, filled with creamed peas and mashed turkey.  The spoon moves here and the mouth moves there.  Sometimes like a game and other times – just a sure miss calculation of time and space.

Well, I do have good news.

Collaboration remains as vital now as it was back then. Think about it. How many hours of our professional lives do we spend working with others in a meeting, on a project, or in a presentation? At times collaboration comes easily, and at other times … peas all over our face.

As much as we’d like to be born with it, skilled collaboration takes practice.

Public Speaking: Show-and-Tell for Adults?

ShowandTellRemember show-and-tell? It was fun, right? The good news is that it was also a great training ground for improving your public speaking ability.

Some of the best memories I recall were created during my kindergarten show-and-tell time. I would spend hours thinking about what I would bring and how I would describe it to my 5-year-old classmates.

It was a very serious decision for this kindergartener.

One week, I was particularly inspired. I wanted my item to stand out from all the others. I wanted my treasure to be special. As I went out the front door, I placed in my pocket a tiny brown pill bottle with a round rock in it.

When my name was called, I proudly displayed this fantastic object. My teacher, Mrs. Morrison, and my classmates listened with rapt attention as I talked about my mom going into the hospital to have a gallstone removed. How lucky I was that she had brought it home from the hospital, preserved for all time!

When I returned home and told my mom what I had taken to show-and-tell, she was horrified. A few weeks earlier, I had sung a questionable song for show-and-tell, and this, combined with the gallstone incident, inspired my mom to implement an “is it decent?” test before giving me approval to share something with my kindergarten class.

I look back on these times with great joy because show-and-tell was so much fun!

It was also my first experience of standing up in public to give a presentation. What has changed since then? And why has it changed? To find out, let’s consider what I learned:

  • It is important to take time to think about what one is going to present. It should be something that inspires you, or at least that you think is pretty darn cool.
  • My choice of topic may have an unexpected effect on others. Some presentations need to be brainstormed and planned with others so that we don’t fall into an unknown hole. The result may not be an embarrassed mom, but it may be a misstep professionally.
  • Our presentations, if planned and chosen appropriately, can live in the minds of others, as well as our own, for a long time. Our presentations can influence others for a greater cause and continue to live beyond the moment when we take the stage or present in a boardroom. Often, I wonder if Mrs. Morrison remembers my show-and-tells and smiles.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I don’t remember being nervous or concerned about what my classmates would think. I just stood up and boldly shared a topic that I knew very well. I shared a story that had impacted my young, naïve life, assured that others would be just as interested.

Why can’t public speaking feel like that now?

  • Before we get lost in an explanation about how much more intense our work is now, pause and ask yourself, is it really?
  • Or did someone somewhere along the line make you feel like it had to be hard and nerve-wracking to speak in front of groups so that now you consider it to be work?
  • Maybe it feels like work because you don’t want to appear to be an arrogant, self-obsessed person who loves the spotlight?
  • How much easier is it for your audience to hear what you have to say if you like what you’re talking about and you enjoy being there?
  • Is citing numbers for a CFO any less exciting than seeing a gallstone when you are 5 years old? It’s your enthusiasm and interest in the subject that matters. It’s how you connect with your audience.

The Bottom Line

Show-and-tell was fun! And it still can be a pleasure to share your ideas and get feedback from your audience. It doesn’t have to be hard or painful to present in order to be effective or to be taken seriously. When you enjoy show-and-tell time, your audience will, too.

By Robin A. Miller, PhD, COO/Lead Coach with Hilary Blair, CEO/Lead Coach

This article was originally posted on in May 2014.

The Rehearsal Guide: A “No Excuses” List of Best Practices

Most of us understand that practice matters in sports, arts, and business. What prevents us from doing the practice we know will up the level of our performance?

“Winging it” is not an option.

Actors, musicians, dancers, singers – even improv actors rehearse. The USA Women’s Soccer team certainly practiced before winning the World Cup. Successful business professionals hold preparation as a top priority. They understand that if we want to kick a Carli Lloyd 54 yard goal, we have to be prepped and ready. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the moment of the actual show or meeting, yet practice has us ready, honed, and tuned-in to the situation and our fellow players.

Do It!

If we know this, then why do we avoid it? Time constraints? Increase in performance expectations?  Do we make it too intense or the expectations too high?

Promise #1: You will end up saving time.  

Promise #2: You will have an increase in output and get more done.

Even a few moments of prep will pay off.

Here’s How


  1. Get your mind in the success mode – (negativity or “realistic” mind-sets eat away at our success.)
  2. Know your success, see it, and live into it.
  3. Weed your mind garden of little phrases of defeat and doubt – perhaps disguised as humility.
  4. Walk through your scenario and info in your head.


  1. DO NOT give away that rehearsal time – don’t let it get eaten up by other priorities
  2. Build rehearsal time into your overall planning.
  3. Snag little bits of time during your commute, while walking the dog, while showering. Bits and pieces are useful.

Accountability Partner:

  1. Ask a trusted friend to let you practice and give you feedback


  1. Have a pre-presentation and/or pre-meeting ritual.  Michael Phelps ran through the same routine before every race. Getting in a routine can help signal your mind and body that “yes, now we go.”
  2. Physically repeat, repeat, repeat. Then mentally and physically connect the dots between sections. For example, when I enter the room, I do this. When I start the meeting, I do this. When I approach the stage or lectern, I do this.
  3. Rehearse in the shoes and/or clothes that you will wear during your “performance”. Your shoes inform your balance and grounding, and your clothes represent who you are.

The Rehearsal Guide by ARTiculate: Real&ClearThe Content:

  1. Beginning and endings are very important. Know how you are starting and finishing – know the in and out.
  2. Record your content. Play and listen to it, then play and repeat it out loud. It doesn’t have to be repeated back word for word (unless you are an actor with a formal script). Focus on thought-to-thought, idea-to-idea.
  3. Learn your content in segments. Connect the segments.
  4. Work the sections — not just the whole piece over and over.
  5. Cover the segment with a piece of paper, and then scoot the paper down when you get it right. Repeat.
  6. If you have a lot of content to deliver, write each segment – by hand – on index cards. The physical process of writing the words helps the memorization process.
  7. If you are a visual person, color-coding helps – i.e. each section or segment of content is a different color. You can use highlighters or different color index cards or paper.
  8. If you are musical or auditory, think of each section as a different instrument or song theme.
  9. Work the hardest sections until they flow with your authentic voice and breath.
  10. Work through using only vowels and then add the consonants. This exercise helps you keep the breath connected and recognize the emotional content vs the intellectual content.
  11. Run through your content out loud with anyone who is willing to listen. Run it again. And again. Speaking out loud is key.
  12. Practice it out loud even if you are alone. Again, out loud is key. Things are different in your head than out loud.
  13. Run through your content while taking a walk, folding laundry, doing something physical. The physical activity helps the content get in your body. The more it is in your body, the more it becomes second nature.

Step it up: the rehearsal of champions.

Do you have the stomach for it?

  1. Audio Record yourself — sound only. This can be quite different from video recording.  Listen back for clarity of message and for the musicality of your voice. Do you have vocal variety that is connected to the message? Does it enhance the meaning for the listener?  (Vocal variety for vocal variety’s sake is more hypnotic than helpful.)
  2. Video record yourself and
    • Watch with the audio off (and your harsh self-judgment off as well!) Notice your body, feet, arms, hands, head, and facial movements. Are they varied or are they repetitive? Is your pacing or other movement more about your own comfort than the audience’s understanding?
    • Watch the video with audio on and see how you connected your message to your verbal and non-verbal communication.

It is said that the game is won before the players hit the field – presentations are the same way.  As with performing, your preparation determines your outcome. Make the time.

Your success is in your hands.

Written By Hilary Blair and the ARTiculate: Real&Clear Team.



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