If Shakespeare Held Meetings: What He Can Teach Us About Communication

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…

As You Like It, William Shakespeare

As a professional actor and playwright, Shakespeare lived by his words both on and off the stage. But modern day professionals can learn a lot from his words, too.

Effective communication would be increased if individuals in business took Shakespeare’s words to heart. If you view your life as a performance then everything from the daily commute to a meeting with your boss acquires a deeper meaning. You become more aware of your surroundings and more conscious of every sentence you speak. Sometimes we are the only member of the audience, and sometimes the auditorium is packed. What is important is that in everything you do, to do it clearly and without confusion. When you are about to meet your boss, will he understand not only your words, but the twist in the plot — the meaning — your words are meant to convey?

A 1612 engraving of the Globe Theatre in London. Many of Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed here

In Elizabethan England, when Shakespeare was working at the Globe Theatre in London, actors didn’t have the benefit of special effects, dramatic scenery or even full scripts of the play they were going to perform. Everything had to count. They didn’t talk to hear the sound of words ringing in their ears; their audience was right in front of them. They communicated with their audience to develop the plot.

Every gesture and motion had a meaning — sometimes subtle and sometimes overt. If you apply this principle in our working lives you will see a remarkable change. Your interactions with colleagues, clients or partners will become more alive and alert.

Shakespeare understood that the plot unfolds only once. Actors do not have the luxury of being able to email later to clarify any misunderstandings the audience had. Every moment was essential.

Do you rush about the office, with a thousand things to do before the end of the day? Take time to plan your words carefully. Ensure that your body language is in accord with what you are saying and watch the audience carefully for non-verbal feedback. You will discover that Shakespeare, although he has been dead for 400 years, has a lot to teach us in our modern lives.

Traveller. Teacher. Occasional writer.

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