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article imageInterview with Leonie Mellinger Special

By Adrian Peel     Jul 7, 2014 in Business
The Personal & Business Impact Coach, who initially found fame as an actress, opens up to Digital Journal about her unique, and some would say groundbreaking, profession.
Nowadays, it is vitally important in every walk of life, from politics to business, from the medical profession to the entertainment world, to present oneself in a friendly and open way. Today when we watch a politician speak, for example, we tend to wonder whether he or she comes across as genuine, instead of actually listening to what is being said.
Before this became the accepted norm in societies around the world, a classically-trained actress named Leonie Mellinger was tentatively making her way as as an impact coach helping people to present the best of themselves, although her style of coaching is rather different to the standard procedure as the lady herself, recently returned from a business trip to the States, explains:
"In a nutshell, I'm helping people understand the impact they're making on other people and helping them to make real, authentic connections with other human beings, in any forum - so it's not presentation skills. In fact it's the opposite of that. I think presentation skills are very old-fashioned and really nobody nowadays wants to be presented to. They want to have a meaningful connection with another human being.
"I think the further that we've gone with technology, the further away we have gone from actually making meaningful connections with people. It's a skill that many people learned before the advent of technology. They learnt these skills going out to play with friends, and the kids growing up today unfortunately are losing very important skills because they're all connecting via technology and I think that's very sad..."
"When I started, I didn't really realise what I was getting into," continues Leonie. "I thought I was getting into teaching presentation skills, but I realised that actually I didn't want to do that because I didn't want to listen to someone making a presentation.
"I wanted somebody to make me feel something - or make me think something - and I was interested in helping people to be able to talk and be authentically themselves and comfortable in their skin, even if they were in a situation which maybe made them nervous...
"I had to start with myself because people have this idea that all actors are naturally outgoing and gregarious and therefore can stand up in front of anybody and just do anything and say anything, which is completely not the case. Most actors act because they get their release through being somebody else, and that was certainly the case for me...
"So when I once had to go to the opening of a movie that I made and stand up on stage in front of an audience, it was the worst experience of my life. I didn't know how to do it because I didn't spend one day, in three years at drama school, on how to perform myself. So I realised that there was a skill in this and that I needed to start with me. When I first saw myself as me, not acting a role, it was a big shock because I didn't look like I thought I did...
"I did look like I thought I did when I was playing a character, but I hadn't ever looked at myself just as me and so I realised that there's probably a lot of people wandering around not having an idea of the impact that they're making on people because you know how you feel inside, but you don't necessarily know what someone's getting on the outside."
Discussing her recent trip, and providing further insight into her work in the process, the well-spoken woman of many talents states, "I was in Chicago in February. Then went again a few weeks ago because with my coaching there's a three-day foundation course.
"There's two days first of all where I'm covering all the things about the person, including body language, face, voice and the impact that they make on other people, as a skill of how to be the best of you in every situation, whether it's a one-on-one or a round-a-table meeting or talking in front of a large audience.
"Then day two, I'm covering content, how to structure content, all the tools you can use to bring content to life and then a very useful process to help you understand the questions to ask about who you're talking to and how that affects what you say and how you say it.
"So there's quite a lot that I cover in day one and day two, and then I let people try that out for a few months. Then I come back and do a third day, which is a very practical day, trying out different scenarios and maybe working on an upcoming conversation or event that they have, further embedding the skills and keeping them going with it, really."
Leonie's career continues to go from strength to strength (she formed her own company in 2003) and in her guise as a coach, primarily - though not exclusively - to executives, she has worked with some of the biggest names in the corporate world - Pricewaterhouse Coopers, National Grid, B.P., Kimberly-Clark, to name but a few.
For some, however, she will forever be remembered as a versatile actress of stage and screen, with an endearing air of innocence and grace, who first came to the public's attention at the tender age of 21 in a BBC adaption of the D.H. Lawrence novel, Sons & Lovers.
As a talented thespian rarely out of work, Ms. Mellinger also acted alongside some of the biggest names in TV and film, such as Julie Christie, Sir Nigel Hawthorne, Robbie Coltrane, Sir John Gielgud, Patrick Stewart and the late Rik Mayall, where she played Clarissa in one of The New Statesman's most memorable episodes entitled "May the Best Man Win."
"Well I felt terribly sad and shocked," she says, emotionally recalling the moment she heard the much-loved star had passed away, "because really he was so young and so full of life. He was such a funny, warm, lovely person and I had such fun working with him.
"I feel a huge sense of sadness and loss for the business because he was a real pioneer in that form of comedy, he really was. He was very special and a comic genius, I would say. He was genuinely very, very funny and very real and very human. He was just a lovely guy..."
Revealing how the coaching eventually took over from her original passion in life, the former student of The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama remarks, "It's a very strange situation because I didn't give up acting; I just found myself doing this other job which I became really interested in and very passionate about. I would still be very interested to act again because I am so different to the Leonie who started on this journey...
"But how or when that would happen, I just don't know because I would need a bit of notice, so that I could make sure that my diary was clear. I don't want to let down my clients, so this is the issue. I haven't closed the door on it, it's just the opportunity hasn't come up, or something that I wanted to do hasn't come up. If it did come up, I would be delighted because I don't like the thought of not acting again because I never chose to stop it."
Has the acting helped with the current job?
"It's funny, but when I was at school, I did a career's test and the result came out that I should be an occupational therapist. At the time I was really quite miffed by this because I thought, 'That sounds really dull and that's not at all what I had in mind', but in a way, that's sort of what I've become...
"There is a therapy element of it, I suppose. I'm very careful about that - I don't go too far inside, as it were, but it's very personal and it's very much about dealing with people in a very sensitive way, and I'm very interested in people. That's my favourite thing is spending time with people and talking to people.
"So clearly it suits me - and always has done - to work with people and whatever job I did would have to have involved working with people... But I think that the acting has certainly helped me enormously because there are things that I draw on from my acting skills, as I say, the body language, the voice, the face. The ability to own your space wherever you go is something that you have to be able to do as an actor and I talk a lot to my clients about owning their space and the importance of that.
"Also, the other thing about acting is in order to make it real, you have to be able to draw on emotions. Stanislavsky wrote a lot about something called 'sense memory' and that is also something that I have to teach my clients because we can't always expect to feel exactly how we need to feel on the day. So there may be a time when somebody needs to be very enthusiastic about something, but they don't feel enthusiasm on the day...
"There is an analogy with acting that to make it real, you have to draw on a memory of that emotion and then make it happen, and I believe that everyone can do that - not just actors. I talk to my clients about sense memory, so there is definitely an advantage to having been an actress."
To conclude, Leonie highlights just how much things have changed since she started out attempting to change lives for the better almost 20 years ago (she was, it seems, ahead of her time): "When I first started and told people what I did - I said 'I teach people how to communicate effectively' - they used to laugh and go, 'Why, what's the matter with them, why do they need that?'
"Now, if I'm in any social situation and somebody asks me what I do and I tell them, the instant response is, 'Oh, tell me more, I need it!' So there's been a complete shift in everybody's realisation that this is an essential life skill and not a given.
"Some people think 'you're either born with it or you're not and if you're not, well that's tough.' But it's not the case. I believe absolutely everybody can learn this skill and even if people think they're quite good, they can be better."
For information, visit Leonie's official website.
More about leonie mellinger, business coaching, Acting, Pricewaterhouse coopers, British petroleum
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