It’s true. You may have made fun of those goofy theater people in high school or college, but their training has given them some of the most important skills necessary to navigate the workplace.
So the next time you’re in a jam, ask yourself, “What would Ryan Gosling do?” And study these 10 critical skills from the world of performance.
1. Analyze Any Situation
When an actor gets a script, he’s trained to break down the scene, asking:
- Who am I, and what is my relationship to the other characters?
- Where does this scene fit in the larger story?
- What do I want and what are the obstacles in the way?
- What’s at stake? What am I fighting for?
Imagine if you explored these kinds of fundamental questions before a meeting or networking event. How could that help you get focused on your goals and get better results?
2. Be a Better Listener
Listening is the most important skill in acting—and possibly in life.
An actor does more than recite scripted lines. If she’s not listening to her scene partner and reacting in the moment, her performance will suffer.
Most of us are terrible listeners. We hear what we want to hear and often just wait for our turn to speak.
Listening—truly listening—requires patience, discipline, focus and selflessness. Work on it. You might be surprised by what people are really saying.
3. Be Generous
Acting may seem like a selfish endeavor—after all, you’re putting yourself in the spotlight.
But one of the most important rules in improvisational comedy is to make your scene partner look good. If you put that goal ahead of everything else, you’re more likely to have a successful scene.
In the workplace that means supporting others, giving help when needed and sharing credit where it’s due. Be generous and it will come back to you.
4. Be Constructive
Another important rule of improv is “yes, and.” It means that when another actor introduces an idea on stage, you agree and build on it.
So if your scene partner says, “Man, it’s hot in here,” you don’t say, “What do you mean? It’s freezing in this meat locker!” Instead, you build on the idea: “I know, I think my face just melted!” That keeps the scene moving forward.
Similarly, you don’t want to be that person in meetings who shoots down every idea. It’s easy to throw up roadblocks—being a constructive partner is a much more valuable and sought-after skill.
5. Get Real
This may sound counter-intuitive, but acting can help you discover and express your true self. Acting is not about putting on a costume and being someone else, it’s about honesty and authenticity.
When you see Jennifer Lawrence on screen expressing anguish, she’s not faking it. Yes, she’s playing a character, but the emotion is real. It’s something she’s actually feeling in the moment.
The best actors don’t “act sad,” they draw on some past pain, disappointment or insecurity and bring that forth to deliver a realistic performance.
Do you know who you really are? Do you have the courage to show that to the world? Or do you put up a façade—an image of what you think others expect?
Be genuine. Show your humanity. That’s the key to connecting with others.
6. Tap into Emotion
The best actors can easily tap into emotion to create stirring drama that moves the soul. If you want to persuade people, don’t just bury them in facts; appeal to their emotions.
Researchers say an emotionally charged event persists longer in people’s minds than any ordinary neutral event. So whether you’re selling a product, describing a problem or pitching an idea, find the emotional core that will resonate with your audience.
Who’s hurt by the status quo? How will they be helped? How would that feel? What’s the big issue at stake? If you want to change their minds, you have to grab their hearts.
7. Tell Stories
Actors are trained storytellers, and when it comes to persuading an audience audience few things beat a well-told story.
If you’re selling, don’t make hollow claims about superior service or quality products; share your customer stories. In a job interview, don’t just say you go the extra mile, talk about the time you pulled an all-nighter to meet a last-minute demand.
Learning to craft and deliver powerful stories is the key to successful communication.
8. Exude Energy
A low-energy performance is boring to watch, and it can harm you in the workplace as well.
When you’re giving a presentation, interviewing for a job or meeting with a customer, stand (or sit up) straight, speak up, put conviction into your words and passion behind your ideas.
Nobody ever slouched their way to success.
9. Rehearse Everything
Actors easily spend more than 100 hours rehearsing a stage show. But too often in life we fly by the seat of our pants.
Whatever’s on your agenda today—a big meeting, networking opportunity or conference call—if it’s worth doing, it’s worth rehearsing.
Practice, practice, practice. Get your story straight. Anticipate every possible objection. Have a contingency plan.
10. Keep Calm & Carry On
Actors occasionally blow their lines and miss their marks. But they don’t stop in the middle of the play and exclaim, “I can’t BELIEVE I just flubbed that! Oh, man, I’m an IDIOT!!”
They just move on. It’s called “continuity of intent” and it’s a good lesson for anybody.
Mistakes are inevitable. You’ll skip a slide in your presentation, you’ll mangle the name of someone you just met, you’ll use the wrong fork at the big luncheon.
It’s only a problem if you let it derail you. Don’t dwell on it, don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge it and move on.
Are You Ready for the Spotlight?
My acting training has helped me immensely in the business world, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their communication and interpersonal skills.
Check out the options in your community. Many theaters troupes, colleges and comedy clubs offer classes. And people from all walks of life sign up—I studied with lawyers, accountants, cops, students and retirees.
After all, all the world’s a stage. Be a player.
This post first appeared on the InNetwork Blog