Acting Tips to Make a Better First (and Lasting!) Impression
Want to make sure you're putting your best foot forward? Take a tip or two from some handy-dandy on camera techniques.
We all want to get ahead. Be successful. Be more likable. Put our best foot forward. Or, if we're shooting rather low, at least not fall SPLAT! on our faces when we open our mouths.
Most of us, anyways. There are always the instigators, the self-destructive types, and those who probably wouldn't be reading this style of blog anyways.
Forget about them. I'm addressing the rest of us who actually want to make a good, lasting impression at work, with friends and with the world at large.
The Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have others do unto you," is always a great place to start. Phrased in various ways by multiple traditions, it comes down to being a good person, a mensch. But wait, there's more ....
As an actor working on camera and behind the mic, I've noticed that much of what we're taught in acting class and applied on set works just as effectively in real life. I'm not necessarily referring to character roles played on TV or in movies, but rather when an actor is speaking directly to the audience in a commercial, corporate film (called an industrial), or as the company spokesperson in a website video.
So here are some tips, borrowed from the actor's handbook, to boost your own chances for professional success and personal likability. Keep in mind, if you're from outside the US, that these suggestions stem from American culture. Results WILL vary when applied in societies with different cultural norms.
Welcome other people with a genuine smile and your undivided attention.
Smile! Be positive
A smile is welcoming. It says you're accepting of the other person and open to interacting with them. The context of your encounter will certainly give clues to the other person what that interaction may look like. It's a good bet that a smile at the office is going to have a much more professional context than a smile at a bar at 1 am.
But of course there are the fake smiles. Ah, yes. Fake smiles trying to mask insincerity, discomfort, or plain old dislike.
How do you spot a fake? Look to the eyes. After all, a grimace is also a type of smile, albeit a rather twisted one. And some people will smile at you with a flat or disinterested look in their eyes. A real smile radiates to the eyes and to a warmth in the voice. That ol' twinkle in the eyes means something. Yes, Santa really does like you.
Make sure that you have a positive attitude to go along with a smile, or again it'll scream FAKE! Or at best, politeness. People are drawn to optimistic types. If you want to win friends and influence people, read up Dale Carnegie. and adopt a positive outlook in your personal and professional encounters.
Though this may seem obvious to most of us, actors are taught these basics, especially when we're doing commercials and industrials. You'd be surprised how "the obvious" can fly out of your head when you're nervous or inexperienced with the spotlight early in your career. Actors learn to smile easily and readily, maintaining an upbeat energy, once the director calls "Action!" Voice actors do this, too, actively smiling when delivering a particularly upbeat type of copy. Even if no one sees it, the warmth comes through in the read.
When the job is to talk directly to the camera, or even just into a mic, we actors take this one step further ... by imagining that we're talking to one - and only one - person. We imagine that person as a good friend who wants to hear what we have to say, a patient who's waited a long time for medical advice, or some specific person appropriate to the scenario at hand. Whatever makes sense in that particular commercial or industrial. When we do this, we come across as talking directly to the viewer, and not just as some talking head yapping into a vacuum. It's an intimate approach that draws viewers to us and invites them to really pay attention to our message.
In real life, we can take that one step further. Stop talking so much! Listen to what the other person is saying. Be genuinely interested in them, their work, their families, or hobbies. My sales experience in the competitive high tech world also advises refraining from gossip or disparaging other people, businesses, or products. Especially if you can't back it up with facts to support your claims. That's not to say you have to be bland and without strong preferences and opinions. Far from it! Just ... think first, understand where the other person is coming from and meet there before trying to draw them over to your side.
Look people in the eye when you're talking to them
Our culture holds that addressing people while looking them in the eye shows confidence, sincerity, and trustworthiness. It's not a staredown - that's just creepy. But the eyes are the windows to the soul and it's how most of us establish a connection. Even with a wordless greeting like a sincere smile.
Looking away while speaking shows that you're disconnected with the subject and/or the person. And just as with a smile, your eyes will reveal how you really feel about what you're saying. If your mouth and face are animated with exciting news, are your eyes dancing to the same rhythm?
It's easy to spot actors on screen who are disconnected from the message they're trying to deliver or the scene they're in. They just don't seem to truly be in the moment, part of the story, or quite simply, doing anything interesting. Just a talking head. Blah blah blah (beat) blah blah.
Disengagement is even more obvious when an actor is in a scene and not talking. Or when he's just silently looking directly into the camera. Is there ANYTHING going on in his expression or body language? No? Boring! Change the channel. Now. And watch a little of Bill Murray's work to see how to say tons (most of it snarky) without saying a word.
Do you know that acting is really all about reacting? Stella Adler, one of the most influential teachers in acting history, taught how to discover the nature of our own emotional mechanics and therefore those of others. And that means listening and reacting to what's happening around you and to what your scene partners are saying and doing. Especially when you don't have any dialogue.
The same thing holds true in real life. People can tell when you're disconnected from the conversation, off in your own thoughts, or just giving lip service. Look people in the eye and truly listen and focus on what they're saying. They'll gauge that you're invested in the conversation and will like and respect you all the more for it. Unless you're wearing an insufferably snarky expression. In that case, all bets are off. 😆
If your mouth and face are animated with exciting news, are your eyes dancing to the same rhythm?
Speak clearly and directly, but with respect for your listeners
Public speakers and instructional specialists know - or should know - the drill. Several points here:
Clear, concise communications.
Mean what you say and say what you mean. And say it plainly so that it's easily understood. And don't take too long to get to your point. That's true whether you're a spokesperson talking to the camera, a public speaker addressing an audience, or a professional sharing important information with a colleague or client. If people don't understand what you're talking about, then there's no communication.
Speak with a purpose
Know why you're speaking. Is it to explain? Inform? Persuade? Your purpose will influence how you speak, just like training videos, as an example, are meant to transfer information and/or skills to their viewers. And sometimes, your purpose is just to connect with another human being, perhaps through humor or perhaps through direct communication.
Know your audience
Every script for an on-camera presentation, narrated video, or training video is carefully worded and cast to appeal to its audience. When there's a serious disconnect, viewership drops like a rock and analytics show that viewers aren't staying on site for very long. With a live webinar or an in-person presentation, it becomes pretty obvious rather quickly. Just look to those disengaged or impatient audience reactions. Zoom heads disappearing off-screen. Participant count dropping. Or the classic scenario, people getting up and walking out of the auditorium. At least throwing rotten fruit at the speaker isn't a thing like it used to be in ye olden days.
Avoid all this by asking yourself this question: Where's the other person coming from? What's their experience? Expectations? Knowledge base? If they speak from emotion and personal experience, then that's how you'll connect with them. If you're in a work setting, you'll probably share a common industry background.
The general environment and subject matter often dictate the formality of conversation, too. After all, a company picnic is quite different than an annual corporate sales kickoff event. We speak differently in different situations. And the expectations of your audience change with the environment, too.
If you're a speaker addressing a specific audience, don't assume that they are familiar or not with your subject matter. A little research works wonders. Be careful not to talk over their heads, but then again, you should never talk down to people either. No one likes to feel patronized. And use technical jargon or acronyms only if your audience is familiar with them. Otherwise, you'll be ineffective at best, or at worst, develop a poor reputation as a speaker or trainer.
Laura's Quick Tips
A smile and positive attitude can be the start of a beautiful relationship
Show interest in the other person and what they have to say
Speak clearly and appropriately to your audience
We can tell when someone is an effective speaker. They tug at our hearts and engage our minds, often as much with their expressions and body language as with the message itself. We can reverse engineer the whole thing and watch a great speaker in action, noting what they do along the way to connect with us so that we remain interested. But here's the Cliff Notes version. Effective speakers touch on all the things we associate with friendliness, openness, and a desire to know someone: a genuine smile, great energy, a positive outlook, eye contact, and respect for the listener/viewer, There's no reason why we can't do the same!
No acting lessons required. 😉