Lessons From the Ski Slope
Achieving a Relaxed State of Mind
Before the Coronavirus paralyzed the world, I was fortunate to enjoy a ski vacation with my family during the week of my daughter’s spring break. Strange that a “spring” break began this year in late February, but in retrospect, I’m glad that we were able to have it at all.
I’m a fair-weather skier. Unlike others who fancy the perfect ski day as bitterly cold with blowing, blinding snow, I prefer warm, sunny days where the gorgeous mountain views extend for miles. I like the intermediate blue runs and the challenging black diamonds – as long as they’ve been well-groomed. My inner twelve year old comes out to play when I can ski fast and smoothly. Leave the endless bumpy moguls to my kids whose knees don’t object to the punishment.
Almost every day of our trip was warm and beautiful, and I found myself relaxing into the rhythm of gliding down Colorado’s Beaver Creek runs. My body was on automatic pilot, like it often is when I’m engaged in familiar physical activities. And after admiring the views for a while, my thoughts turned to voice over (sure, why not?). I began thinking how a measure of accomplishment in one activity can provide insights to succeeding in another.
It’s amazing how much easier something becomes when you can just relax into the effort. With skiing, and with acting, there comes a point at which the body and mind know what to do. You have trained, acquired the skills to stay upright and balanced when swooshing down a mountain at a fairly decent rate of speed. You know how not to crash into other skiers … or into a tree. You know how to turn, how to slow down when the run seems to suddenly drop off into a vertical plunge, and how to stop without – again – crashing into anyone or anything. Tense muscles from fear, or even simple apprehension, detract from the smoothness of movement and enjoyment of the activity itself.
Acting is much the same way. You’ve studied the script and understand the genre. You’ve done the script analysis and answered the whole set of who/what/when/where/why questions. You’ve studied your character arc, made choices, and are ready to immerse yourself in that persona. So now relax into it! You’ll be so much more authentic and fluid, and the performance that much more truthful.
Enjoy the scenery
As with a perfect ski day, however you may define it, have fun with the story that you are bringing to life. There’s a bit of joy in every piece of drama, just as there is some drama in every comedy. The yin/yang interaction, with opposites containing a bit of each other to draw one to the other and yet create conflict. Explore the nuances before you, whether it’s admiring the bits of snow still clinging to the bare limbs of the mountain aspens or the humor within the explainer video script. Your listener will pick up on your comfort and pleasure with the message, and enjoy the ride right alongside you.
Just as most skiers wouldn’t be wearing just a t-shirt without a jacket – though I did see one or two questionable types who looked like they thought they were at the beach – attire your character in accordance with the script. Is this an authoritative read for a medical narration? Perhaps you’re the doctor in the lab coat or the CEO addressing a board meeting. Stand up straight and adopt a more formal tone. Or maybe you’re the wacky bunny in a children’s eLearning script. In that case, move freely and let all the facial expressions and vocal inflections ‘hang out.”
Know where you’re going
At Beaver Creek, warm chocolate chip cookies are waiting at the bottom of the main lift at 3pm. A delicious tradition and a powerful incentive to give it your all before winding down with a chocolatey treat. In voice over, know the key message and what the client wants the receiver to know. Is it a more efficient way to navigate the legal complexities that challenge a small business? A call to action to reduce local emissions and adopt cleaner air standards in the community? Or maybe it’s a simple, but heartfelt “thank you!” to customers for their on-going support. A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Know the arc of your customer’s story, tell it with all the heart, thought, and care that you can bring to it, and the product – and your client’s satisfaction - may just be as sweet as a warm chocolate chip cookie.