Using Acting Principles to Expand Your Network
In theatre, there are always three components to every performance: pre-show (preparation), performance (show) and post-show (variable). I loved and enjoyed the first two components, and spent most of my time dreading and hating the last one—post-show. Walking through the lobby to leave the theatre could result in audience members noticing me and commenting on my work or—worse—noticing me and remaining silent. It could also result in the worst possible scenario: meeting an industry professional. While I learned to graciously handle the first two possibilities, this last option always prompted me to awkwardly mill about until I finally met the agent or director, at which point I became a glad-handing candidate for mayor.
For many of us, networking often feels disingenuous, forced, and uncomfortable. It exposes our vulnerabilities while we’re trying to promote our value.
“The truth is, people don’t like ‘being networked’…shaking hands with someone and there being this underlying expectation of,
‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’ It just feels contrived.”
Nicholas Cole, Writer for Forbes, Inc. and Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Digital Press
I had working relationships with three different agents but only one of those associations was the result of networking; most of my work came from old-fashioned auditioning and strong existing affiliations. As a result of these connections, I realized that any potential off-stage network was built the same way as a successful onstage relationship, using these five principles:
BE A FRIEND
Actors create powerful onstage relationships offstage by forming genuine emotional connections with their co-stars and bonding through shared values, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Since crewmembers often work more than performers, smart actors don’t limit themselves to fellow castmates. Form deeper connections with those around you in your community organizations and social network, starting with your children’s friends’ parents or your spouse’s friends’ partners. At work, don’t limit your connections to only those in your own line of business or particular department—you never know where the next opportunity lies. Even if nothing arises from newfound connections, at least you’ve made another friend—and that’s a priceless gift.
A director once hired me for a staged reading based on a mutual colleague’s recommendation that I was “professional, easy to work with, always prepared and talented.” According to digital marketer, speaker and author Neil Patel, reliability is the top quality to pursue and possess in the leadership job market. Regardless of your talent, no one will want to work with you unless you demonstrate preparedness, trustworthiness, readiness and commitment. Thoroughness and caring should also be part of your work ethic despite the size of the assigned task or responsibility.
Great actors know their performances can easily be elevated by making everyone around them look great,. Be generous with your time and attention, and make every moment count: be fully present and really focus on the other person. Show genuine interest and/or curiosity. Offer praise and endorsement for his or her work, approach, and accomplishments. By connecting deeply and attentively to others, those people feel seen, heard and valued, which changes how they feel about themselves, about you and the magnitude of your relationship.
BE A LISTENER
For listening expertise, pay attention to theatrical improvisers. They tune in to both what is said (content) and how it is said (context), which helps them react to every signal from their partners. Most of us fall into one category or another as listeners and thus we miss signals all the time. Determine what type of listener you are then lean into conversations and listen for others’ inflection, pace and emphasis. Be able to identify and name what you hear and check in by summarizing or restating what your heard.
As a novice actor, I always stayed back until agents or industry people would approach me. I thought it was being generous of their time and space but it was not. Once I started to be more direct, I noticed their responses changed in positive ways. Here’s how to do it:
- Make the First Move
Greet others and don’t hang back waiting to see who approaches you. Yes, it’s vulnerable, but when you do it others around you are grateful you’ve eliminated the discomfort for them.
- Make a Positive Impression
Introduce yourself simply and make it about them. Say that you’re looking forward to working together, getting to know or learning from them or just ask them about their experience.
Not matter what you say, it should be said with a smile. Enough said.
Don’t judge your network by volume. Grow it with value and, like any well-tended relationship, will provide support, engagement, and possibilities in ways you may never have planned.