Over my 20+ years in L&D, I’ve come across many learning methodologies and, generally, anything that helps learners develop a new skill is worth exploring. I have written off many methodologies that seem gimmicky and, at first glance, skills for business professionals drawn from the actor’s method would fall into this category.
The actor’s method – just ‘fluffy’ and ‘pretentious’ theatre gimmicks?
On closer inspection, there is a lot to learn from Method Acting. But why?
An actor’s performance review is the harshest in the world. It involves an unforgiving audience of 500+ paying customers to turn up and critically judge an actor performing a role for an hour and a half. And then, with their applause, explicitly judge them and probably leave the auditorium talking loudly about how good or not the actor was.
Life is like a performance
Interestingly this exists for us, too, at work. We all have our roles to play. And like it or not, every day each of us is judged on the way we act and the things we say by the different audiences we encounter.
Whatever your role, whatever situations you face – just as it is for actors – professional success is achieved by understanding how to control your behaviour. And to manage how others perceive and judge your performance.
I don’t want to be acting. I want to be authentic
We have as many personalities as there are people who know us.
– William James
Do you behave the same with friends and family as with business clients? Do you speak to a child the same way as your CEO?
I can bet you skillfully use a set of different behaviours that are effective in these different situations. You are still authentic – and you are still you!
Actors needed a robust, effective process that lets them confidently embody their high-performing selves at speed whilst being authentic. They simply codified behaviours and developed a method to use them.
So how can the actor’s method help us in improving our performance at work? Surely if we can be as efficient as an actor in embodying our high-performing self we are on to a winner.
I’m going to share my favourite tips from the actor’s method; but first, you need to believe and trust in one important concept…
You become your behaviours!
“Mmm,” I hear you say?
Let me prove this to you right now.
- Slump down in your chair, drop your head let your arms hang down
- Check in with yourself
How do you feel in this position?
- Now sit upright
- Open up your posture. Head up. Engage your body.
- Check in with yourself
How do you feel in this position?
Spoiler: I’m betting that you felt very different in each of those positions (I’ll let you reflect on those differences). You have just experienced how you become your behaviours.
Convinced? Now we can lean on those method-acting principles. Here are my six favourite skills and how they are relevant in the workplace.
1. Be aware of your body language and non-verbal communication
Method actors are keenly aware of their body language and how it conveys emotions and intentions.
This same awareness can enhance workplace communication by allowing you to effectively use non-verbal cues to convey messages and build rapport.
Stop for a moment and reflect on what a person who really wants your outcome looks and sounds like. Ask yourself: How can I embody this? What do I need to do and say?
2. Use active listening
Method actors are trained to actively listen and respond to their scene partners so we see and feel they are really listening.
The ability to actively listen is rare in this day and age. To listen attentively and engage with colleagues is essential both for them and you to build understanding and trust.
Use your whole body to listen and ‘sense’ another’s meaning. Imagine you are pulled towards them like a magnet – feel an intensity in your body and sense their meaning.
3. Be adaptable
Method actors are skilled at adapting to different characters and situations.
A key skill in the workplace these days is agility and the ability to quickly adjust to changing environments and demands.
Start with being conscious of your situation. Ask yourself: Where am I? What is it I want to achieve? What version of myself do I need to embody to be successful in this situation? Then just do it!
4. Enhance your presence
Actors hone the skill of stage presence and the ability to captivate an audience.
In the workplace, this skill can enable individuals to deliver impactful presentations and ensure colleagues and clients sit up and listen.
This starts with an engaged body. Image your body is charged with a surge of energy – just like when you are really excited. You can naturally turn up the dial on this energy and share it with your audience – just see how much more you grab their attention.
5. Master effective storytelling
Method actors are skilled storytellers, capable of engaging audiences through compelling narratives.
Stories are the difference between someone hearing your message and them feeling your message. They enable you to deliver memorable presentations and influence stakeholders.
Children’s stories are a good place to start. You can use the classic structure to tell a good story:
Once upon a time… and then the baddie appears… and then the hero arrives… and then they all lived happily ever after!
Maybe not quite those words but the structure exists in most great stories even when told in the pub.
6. Manage stage fright
Method actors are trained to manage stage fright and performance anxiety.
This skill helps overcome nervousness during presentations and high-pressure meetings, allowing you to deliver your message with confidence and conviction.
Simply focus on the behaviours of who you want to be in that situation – now embody those behaviours. You now are taking control and not letting your adrenaline spike overwhelm you.
Lasting behaviour change
So, I hope you won’t dismiss the actor’s method – there is a lot we can learn.
If we get our behaviour right, the world is our oyster!