Article Date: 10/1/2009

Inside The Actor's Practice

Inside The Actor's Practice

Some moments are too important to be left to chance. They require an actor.

Jim Thomas

In 2004, I was a juror on a carjacking trial. The prosecutor was regarded as one of the state's best, and I was eager to hear his closing arguments. I didn't expect Spencer Tracy in “Inherit the Wind,” but surely his remarks would rival James Spader's in “Boston Legal.”

If you've ever been on a jury, you may understand my disappointment. The prosecutor read his notes in monotone. Nothing else was needed. The evidence was strong — a confession, witnesses and physical evidence. After a quick deliberation, we found the defendant guilty of all charges.

Spencer Tracy as manager

I'd suggest that when it comes to the management of day-to-day issues, we'd often fare better with the actor's approach. Here's why: We often need to motivate and convince others before they take action, and I'm betting Spencer Tracy would be a top-notch motivator, whether he gave a performance review to an employee or discussed therapy options with a patient.

The acting idea isn't new. Management and leadership seminars have shared this view for decades. The thinking is that as managers, we often base our direction and rationale on our own perspective about what is proper. Yet actors focus on winning over the audience, whether the “performance” is a phone call or a presentation. Whether you buy into the acting idea or not, here are some pointers that may help you deliver your message:

Know your audience. Some people react well to direct, specific instructions. Others work better when they participate in developing solutions. Still, others react to the occasional “fire and brimstone” command. Give the audience what they need.

Rehearse. Rehearsals boost confidence and rid performances of the stutters and “ums” that can soften impact. Even in performances in which you don't have the lead role — i.e., a vendor's presentation — you can rehearse by preparing questions.

Expect the unexpected. Few things go completely as scripted. For example, recall the presentations you've attended where the A/V equipment didn't work. In such cases, I always appreciate those speakers who smile and without skipping a beat, “let the show go on.”

Don't go the extra mile. Give your audience only what they need, then exit. Why dilute your performance?

Learn from the masters. Those who motivate us — successful sales consultants, keynote speakers or that colleague with the magnetic personality — can teach us through their timing, vocal inflections, posture and body language. They're your ticket to a “master class.” OM

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2009