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How Going To Live Theater Makes You Professional At Work

How Going To Live Theater Makes You Professional At Work

If you and I were friends and I said to you, “Let’s go see a play,” your first reaction would probably be, “Bwahaha! Man, you’re a crackup!”

I get it. In the digital era, with movies on our phones and DVRs and Netflix, few of us can be bothered even to watch a TV show when the network wants us to. So the idea of driving to a theater, waiting in our seats until the curtain goes up… just to watch live actors standing in front of a hand-built set? No thanks.

But that’s too bad. Because as I learned attending maybe 100 such little plays in Los Angeles in my early 20s, going to these performances can teach you a great deal about how to be a professional. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1. Perform at every job, at every task, every day, like a talent scout is watching.

What always amazed me as I sat in these 99-seat theaters was how much energy and dedication the actors put into their performances — even when there were only seven of us in the audience.

What’s even more incredible is that many of the actors in those plays were successful men and women you’d recognize from movies and television. Some were big enough that you’d know their names.

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So what was going on? Why would these folks work themselves to exhaustion — and acting live onstage in a two-hour play is exhausting work — night after night, at a tiny theater, if only a half-dozen people even bothered showing up?

Because that’s what you do when you’re an actor. You act. You act your butt off, every time you’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity. And even the Hollywood actor who makes a good living in TV or film considers a chance to act onstage two hours a night to be an opportunity. It doesn’t matter how much they’re being paid (often nothing at a little theater) or the size of the audience.

That’s how we all should perform at work.

Yes, some parts of your job might be boring. Some parts might seem unimportant or even unnecessary. Doesn’t matter. Give your job everything you’ve got, every day, and treat it as the opportunity it is.

That sort of approach — which is far less common than you’d think — is what leads to more opportunities.

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2. Find something to love about your job.

Let’s go back to those successful Hollywood players I’d often see at these tiny theaters. I once saw a play written by Kevin Arkadie, the hugely successful TV producer who co-created New York Undercover, and who produced and wrote for NYPD Blue and The Shield, among many other credits.

When I walked into the lobby of that little theater with my uncle Alan (who always took me to these great plays), we saw Arkadie… sweeping the floor. Here was a guy worth many millions of dollars, putting on a play for what would likely be an audience of 30 people, and he was sweeping up beforehand. What’s up with that?

Did Kevin Arkadie have a secret passion for sweeping? Did the stars of his play (some well-known character actors with long Hollywood careers) enjoy showing up day after day for rehearsals, or driving through LA traffic every day to reach the theater? (On that last one, trust me, the answer is No!)

Even actors passionate about acting, and playwrights (like Kevin Arkadie) passionate about writing plays, don’t love everything about the theater. But they put up with the waiting and the rehearsals and the disappointments when a show falls through for whatever reason… and sweeping the floors before the show starts.

Why? Because they all love some part of the process. Arkadie loves sitting in the theater watching his play come to life. The actors love being onstage and performing for us (even all five of us).

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And you know something? There’s some part of what you do for a living that you can love too. Doesn’t matter what your job is — there’s something to love about it. Find it, cherish it, and — if you can — try to make it a bigger part of your job.

3. Remember, there are lots of talented people out there.

This last tip is more of a word of caution.

Something else that always amazed me attending live plays at little theaters was how good the actors were. I mean, they were phenomenal. At almost every show I saw, I’d come out of the theater saying to my uncle something like, “Those actors are as good as any Hollywood A-lister. How’s that possible?”

I never did figure it out. Given how difficult good acting is, how is it that you can find great acting almost any night of the week at almost any hole-in-the-wall theater in Los Angeles (and I suspect New York as well)?

What I do know is that, in an increasingly competitive world with more tools and resources and knowledge available to more people than ever, chances are your profession is experiencing its own little-theater trend. More people are in the game: studying, practicing, honing and mastering the same skills you’ve cultivated. So you’ve got to stay at the top of your game too.

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And maybe that’s part of the answer to why so many successful Hollywood actors show up at the smallest theaters, for no money, and act to exhaustion night after night for tiny audiences. They know there are many up-and-comers right behind them, sharpening their acting skills too. So even a proven actor has to stay just as sharp. They can’t afford to coast.

And neither can you.

Featured photo credit: An old side of the Chicago Theater [Featured as one of the most interesting photos taken with the Leica X1]/ChiILLeica via flickr.com

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robbie hyman

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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