MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Act your way to the top

How can actors help business people become more effective? Here are our star tips.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

We’re always looking for ways to be more influential and effective in the workplace. But perhaps the answer may be right in front of our eyes: in the cinema, on the stage, even on our televisions.  For centuries actors have developed techniques to inspire and engage audiences. So can business people learn the same tricks? MT asked Rebecca George of specialist Berkshire Consultancy for her top ten tips.

1. Create your own luck
‘Right place, right time’ is a myth.  Successful actors rarely sit around waiting for their big break; they create their own opportunities, and then ensure they are prepared for them when they come through.  Scan the horizon by searching periodicals, current events, anything which may give you a hint of how you can propel yourself and your business. 

2. Don’t be afraid to sell your strengths
Having a great idea only gets you somewhere if you do something about it.  If you even have a feeling you are onto something good, tell everyone you can.  Sell your strengths and what is possible. Confidence is contagious; the more confidently you sell your ideas, the more likely others will be to believe in you.  From managing a new project to becoming the CEO, openly pursue your goal if you think you’re right for the part.

3. Be clear about what you really want

One of the first things an actor does after reading a script is set objectives for the character.  Identifying what you want out of every situation, and deciding what you will do to get it, can help you make a bigger impact.  How often do we go through the day without clearly identifying what our goals are?  Go into situations clear about what you want.  Every interaction we have is a chance to build on our reputation, so take an active interest in being there.

4. Keep moving forward
Most actors follow a similar rule to ‘after every 100 auditions, then I’ll get the job’. Keep trying things out, give it your all on a regular basis, and pick yourself up when opportunities don’t come through.  Not everything is successful first time around; it’s important to keep moving forward and going for your goal. Success is a war of attrition and persistence does pay; when building skills, practice makes perfect.

5. Build your vocabulary (more than words…)

Our words are just a fraction of the tools we have to build our effectiveness.  What gestures do you use? How do you use your voice? What is your posture like?  All of these carry messages that others will use to make decisions about us.  When we don’t pay attention to these things our presence is more of a default zone than something we are actively controlling.  Take some downtime in front of a mirror and practise new gestures.  Record yourself speaking, to hear your pace and vocal variety.  Notice your posture when you sit in meetings. Take an active role in building your presence.  Think about it – would you prefer your daily snapshot to be a red carpet moment or an unexpected paparazzi photo? 

6. Remember: if you’re in the scene, you’re onstage
An actor would never get into place as the curtain is rising.  Prepare to make your entrance knowing that, from the second you can be seen, you are ‘on’.  Someone is always paying attention; we always have an audience whether we are aware of it or not. We often think we only have the spotlight when we are speaking or making an active contribution. In reality, it is often those times when we are not the centre of attention that people are forming opinions about our ability. 

7. React to the subtext

What makes any bit of acting really interesting to the audience is the subtext – the real meaning underneath the words.  Conflict, intrigue, mistaken intentions, etc., is created when the audience sees what the characters really want within the play. While we may not work in a play, the subtext is still there in any given interaction. And that is how the tension begins to mount.  Don’t let subtext become the elephant in the room.  React to more than just words; pay attention to what is really being said. And if you are not sure, then ask.  We rarely have three acts to create our own happy ending.

8. Be willing to take direction

Even the biggest stars work with directors; directors work with producers, producers work with studio executives... you get the picture. Success may be individual; sustainable success is a collaborative venture. Even the best ideas need a little fine tuning. Be willing to take feedback and tips about your own performance, no matter where you are or where you want to go. At the very least, it is good information about how you are perceived.  One of the world’s greatest opera stars was ‘let go’ from the prestigious Metropolitan Opera in New York because despite her box office draw, she couldn’t take direction.  Don’t be a diva.

9. Be ‘in the moment’
Reading a script, learning lines, rehearsing; all of this preparation happens so that when actors get to the performance, they can focus on being ‘in the moment’. This is about being focused and authentic.  An actor friend of mine tells this story:  one night he got a laugh in a place he didn’t expect.  The next night it happened again, and he was pleased.  But on the third night there was no response, so after the show he mentioned it to the director.  She replied: ‘The first two nights you were asking for a cup of tea; the third night you asked for a laugh.’ When we focus more on the plan than the people around us, they may not give us what we want. Act and react as appropriate – not necessarily as planned.

10. ‘Take your space, always take your space.’

No matter what your role, you have a valid contribution to make – own that and deliver your work confidently.  Others will respond accordingly.  In a scene with a film star, one background actor recalls the director approaching her and asking her to move back to give the celebrity his space.  Immediately after the director walked away, the star turned to her and said: You take your space. Always take your space.  After all, as the saying goes: there are no small parts, only small actors.

By Rebecca George, Principal Consultant at Berkshire Consultancy.

Berkshire Consultancy Limited provides a fully integrated range of specialist management consultancy services that meet the challenges of effective organisational change. To find out more please visit

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