Act Smart!: How to get people to pay attention to you

A brief lesson in the new golden rule and how it applies to the smart actor living in today’s attention economy.

One question I get with reasonable regularity is “How do I get people to pay attention to my (BLANK)?” The (BLANK) in question used to be “stage play” (and plays are notoriously hard to get people to pay attention to), but a (BLANK) can now just as easily be “YouTube channel,” “Facebook page” or even “anything I send them.”

There’s no easy answer for this. Everyone, civilians, included, is inundated with choices of things to consume. The networks compete with the Internet, the Internet competes with video games, they all compete with everything else we all have to do in our lives. Money and power are nice, fame gets you access, but attention is the most valuable resource of all. So how do you get a slice of that very valuable attention? By adhering to one simple principle:

Always be AWESOME.

Being an AWESOME actor

First and foremost, you must excel at your core competency, i.e., you must be the most awesome actor you can be. Yes, you will get better and better with more and more experience. But at any given moment, you must be the most awesome actor you can be right now. This is cost-of-entry, or as I’ve called it, the all-things-being-equal rule.

You may get away with being a little less of a great actor than some other actor if you are exceptionally gifted in some other sought-after area, such as being extraordinary on the looks scale (either end of it, ugly or pretty) or playing crazy young/old for your age if you’re a minor/senior, but don’t make the mistake of relying on something that is evanescent and/or out of your control. Being off-the-charts good at calf-roping might get you work when Westerns are hot, but what about when they’re not? Exactly.

Being an AWESOME evangelist

Even if you’re the most stupendous actor working at the very, very top of their game, ultimately you can get tripped up if you aren’t also the most awesome representative of yourself that you can be. That’s right: it’s not just up to your agent and manager and other minions to keep the word of your awesomeness out there; you’ve got to do it yourself by being awesome in every aspect of how you interact with your peers, your gatekeepers, your associates and your fans. (Especially your fans.)

You, the communicator, must be as close to 100% awesome all the time as you can be. What do I mean by “AWESOME”? I’m glad you asked.

I see awesomeness in this application as breaking down into three guiding behaviors:

1. Be useful
2. Be specific
3. Be nice

I’ll be covering each one of these behaviors in depth over the next few months, but for now, I’ll give a brief overview of each, followed by an example from the actor-communication world I am intimately familiar with: your emails to me!

AWESOME in action: examples of the three components

Think of being useful as doing things that add value to other people’s lives. Being useful is all about tactics, all the many actions you can take to provide people with information, support or entertainment. I’ll get into the specifics as well as some ideas of how you might apply them as an actor next month, but for now, remember that pretty much every possible way you can be useful boils down to one of those three things: sharing true information, offering true support or providing true entertainment.

An example of a useful email you might send to me: one that provides me with a great link (information); one that says you forwarded my column (support); or one that is exquisitely written (entertainment). These can be combined to great effect: sending a beautifully written email with a great idea for a column and a “P.S.” that you enjoyed my work so much, you forwarded it on to your struggling actor friend in Kentucky.

When you are being specific, you are being strategic. Specificity is about saying “this, not that.” Specificity is about standing strongly for something in particular rather than everything in general. In terms of your acting career, for example, specificity is about knowing your exact type in the marketplace, even if you can play so, so much more. Specificity is also about knowing how to and choosing to behave appropriately according the rules of the venue you find yourself in.

An example of a specific email: Asking one clear, answerable question. You would be amazed at how many “How do I get an agent?” emails I get. Or maybe you wouldn’t. After all, you hang out around actors, too.

I know you know all about being nice, but it has to stay on the list. Being nice in this context doesn’t mean being sugary-sweet and agreeable (although as you can and where appropriate, not a bad idea). It’s about the other guy, about having consideration for someone else besides yourself as you move through the world (online and real) and put the word out there.

An example of a nice email: Taking time to write a shorter letter. Holy moses, can you kids run on! Like I have time to read my regular work email, much less the grand and sweeping saga of your Very Special Snowflake situation.

Next month: the full and dirty details on how to increase attention by becoming screamingly useful.

* * *

Further reading on this month’s column topics:

Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Every month I send out useful (and specific, and nice) information about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It’s not about acting explicitly, but since you’re a smart actor, that shouldn’t scare you. Check it out, then sign up.

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeakerconsultant who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creative people learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.

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