Act Smart!: How to get people to pay attention to you (Part 4)

Everyone loves being entertained. So why are entertainers often the worst at using that to their advantage?

This is a multi-part series. Part 1: overall principles. Part 2: information = useful. Part 3: support = useful.

Usefulness 101 (the recap)

As I said previously, being useful means adding value to other people’s lives. And thankfully, serving other people first (i.e., making yourself useful to them) serves you as well. So the more you take care of other people, the more likely they are to think well of, and take care of, and spread the word of, YOU.

The third (and final) prong of utility is being entertaining, which can and does mean a whole lot of other things besides dazzling them with the old soft-shoe.

Entertainment is the non-business-y side of you

Have you ever met a monomaniacal actor? Or a monomaniacal anything, for that matter? That person who is only focused on the ONE thing they’re focused on, with no room or capacity for thinking or talking about anything else?

With rare exceptions, they are not the most fun crew to hang out with. While they may provide you with interesting insight into oceanography or accounting or what’s up on Capitol Hill, after a while you’re nodding politely and looking for the nearest metaphorical (or actual) exit.

Contrast that with the cancer researcher who plays banjo in a bluegrass band on the weekends, or the insurance agent who exhibits her modern art at juried shows for the summer months and you can see why well-roundedness has value for other people as well as for you: It provokes curiosity and engagement. And it makes you more human and less of a heat-seeking automaton, which increases the chance that people will relate to (and love) you.

What “entertainment” looks like

In real life, this means not starting every conversation with a discussion of acting or the Industry, even (sometimes especially) if you’re hanging out with other Industry types. Instead, talk about interesting places you’ve discovered in your town. Talk about food or books or nature hikes. Talk about songwriting or recycling or alternative energy, anything but acting (or politics, or money, or religion, unless you like living on the edge).

In social media, this can mean posting a funny, (not-too) personal story on your industry blog. It can mean sharing photos, videos and links that have zero to do with acting but that are interesting, poignant, thought-provoking or just silly. Do you have an urban garden or a side interest in pastry-making? Are into crafts? Have you recently developed an obsession with PowerPoint karaoke or snake-charming? Pick the best, most interesting examples and share them.

Finally, don’t forget that asking other people about their non-business ideas and interests can be just as entertaining as you talking about yours, maybe more so. Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves.

This is not entertainment

A word of caution on your outside interests: while it’s great to be authentic, it’s not so great to be authentically annoying. We all have that friend who will not shut up about the environment or dog rescue or (shudder) politics.

Don’t swap your monomaniacal Industry talk for a monomaniacal obsession about anything, unless you are the most fascinating person on the planet. (And I’ve yet to meet anyone who comes close. And I’m old.)

Think of your end-user, your audience. You’re trying to add spice to their daily stream of input by switching things up, or lightening their day by being funny, joyous, personal, human. It’s hard to do that by bludgeoning them over the head with something, even if it’s a hilarious bludgeon. (Recall the last always-“on” comedian you met if you doubt me on this.)

Dance, monkey, dance?

Okay, by now you get that “entertainment” does not mean throwing up yet another link to your fantastically hilarious video thing all about YOU. Does this mean you can’t use your own stuff ever to entertain the troops? Are you forever relegated to sharing other people’s entertainment output and limiting your own contributions to updates on current farmers’ market offerings and snapshots of you hiking Runyon Canyon?

No! On the contrary, I’d say that as an entertainer, you can and should share your own stuff, judiciously. Where social media is concerned, I remain a fan of the 95/5 ratio (95% stuff that is useful to other people, 5% shameless self-promotion). You get a semi-pass on this if your stuff is really entertaining, but don’t push your luck and turn into that guy, you know, the one who is always posting self-links.

But the real advantage to being an entertainer is your ability to infuse everything with humanity, not to having a bottomless catalogue of performances to share. Bring the skills you’ve honed on the stage and in class to all of your interactions. Extend yourself in your real-life exchanges as you’ve learned to do in scenes.

Lighten up, in other words, and take things a little less seriously. We’re all attracted to the truly authentic and alive in others, there’s no one to whom we would rather give our precious attention.

Next month: Time to get specific, and strategic.

* * *

BOOKS OF THE MONTH: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Girl Who Played with Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest; by Stieg Larsson I recently finished the third volume in this fantastic suspense series and was struck once again not only by what an engaging story the late Larsson could tell, but by what an incredible opportunity this series offers to actors. You have a fully-created world on the page, replete with fantastic characters, which you now get to watch played out in not one but two different film realizations (and as of this writing, the entire Swedish film trilogy is available via streaming Netflix, too!). There’s valuable learning to be had in reading books, then seeing how characters are fleshed out on the screen by highly-paid professionals (it’s why I similarly recommend reading books like Mildred Pierce, Sideways and Shopgirl.) That you get all of that learned and get to be entertained into the bargain? Bonus!

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