10 Ways Acting Can Improve Your Work Life

Daniel Tonon DT

Acting is more than just make believe fun. Many things that you learn through acting and improv classes can give you a competitive edge in the workplace.

I've been taking acting and improv classes for roughly 2 years now. Both my professional and personal life have improved since taking up acting. This list of highlights are the aspects that I have found to be the most helpful.

1) Acting improves your ability to engage with others

Do you ever find yourself thinking about what you are going to have for dinner while your co-workers are talking to you?

Being able to actively listen to the other members of your team is an important skill to have, especially if you are a team leader. It allows you to glean more value from meetings, discuss ideas with your team more effectively, and understand your clients better.

Acting classes teach you to place 100% of your focus on the other person while conversing. This is because your response to another character will not make sense if it doesn't take into account everything they say with their words, tone and body language - and it's the same in business. Your focus needs to be 100% on the client's needs and how you can meet them, or your work may not be appropriate or useful to them. Placing all of your focus on the other person also means that there's none left for things like being self-conscious, or distracting thoughts like what you're having for dinner that night.

2) Improv classes teach you to be more assertive

Have you ever come up with an idea for something to say but there was no opening in the conversation to say it, or you were too shy to speak up? Do you then try to hold onto that idea as long as possible? If so, you may run the risk of completely ignoring the rest of the conversation so you can focus on remembering what you wanted to say, waiting for an opening to say it. When that opening comes, has the conversation changed topics? Is the thing you wanted to say even remotely relevant anymore? If you do this during a meeting, you may as well not even be there. Holding onto ideas in your head prevents you from absorbing the information being presented to you. It also makes you less willing to accept new ideas or see things from another point of view.

Improv classes teach you to stop pre-planning everything you are going to say, waiting for the perfect time to say it. It encourages you to let other people give you all the inspiration you need throughout the conversation, and to be an active participant. This allows you to be in the moment rather than in your head trying to remember that awesome thing you were going to say from 5 topics ago. When you're in the moment, it's also much easier to find openings in the conversation since you don't need a 5 second awkward silence to realise when it's a good time to speak up.

3) Improv makes you more open to other people's ideas

In improv class, one of the first things they teach you is to always embrace other people's offers and then add something to it. This is often referred to as a "yes, and..." mentality, with the opposite being referred to as "blocking".

As an example, let's take three people organising a wedding. A blocking sort of mentality might sound like this:

  • Person 1: "Let's get the flowers organised"
  • Person 2: "But food is more important"
  • Person 3: "What about the dresses?"

Notice how, everyone is trying to force their own ideas while not really listening to anyone else? All of these tasks are important, but instead of allocating them or productively helping each other, they're arguing over priority. You may find similar situations at work. Now let's see what a "yes, and..." mentality sounds like:

  • Person 1: "Let's get the flowers organised"
  • Person 2: "I'm thinking roses"
  • Person 3: "White roses would be beautiful"

See how each person cooperatively builds on the previous idea? It quickly leads to a decision that everyone can be happy with.

That's not to say you need to agree with everything to have a "yes, and..." mentality. If Person 3 disagreed with roses being the type of flower used, they might say instead "I prefer tulips". Notice how it is disagreeing but it is still adding something? "I hate roses" would be more of a blocking sort of response as it shuts down the previous person's idea without adding anything new.

As you can see, a "yes, and..." mentality is a far more productive way of working. Everyone builds on one another's ideas rather than ideas constantly getting scrapped and replaced with new ones. Having a "yes, and..." mentality at work will make you more productive, more receptive to others' feedback, and it will make working with you a more pleasant experience for everyone.

4) Acting can help you get over stage fright

Sometimes you will need to give presentations for work. This might just be in the form of hosting a meeting. However, you may need to speak at a conference in front of hundreds or even thousands of people one day. Either way, being able to confidently walk on stage and talk to a group of people is a valuable skill. You don't want people mistaking your stage fright for you not having faith in your own product. People are far more likely to take your presentation seriously if you can confidently demonstrate your own faith in what you are talking about.

Acting is all about getting on stage in front of groups of people on a regular basis and presenting something to them. Any stage fright you might have will evaporate as you get used to putting yourself outside your comfort zone and in front of an audience.

5) Analysing scripts can improve your analytical attention to detail

Part of acting is reading over scripts with a fine tooth comb. Actors analyse scripts to decipher what a character's objectives and emotions are at all times so that they can create a more believable performance. It also helps them suitably respond to other characters.

If you bring this keen analytical attention to detail into your work and communication, it will help you identify but also understand why subtle aspects of a project might not be working. Understanding the "why" makes all the difference when it comes to fixing issues. Often altering tiny details can make all the difference between a good user experience and a bad one. Also, if a client or a user asks for something, understanding the reason why they want something done a certain way could lead to results that are even better than what they had in mind. If you use these analytical skills on reports and specifications, you might be able to put out fires before they are even lit. The earlier you are able to spot issues, the easier they are to fix. This leads to less time spent on fixes, happier clients, and happier bosses.

6) It will help you become comfortable with rejection

In acting you need to be pretty comfortable with rejection. There might be 100 people auditioning but only 5 roles to fill. You need to be able to happily accept rejection and move on.

What I've learnt is that just because someone turns you down for one particular opportunity, it doesn't mean that they never want to work with you. However, if you make a huge fuss and get angry about being rejected, don't expect to get or be accepted for any future opportunities that they give either. Similarly, just because a couple of places decide not to hire you, it doesn't mean you are unemployable.

7) You will meet a plethora of new people

You meet countless new people all the time as an actor through classes, productions, and auditions. Meeting new people comes with loads of benefits. New friends, new clients, new opportunities. All sorts of good things happen when you know lots of people. It's not always obvious how knowing someone can benefit you, it might not benefit you at all. You can be sure though that a person who knows everyone will have a lot more opportunities flying at them than a person who knows no one.

8) Acting will help you become more comfortable with going to events and talking to strangers

Actors support each other by going to each other's productions. There will practically always be people at these gatherings that you have never met before. Before acting, I would never talk to strangers without them already being a friend of a friend and having that friend introduce me. Now, I'm much more willing to go up to cast members and congratulate them on a job well done, or just talk to other attendees during intermission and find out their perspectives on the show.

What if instead of a stage show, the event was a conference? Talking to the cast of a stage performance isn't much different from talking to the speakers at a conference. If you are confident and engaged enough with the topic, you will probably be able to glean some extra knowledge from a conference by talking with the speakers directly. Also, who knows what secrets the other attendees hold that aren't part of any panels.

9) I've learnt that it's better to go to events by yourself than with friends

If you just want to go out and have some fun, going to events with friends is great. However, if you want to grow your network, it is far better to go alone.

When you are out with friends, you are going to stay with your friends. It's a lot more comfortable and just easier to hang out with the people you already know.

When you are on your own, you have two options. One option is playing on your phone the whole time, scrolling through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, ignoring everyone around you. That is a really tempting option. There is another thing you can do though. MAKE FRIENDS!

If you go to an event by yourself, you are far more likely to talk to strangers and make new friends than you would with a bunch of pre-baked buddies hanging around.

10) It has helped me become a more well-rounded person

By default, I prefer to work late at night or go home and play video games than to go out and talk to people. This way of living pretty much gave me a non-existent social life. Acting forced me to have a better work life balance by adding accountability to my social activities. Not going to that party, well no one really cares that much. Not going to that class, rehearsal or audition though carries much harsher ramifications since people are relying on you to go to those. As is with work, when people are relying on you for something, you feel far more inspired to do it. Having a hobby outside of work that you are passionate about helps foster better work-life balance, which means you will be happier and more productive. It can deepen your identity so that you're less likely to feel like you're defined by your job title. I've also found acting has given me a universally interesting topic to talk about which has fostered better relationships with my colleagues.

In conclusion

Acting has done so many things to improve both my professional and personal life. It has dramatically improved my quality of life to the point where I am almost unrecognisable from the person I was before I started. I'm happier, more confident, more engaged in conversations, and better able to focus on tasks and reaching my goals. If you are interested in meeting lots of new people, or if you want to try and shake off the shackles of social anxiety, I definitely recommend giving acting a go.

If you live in Canberra, a good place to start with acting is Canberra Acadamy of Dramatic Art (CADA). Impro ACT is where to go for improv training.

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