How to be the Brad Pitt of Business - and improve personal impact through form
By Yvette Jeal ACC, Business Coach
"Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
-- George Burns
Confidence. Some people exude it and seem to have been born with an orator's gifts while others stumble across a single sentence when having to present a pie chart. Many a man, or woman, has placed self-imposed restrictions on his career progression for fear his personality will not survive the next level of demands put on it. I personally know of several wonderfully talented individuals who have missed out on jobs they were perfectly qualified for because they cannot move through the first interview stage – not for lack of skills, but rather an inability to deliver the best version of themselves in the interview process.
Well guess what? That playing field can be leveled far more easily than you might imagine, and even the shyest, most socially anxious people can learn how to project themselves in a way that shouts confidence, power and conviction. Just ask Brad Pitt. (I'm not kidding – Brad Pitt has admitted to being very shy and taking on energetic, exciting characters to mask this shyness.)
Act your way to success
There are more similarities between actors and businessmen and women than first meets the eye. Are all actors supremely confident human beings? No. Were they all born knowing how to speak, stand and relate in a way that conveys power, confidence and conviction? Absolutely not! Instead they are highly trained to be able to perform any role, and to do it authentically.
In the world of business we must work on these same skills, because no matter how impressive the content of our business lunch, presentation or even simple phone call, without the right delivery much of its punch is lost.
Sarah McDonnell of The Method, a business training system based in London that uses a theatre process to measurably improve performance and results within the business world, explains their theory. "In the theatre, actors use an ingenious mix of performance skills and creative techniques to translate the intangible qualities of exceptional impact into practical, observable behaviour changes – could we do the same in the workplace? As business professionals could we start to explore how we "act"? The way we speak, the way we stand, the way we smile and so forth to really take control of our impact and bring out the best version of ourselves in every business interaction? It's still me talking like me but what would a louder, more energetic me sound like? It's still me standing as me but could I look and feel more confident if I consciously stood a little taller and rolled back my shoulders?"
See where this is going? We are not talking about changing your personality and pretending to be someone you are not, but rather learning the tools to unlock your charismatic, confident self to deliver optimum business performance.
As Meryl Streep says:
"Acting is not about being someone different. It's finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there."
John Smith could never get past the first interview… until this.
Let's put this in real life terms. A while back a client came to me after being turned down for seven jobs at seven different companies, not getting past the first interview. The eighth company invited him back for a second interview as he had the skills for the job but admitted it was unlikely he'd get it as he simply showed no personality in front of them. My job was to find that personality that I knew existed and help him bring it out at the next interview. It started something like this:
Me: "John, when are you at your most gregarious?"
John: "At the cricket pitch on a Saturday morning. Or maybe when I am telling jokes to my workmates, or even hosting my infamous dinner parties …"
Jackpot! John had shown the different versions of himself that existed outside of "John the Accountant". We worked on the body language he would use during those times when he was the engaged, animated, smiling, charismatic John. We took the process to the interview room and looked at the John he brought to the interviews: the stiff, monotone, scripted, worried John. Through tried and tested methods we pulled the characteristics of Enigmatic John into Interview John and off he went to his second interview.
You've guessed the end of this story by now I am sure, but hearing that John got offered the job on the spot just confirmed that success in the world of business is due to so much more than knowledge and skills. If you don't learn how to project the best version of yourself, you may never get to show those skills off in the first place.
(James Reed's book Why You? is an excellent reference on this topic with particular relevance to interviews.)
Get them with hello
In the business world we spend so much of our time thinking about content and what we might say in a difficult interview or presentation that few of us give much thought to our form. Could this be the missing ingredient when it comes to improving our personal impact? Are we leaving a blazing trail of impression on the people we come into contact with or have they forgotten our name before we've left the room? Ask yourself these questions today and think about how you present yourself in your next business interaction to deliver the best version of you.
If the movie Jerry Maguire taught us anything, it's that you can have someone at "hello".
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