by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
A few years ago I had the great fortune of playing the role of Annie Sullivan in the play ‘The Miracle Worker’. If you haven’t seen this story of Helen Keller, it’s worth a trip to the video store. Helen’s teacher Annie spends months relentlessly signing words into Helen’s hand, trying to teach this deaf and blind girl that everything has a name. Finally, in the climatic scene of the play, Helen gets it. It’s a remarkable epiphany and the break through causes a flood of tears from her family and teacher. It was a very intense scene to replicate every evening.
People ask actors: how do you cry on cue night after night? It does seem (and is) impossible for anyone to genuinely feel and demonstrate those extreme emotions every single night of a three month run. So, how do we “fake it”? The answer is having the knowledge of a technique and then practicing that technique to turn it into a skill. Actors study the breath: how do we breathe when crying, laughing, when excited or scared? During performances when we aren’t “feeling it”, we replicate that breath and produce tears, laughter, etc. It’s technique.
There are, I’m sure, many days when your passion for making sales calls or talking to clients on the phone has abandoned you and gone out for drinks. The technique of offering a compelling value proposition or be curious enough to ask open ended questions about your client’s business could be your saving grace. A good friend of mine often tells the story of when he started in sales his mentor told him just to pretend to be a sales person, “fake till you make it”. At this moment you may not actually care about how long your client has been in the business or what their biggest challenge is, but here’s the thing; these are techniques that you rely on to be successful and “acting” like you care. You need to deliver a great performance every time if you want to be successful. The facts are that using value propositions gains attention, and asking questions gains you information and trust. These skills get results. Sometimes you need to do things you don’t like in order to be successful. And that’s where technique comes in.
Your brain is an athlete: train it. Practice being curious. Repeat asking questions until they become habit. Train yourself to begin questions with: “Tell me about …” or “How do you…?” or “What is…?” and you have a a toolkit of open ended invitations to encourage dialogue, make your client feel important, give you information, and get past assumptions.
Practice (rehearse) your value proposition in the shower, in the car, while buying cereal, until you could say it in your sleep. Eventually, your well rehearsed value proposition flows from your mouth with ease, giving you credibility when meeting a potential client even on those days you’re not 100% motivated.
This doesn’t mean that you should give a value proposition by rote or ask questions without listening to the answers. Actively practicing these skills will allow you to use them naturally, to make them your own, and then reap their rewards. Like an actor, an athlete or Helen Keller, it’s repetition that allows the action to live in the body and be real, so on the days your brain is counting sheep, you can still have successful and meaningful connections with your clients.
Aviva has been with e-roleplay since 2004 as a roleplayer. She has been named one of Toronto’s Top Ten Theatre Artists and Best Producer of Works in Progress by NOW Magazine. She is also the founder and Artistic Director of The Lab Cab Festival.