HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED
I was on set recently chatting with another actor and we had this rare opportunity where the director was hanging out with us.
They're usually really busy on a shoot.
Instead of utilizing this moment, guess what happened?
I noticed she was shifting her weight and looking around as if she needed someone else to talk to. Yikes.
We weren't including her in the conversation! We were just talking about actor things.
What most actors do (and we're all guilty of it) is we somehow shift the conversation to talking about ourselves and all of our booked gigs.
There's a reason our brains move in that direction.
We're validating that we're actors, that we've booked, and we almost need to hear ourselves say our bookings out loud to remind ourselves of this truth.
Instead, I want you to be an actor that asks questions.
This is the first step in becoming an actor everyone loves on set.
Good news! Asking thoughtful questions has nothing to do with how talented you are.
Talent and professionalism are an expectation: we show up, know our lines, make strong choices, and are able to swap those choices out when asked.
I'm gonna give you three questions to help you kickstart conversations in this post and explain why they're important.
You can ask these questions regardless of who you're interacting with on set to get a conversation rolling.
WHY ASK QUESTIONS?
If you think constantly self-promoting is the answer, think again.
I was so excited to work with an actor on a shoot this year that I have admired from afar for some time now.
We were on set all day together.
He was fantastic at just asking people questions.
I'm talking all day. I'm talking a 12 hour plus a day. It was crazy.
And he has a very established resume with TV shows that I know you watch that are very popular shows.
Still, he was great at being interested and not just trying to be interesting.
He books, and I'm telling you there's a correlation.
Let's look at another reason you should ask questions.
Sometimes it just so happens that you do end up interacting with the director when you're on a break.
I was on lunch break once, and the director came and sat at my table. Oh snap.
If that happens to you, I want you to be prepared to ask normal questions that take the focus away from you and put it onto the other person.
Hey, that sounds just like a scene! See? You're already good at this.
Let's start with an easy icebreaker question.
First ask, "Are you from here?" If it's obvious they're not then ask, "Hey where are you from?"
You're gonna get some backstory about how they ended up there or if they're from the area.
Why does this matter?
You never know if you guys share a similar story, city, or acquaintance. There's nothing that bonds people more than commonality in my opinion.
Yale cites a study by Avner Ben-Ner and Amit Kramer entitled Do We Prefer People Who Are Similar to Us? Experimental Evidence on Giving and Work Behaviors (pdf link) completed at the University of Minnesota:
"Our findings indicate that people are more willing to give to, share an office with, commute with, and work on a critical project critical to their advancement with individuals who are similar to themselves (Self) along a particular identity dimension than with individuals who are dissimilar (Other). However, the magnitudes of these differences depend on the particular identity category."
I think this means we're constantly searching for some basis of commonality to relate to in other people, however small.
I want to interject here that I'm all for diversity and hanging out with people that don't look, think, sound, or believe the same as me. It challenges my thinking and forces me to grow as a person.
Even still, human nature compels us to find something in common with people that are seemingly different than us so we can find an avenue to understand each other better.
Think about your own behaviors.
Don't you get excited when you find out you're from the same city as someone else? What about the same suburb?
Your voice changes in the very next sentence, typically going higher while you smile saying, "Oh yeah?!"
You know what I'm talking about, actor friend.
What if you had that type of connection with a more established actor, director, or producer on set?
You won't--unless you break the ice.
Asking questions requires you to be curious.
Everyone has a reason for being in this crazy business instead of "getting real jobs" like most people tell us to do.
Hmph. At least until someone becomes a celebrity and makes millions. What do you think they were doing before that payday?! I digress.
Doesn't that make you curious as to why the people you're working with decided to take the crazy route like you?
Maybe it's the same reason you did (commonality and bonding to ensue!) or maybe it's random, which will prompt you to ask more questions.
Now that the ice is broken, your second question is, "So what got you interested in (fill-in-the-blank)?"...acting, directing, producing, just depending on who you're talking to.
Again, you're gonna get backstory and insight into that person's goals, dreams, and aspirations.
I also think that hearing how different everyone's story is will remind you that there's no one way to make it in this business.
You'll not only help build that person's confidence by allowing them to practice self-expression, you'll also benefit from being an active listener.
Listening to their story may spark an idea in you about how to pursue your career in a way you haven't thought of yet.
Check out these tips from The Law of Attraction on how to be an active listener (see Tip 4!):
Being an active listener will have a number of benefits for you as an actor since you need to network to survive.
Read this Inc.com article on five benefits of listening well at work, or in our case, on set:
Let's look to the future.
Follow up with a third question, "Okay then what is your ultimate dream job, or are you already doing it?"
You'll get more insight and understanding about their goals.
That's really gonna help you in your future interactions with them so you can follow up on those answers.
Maybe they're doing a lot of commercials jobs right now, but they want to get into the indie circuit.
The next time you see them you can ask, "Hey, have you been able to work on any indie flicks?"
Being supportive of others' dreams is a great way to stand out from the crowd because so many people are only focused on their own success.
I mean how do you feel when someone remembers something important to you from a random conversation you had?
I, for one, have never seen anyone get upset with me over this--only impressed that I remembered.
So that means you need to remember what it was that you guys talked about.
If you need to take notes to remember, do it.
You should have a spreadsheet for your booked gigs anyway.
In the notes section, put who you chatted with and what you guys chatted about so you can follow up on that information the next time you work with them.
That is gonna make you look like an Actor Boss for sure.
By asking this third question, you're giving someone the freedom and opportunity to share their goals (if they want to), which gives you the chance to encourage them.
This NCBI study concludes that encouragement does actually have an impact on the brain (pdf link).
All of this leads to you being someone who is interested in others, supports their ambitions, and makes their brains feel positive emotions.
WHY ASKING QUESTIONS WORKS
People like to talk about themselves. A lot.
Time Magazine discusses a Harvard Study that led to this conclusion while watching people's brains: "humans get a biochemical buzz from self-disclosure."
Why not be the source of that buzz?
This means you need to be ok with the fact that you may not get asked questions about yourself.
However, if you're genuinely interested in other people's stories and how you can learn from them, you won't have any hard feelings when you walk away from the conversation.
We can't discuss this topic without citing author Dale Carnegie who said, "Talk to someone about themselves and they'll listen for hours."
HubSpot did an amazing job of summarizing Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The original page has an easier to read graphic.
HEY ACTOR BOSS,
I'm a screen actor and certified goals coach focused on helping other screen actors that are not yet a household name achieve their most urgent goal.