An acting lesson that everyone could use

As we increasingly place higher value on individualism and personal freedom, as our established increasingly drive their demand for creativity and innovation, and as more of our workforce becomes increasingly fluid, the majority of us are gradually functioning like consultants than employees.

“67% of Millennials are thinking about their next job, their first day on the job” —pwc, 14 Millennial Impact Report

As any good consultant would know, communicating a unique point of view is imperative to sustaining business. The technique you use to communicate is also a way for potential clients to judge your storytelling ability, a fundamental skill in the consulting economy.

It is easy to forget that communication is a partnership between the speaker and the listener. The speaker encodes their thoughts into words; the listener decodes the words with the goal of creating the same mental imagery identical to the one inside the speaker’s head. Words are metaphors — symbolic representations of our imagination. The inherent attribute of any metaphor is that it emphasizes certain aspects of the deeper message it communicates while deemphasizing others. It is the responsibility of the speaker to understand the limitations of words and craft their word choices to best help re-create the same imagery in listeners’ heads.

My co-worker shared a technique that he learned while studying at the Sanford Meisner school used in acting to create the imagery. Rather than using descriptive words like “angry,” use action-oriented phrases like “I’m drawing a line in the sand.” We understand the definition of the word “angry.” But try to imagine an angry person. What do you see? A red face? an “angry” expression? the person stomping their feet? Can you conjure the image of an angry person without these sensory cues? When we hear the word “angry,” our brains have to do additional work to translate the word to visual and auditory cues, whereas the phrase “I’m drawing a line in the sand” already has everything our minds need to create the mental imagery. The brain is the most energy consuming organ. It avoids additional work wherever it can to conserve energy. Can you imagine how much energy the brain saves this way as you read half a dozen articles? To sum it up, here are three questions you should ask yourself:

  1. What’s a more specific word or phrase than the one I’m using?
    (Use the thesaurus)
  2. What metaphors can I use to ground the idea in action?
  3. What do I see in my imagination when I plug in the word ____ ? Can I describe the physical action instead?

Examples of this technique in action:

  • Happiness → Bliss
  • Uncertainty → foggy, muddy
  • Enjoy → I’m trying hard to soak in this moment.
  • I’m going to make you regret it → I’m going to crush your dreams

Communication is a partnership between the speaker and the listener. The less mental effort that the listener needs to turn your words into vivid imagery, the easier your story will be heard.

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