Call me old fashioned, but to my way of thinking some of the key fundamentals to any business sale, deal or transaction has to be a sense of integrity, honesty, and trust being established between all parties involved. These are not characteristics that one can simply turn off and on, you either have them, or you don’t and it’s generally those who demonstrate these qualities that are the people we want to do business with.
We’ve all experienced the very opposite when visiting a car yard. Those gushy salesman falling over themselves to suddenly be our best friend and putting themselves out to do us a deal that is really far more that they should be offering, but we’re best friends now, right? Go back with a complaint or problem next week and he’ll be a very different individual! Their showroom performance is all an act played out a dozen times a day.
Why then, is there still a desire amongst many organisations to engage actors, either professional or amateur, to come in and train executive teams how to perform in front of clients or indeed any audience?
It makes no sense. Acting by its very nature is about assuming a false persona; adopting a role and generally being someone you are not – unless your name is Hugh Grant who can only play himself of course.
The Oxford Dictionary defines acting as a pretence; behaviour intended to deceive or impress, to perform a part. Is this really what we need to be encouraging executives to do?
I admire actors greatly. They spend a lifetime perfecting their art, learning complex techniques, modes, methods, genres and clearly they have that innate desire and capability to ‘perform’. What I struggle with is the idea that those skills can somehow be transferred across to your average executive in the space of a one-day workshop, and indeed, I question the why?
Of course, actors doing such training would argue that it’s about teaching things like achieving presence, body language, voice techniques, and a host of other acting skills that might serve to create a better ‘performance’ by the executive. All this despite the fact that for most executives, their experience of acting is probably limited to being third angel from the left in the Year 4 nativity play, or for those less talented, maybe the rear end of the donkey.
The point is that executives are not actors, and nor should they ever be encouraged to be. Actors follow a script; they know exactly what’s coming next. They know how and exactly when they need to move, react, respond, and reply. They know exactly what the other guy is going to say. They have complete control over how it all plays out.
In stark contrast, the executive in the boardroom, the client meeting or that tough negotiation does not. There is no script, no direction to move stage left and look crestfallen. They have no idea what’s coming next. The reality is that executives have to rely on their natural skills, well-founded techniques and their ability to communicate effectively and demonstrate leadership in the room. They need to think on their feet, display confidence, stand by their integrity, honesty and strength of personality. Sorry, but that’s never about acting. Those who go into meetings or client negotiations ‘in-role’ or playing out a persona that is clearly not their own will quickly fall apart when the real pressure comes on. The mask will immediately fall away revealing an individual who is false, disingenuous, and frankly, untrustworthy.
So, my apologies to the acting profession. Whilst your executive workshops are probably lots of fun, there is no place for actors in the world of business. Sure, you may get away with your fifteen minutes of fame, but you will be found out, you will not get a call-back and there will certainly be no standing ovation. Success in business only comes from following the great advice your Mum told you all those years ago, ‘just be yourself dear’.