OK, so on the face of it, years spent practicing your chord technique or running lines for a lead-role don’t seem to provide you with any useful skills outside of performing, and certainly not in the world of business. People say that unless you plan on being a professional performer, time spent honing your craft will largely be time wasted once you’ve ventured out into the “real world”. But there really are a number of career paths you can travel down, on which your journey will probably be made easier because of the skills that performance has allowed you to develop.
Though it doesn’t seem the most natural of pairings, when you look at the skills that are needed to be successful in business and those developed through performance, there’s a huge overlap.
We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the over-confident salesman. Overbearing, painfully slick, perhaps a little smarmy and despite what they might think, not at all likely to convince you to part with your hard-earned cash. It’s far from true of most people in sales, but the stereotype persists for a reason. Don’t confuse arrogance and bravado with confidence. Confidence is key in sales, largely because people buy people, not products. If someone believes in you and what you’re saying, they are so much more likely to buy. This takes confidence. And real confidence means certainty of self, and not being afraid of failure. Rather than a flashy suit and an overly-macho, pumping handshake.
True confidence only really comes from putting yourself out there, and maybe even experiencing a less-than-great reaction sometimes.But if you’ve been up on stage and played songs or danced or whatever in front of a load of people, then chances are you’re going to breeze a sales pitch or presentation.
If you’re an experienced actor, chances are your communication skills are going to be off the charts. This doesn’t mean overdoing it and performing tear-jerking monologues to customers and colleagues, it’s as simple as speaking clearly, projecting your voice with confidence and even moving well. Body language is a key thing in sales and persuasion, and most performers are already used to thinking about what they’re doing with their bodies, and how that looks to others.
Denise Taylor is a Career Psychologist with www.amazingpeople.co.uk, who sees how performance can develop these skills, and stresses the importance of them in sales. “They’re very important. Confidence to speak up, to speak well and to modulate your voice so it is engaging. Also, much performance work is about being part of a team, and helping to bring out the best in others, that too is very valuable”.
Practice makes perfect
Of course, performance is just one small part of being a musician or an actor. It’s the fun part where hopefully you get a bit of glory and recognition. It makes up maybe 5% of being a performer, with the rest of that time divided between practising, learning, thinking you’re not as good as your idols and then practising some more. The vast majority of being a performer isn’t the show, it’s the prep. It’s about constant practice and learning; new lines or new songs, new styles or techniques, a big show to prepare for or a new set to learn. You’re never done learning or practising, not really. You don’t get anywhere – in music or acting – without a lot of practice, and even with plenty of that, you don’t get good for a long time. Some of us are still waiting, in fact.
The point is it takes a lot of perseverance, so if you’re someone who has gotten to any kind of level as a musician or actor, it heavily implies quite a few things about your personality. You’re probably a good problem-solver, not afraid of perseverance and putting in the work. You’re a constant learner, always improving and honing your abilities in whatever it is you do. You try.
Graham Martin is founder and director of Orchard Jobs, where for over 30 years he’s found recruits for hundreds and hundreds of sales jobs. I asked him about the skills necessary to succeed in sales, and as well as stressing the importance of communication – he gave me three key points which tie in pretty strongly with the skills that the practice and prep side of performance foster. They are;
- Perseverance: hard skills practised over and over
- Development of a positive mental approach
- Constant study of the greats
So, what next?
Hopefully by now, if you’re someone with performing experience you’re reading this thinking “that makes sense, I can see how all these skills would make me a good fit for a sales career, where do I sign up to become the next Jordan Belfort?”. I appreciate your enthusiasm, it is well-placed and thoroughly justified. However. Your potential employer will probably not have read this article – more’s the shame – and so if when they’re half-heartedly eyeing through your CV it just says “A-Level Drama ” and that’s it, they’re not going to automatically make the connection between your acting chops and an enhanced ability to sell their product. You have to make that connection for them. Don’t just throw in at the end “Oh also I like music and play bass in my Hardcore Thrash Metal band Death Monkey” say “As an accomplished musician, I’m no stranger to perseverance”. Don’t say “played Bugsy Malone in High School play” say “my experience as an actor has equipped me with the confidence to communicate messages in an effective and compelling way”. And so on, and so on.
I know, you probably dreamed that your creative talents would grant you success as a superstar musician or movie-star. We all did. But, at least you can put them and the skills that accompany them to good use in the dreaded “real world” instead.
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