For twenty years or so, countless of our family dinner conversations revolved around the intersection of acting skills (my profession as a voiceover artist) and sales (my husband’s profession), especially looking at the Venn diagram of voice acting skills and audio-only (a.k.a phone) sales. Often sales are about connection, which is where acting lives. Strangely, some think that bending the truth is involved. But acting and great sales are not about misrepresentation or lying. It’s about creating a strong connection between your product or service and your client, or audience. Like good actors, what good salespeople need to be able to do is appreciate and understand people.
The Difference Between Acting and Pretending
You may have had a sales manager use the expression “fake it til you make it” in terms of setting sales goals. It’s a sort of wish fulfillment strategy and leans into pretending and acting to make something a reality. Think of pretending as acting with training wheels. We all pretend. We pretend we’re interested, pretend to be pleased or excited. We do it in social situations and we do it in work situations. We hide our feelings in the boardroom, we control our emotions with clients, concealing our endless frustrations. The difference between acting, pretending, and lying is complicity.
Finding a Mutual Reality
When someone lies, no matter the intent (i.e garnering sympathy, sparing someone’s feelings) the person on the receiving end is not complicit. Not having the full information, the person is being manipulated. When someone is acting, the audience is in on the pretense and is not manipulated, but being complicit can be inspired. Great acting is finding yourself in the script or situation and infusing the situation with the truth. The manipulation is in the mind of the actor, and in essence, becomes their reality.
But sometimes the concept of fake it til you make it does not work. Most often when people surface act they don’t really buy into their adopted reality. “Surface acting is faking what you’re displaying to other people. Inside, you may be upset or frustrated, but on the outside, you’re trying your best to be pleasant or positive… Deep acting is trying to change how you feel inside. When you’re deep acting, you’re actually trying to align how you feel with how you interact with other people.”
Unauthentic, phony emotion is easily recognizable, and often insulting. A fake smile might read as condescending and misleading. A real smile, forged from a genuine place and a genuine understanding of another’s situation or circumstances reaps its own reward. Actors, whether voice actors, stage or screen, often talk about tapping into truthful places and emotions, leaning on life experiences to lend authenticity to their performance. As Stanislavski (the father of realism in acting) said, “the person you are is a hundred times more interesting than the best actor you could ever become.”
That doesn’t mean actors don’t use their imagination, instead, it requires the cultivation and stretching of it. And according to Sanford Meisner, “Acting is to live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances”. So, in short, good actors are experts at living imaginary truths, while good liars are experts at living false truths. In sales, having empathy, the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, and then having the ability to convey that empathy honestly and well is invaluable.
This also applies when salespeople have to (essentially) learn lines, whether they are product specs, greetings, menus and specials, pitches, or boardroom presentations to customers and bosses alike. An abundance of lines. A brilliant concept can fall flat on its face because of poor delivery. When coaching voiceover actors on how to improve, I employ a technique I call flip the script. Basically, you ad-lib your way through the script then go back to the written words. It’s a great technique both actors and salespeople can use to really make that pitch your own.