Everyone, whether or not you agree, is a salesperson. In life, every time we ask someone for something, in one way or another we are making an offer for their consideration with the hope that they will accept on reasonable terms, right?
Think a job interview; you’re selling yourself to the person sitting across from you. Chatting through your winning business idea to a close friend? That’s selling too. Even in writing this, I am selling you, the reader, on the idea that we’re always selling — even though most of us cringe when we hear someone say they’re “in sales”.
As an actor we learn an exercise called Changes of Self, which is simply the idea that, depending on whom we’re speaking with, we become a different version of ourselves that best fits that person. When you’re speaking to your mum about her recent hip surgery, you’ll speak differently to how you would if you were gossiping to your best friend about the weekend kick-ons. I don’t just mean the content of the conversation will be different, but also your tone, pace, timber, pitch, expression, how well you listen, everything!
Maybe you’re thinking: How do I remain authentic or genuine if I am consistently adjusting how I speak and what I say? In reality we’re never really one consistent version of ourselves but many variations, always adapting to the circumstances (or people) in front of us. This is where sales and acting intersect and overlap. In acting, you always have an objective. You always want something. And even though you know how the scene will end, (and you may not get what you want), you’re taught to keep the possibility alive, asking the question: what if I do get what I want? What if I win? In other words, we keep the expectation alive that we can and even should get what we want from a particular interaction. This is how we stay present in the moment and how we keep a scene alive.
Sales are no different. Each party wants something. In a traditional sales transaction, the “prospect” wants to be convinced, impressed, persuaded, and ultimately sold on an idea that this is the right decision for them right now. The salesperson wants to show them that they’re in good hands, and most importantly that they’re being heard! This is a big one, because when we sense someone is not listening (but rather waiting for their turn to speak), we lose trust, and finally interest altogether. The same thing happens in a scene: if you see your line coming and don’t listen to what’s being said, then you’re no longer going moment to moment with your scene partner. As an audience in theatre, we’ve seen actors do this, where they respond out of turn, too quickly or in a way that tells everyone that they were never actually listening in the first place.
The point here is that if you want to be a good salesperson, a good communicator, you have to start by being a good listener. This is why scripts don’t always work in sales — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, the opposite is true, everybody you speak to will have a slightly different need, and if you don’t stop to open your ears to become an active listener, you could miss it!