“WILL YOU JUST GET A POSITIVE ATTITUDE? WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?!”
The sudden attack on my Audience at a recent customer service keynote surprised them. And me. It flew out of my mouth, startling the near-200 stunned participants who looked like kids facing a parental chiding.
Fortunately it was in jest. Well, sort of.
With a mock glare I delivered the challenge, increased my vocal volume to a near shout, initiated a strong, slow move toward them with arms held firmly at my side, and finished with enough of a pause to allow sweeping eye contact of the crowd, landing with punctuation on one observer.
As Actor, if you had to recreate this moment and I were to direct you, I could give you the list of “external” characteristics just described and have you deliver the line. We would, in essence work from the “Outside In”—leverage physical manifestations that are indicative of the theatrical truth of the moment. And it would probably work, depending on your skill as an Actor.
(Reminder: Actor is an authentic communicator who often has to stretch into roles less comfortable. Actor is NOT pretending to be someone else.)
Taking an equally valid approach, we could work from “Inside Out”. Here we would dive into the reasons why you would say such a thing—your inner thoughts, feelings and truth based on your experience—and match it to the dramatic demands of the moment. This too would most likely be effective depending on your ability to connect your sensibility with that of the scene.
Both Inside Out and Outside In are strategies as old as dramatic performance itself. Outside In is generally more indicative of the demonstrative and declarative styles of the Greek theatre, Commedia dell’arte of the 16th century and slapstick performances mastered by Vaudevillians starting in the 1880’s. These styles have wonderful, entertaining truths about them often “larger than life”.
For the Inside Out approach, Aristotle talked about the ability to move passions in others by being moved in oneself. Russian theatre artist Konstantin Stanislavsky developed his internally-focused “System” around the turn of the 20th century, adapted then by Lee Strasberg of the Actor’s Studio who called it the “Method”. Strasberg acknowledged the long history of truthful, moving performances by Actors who tapped into their own imaginations, emotions and memories. Here truth may run deeper to sync with our own emotions, beliefs and values as Audience.
Our goal in the customer service event I led was to help businesspeople deliver excellent service. They gave insightful direction on how to do this via a pre-event survey where they talked about what they do currently to deliver excellence. In the survey they revealed their secrets from external and internal performance perspectives, including:
Outside In: “Put on a smile for the customer regardless of how you feel.”
Inside Out: “You have to go for the positive. Try and foster it, promote it, magnify it when you see it.”
And each approach can influence the other, yes? Smile and something may warm up inside you. Believe in the positive and it may show up on your external display!
To the truth of the keynote jest mentioned above, I really just wanted to say to this Audience, “Hey, this is simple. Just act positive.” End of scene, done in 5 seconds! Do you ever want to say to people you work with, “WILL YOU JUST ACT THIS WAY?” or “JUST BEHAVE!”.
The challenge is that they may not know how to act that way in that scene. Regardless of what you or I expect, the Actor’s ability, the Audience dynamic or the prevailing Atmosphere may be in the way.
There may be barriers that prevent you or your fellow Actors from performing. When internal obstacles are present the Outside In approach may work better. When you’ve lost justification for your job, your position or find yourself lacking purpose, you may find potent energy with the Inside Out. Just ask yourself how your business and your product is helping people. Reconnect with the inner belief that what you’re doing has impact. This inner perspective will show up on your outward appearance.
Regardless of how you get there, your believability as Actor is always the bottom line. Authenticity comes from a strong belief in what you’re doing. And to borrow from the best Actors, looking like you strongly believe can solidify what’s happening inside.
All in all, it’s your stage, your performance. And with the Inside and Outside available, you’re on!