I decided to take an acting class at UCLA as a way of mixing things up before I graduate in June.
I had no idea what I was getting into and honestly thought I would simply prance around a stage and speak riddles in Elizabethan for a few weeks and forget about the whole experience after completing the course.
I was so wrong!
There is so much that you will learn in an acting class — but here are a few of the amazing things you will learn on stage that involve communication.
- Control your movement
- Listen and THEN respond
- Learn to communicate with only your eyes
Communication — Less IS More.
You will be stunned by how much you can learn about communication just from interacting with someone on a stage.
From the beginning of the class, everyone is made acutely aware of their body language. We all know the obvious ones (crossing your arms sends defensive signals — leaning in communicates interest/eagerness etc.). But on a stage you learn the huge impact of doing LESS.
By taking control of your body and limiting your movement/expressions, you can communicate an immense amount of significance where previously (when you were moving like Free Willy) your movement probably only communicated that you were either uninterested, in need of a restroom, or nervous.
Put another way, if you are constantly moving while you speak then your movement becomes normal. It doesn’t really communicate anything special.
BUT, if you control your movement and only move when it is important…suddenly your movement (even the smallest of gestures) becomes way more important than it was before.
Take this into the real world — think about the way you talk with someone you respect (a professor, supervisor, older friend). Are you fidgeting? Shifting from foot to foot? Glancing around at any movement while the other person is speaking? You’re definitely communicating here! But not the right message.
Challenge yourself to be aware of your movement and gestures the next time you have a conversation with someone — observe the other person’s movement as well!
Communication — Active Listening
Sometimes putting active listening into practice is harder than it seems.
Step onto a stage with a partner, an audience and a script and it becomes a glaring reality!
You can know all of your lines and still miss the entire point of a scene if you are not actually engaging with your partner on stage!
Active listening is the practice of…get this…actively listening to someone and reflecting this in your body language (less is more), your silence (how can you be listening if you are talking?), and your response (a reflection of what they said, not just a pre-meditated retort).
When two people are on stage spitting lines back and forth AT each other….everyone knows. It is not hard to tell that both people are not actually engaging with each other at all — they are merely saying words that happen to sound like a conversation.
As Kris Gage put it in a recent article,
Those who are better at listening to themselves have no qualms about jumping in with ideas, even if it is in no way a logical response to what their partner just did or said.
Think about this in your own life — are you listening to what someone else is saying and THEN forming a response? Or are you simply waiting for them to finish so that you can say what you have been waiting to say and is obviously more important…
Challenge yourself to actually listen to the next person that speaks to you and only form a response after they finish speaking.
Communication — Really Seeing Someone
And I mean really seeing them.
Ok! Eye contact is hard for some of us! I’ll admit, sometimes I’m unable to hold eye contact with someone so I break the contact and look pretty much anywhere else. (does anyone else do the elaborate fake laugh that allows them to look away briefly while they “laugh”? just me? ok)
Eye contact can become easier with practice! Trust me! Actually, don’t trust me, go try it for yourself. Take baby steps toward better eye contact so that you can really begin to see someone when you communicate.
How this plays out on stage: If you are making a conscious effort to actually see your partner on stage (who they are and how they are in that moment) your entire person will reflect this! Your body, your tone, your words, your everything!
How this plays out in real life: Exactly the same as on stage (surprise).
Disclaimer! It is going to feel really weird the first few times! I am not even going to lie, it is still strange to me and I’ve been practicing it for a little while now.
But the effect is astounding.
Challenge yourself to see a person for more than their outward appearance. People say an incredible amount through their eyes — try picking up on it!
There are a whole bunch of other amazing things you will learn that I didn’t mention here (mindfulness, awareness, leadership, team-work, empathy). But I encourage you to take an acting class at some point! Find out for yourself!