One of the most interesting acting-related jobs of 2015 so far just came to an end. I spent the last four days inside NRG Center in Houston, adjacent to NRG Stadium and the Astrodome, working at a trade show booth for an oil & gas company for the second year in a row. You might say I was playing an oil and gas employee, as I have done in the past for print and video projects, even though no cameras were rolling on me this time. Instead, I become part of a team of people representing a brand looking for new customers at a live event, and I relied on skills developed as a professional actor to do my part.
EMBRACE A NEW INDUSTRY
What makes this experience a fun challenge for me is the opportunity to step into a whole other industry and find a way to assimilate quickly. Thanks to my company shirt and event badge, no one knew I was any different than anyone else working at the booth. My five actor colleagues working in the same capacity were perceived the same way. We blended in, seamlessly, in part because we have all been at this event before and knew what to expect from it.
AVOID THE SCRIPTED THINKING
For those of us interacting with the crowds, creating an immediate warm welcome was important, but we had the challenge of attempting to engage people as they passed by quickly. In seconds they would be long gone. This is where improvisation and interpersonal skills come into play. You want to be able to communicate but a standard script spoken hundreds of times would end up sounding mechanical within an hour or two.
PERSONALIZE THE GREETING
First, you must get the attention of the individual. Luckily, this trade show features badges with prominent display of first names. I could call out to “Mike”, “Kim”, or “Arjen” even when they were ten feet or more away and get their attention. Often the use of someone’s name would stop them in their tracks, giving us a chance to begin moving from the greeting to the call to action.
CREATE A CALL TO ACTION
Our call to action involved a direct invitation to join us for 15-minute presentations, scheduled every half hour throughout the day. In just one sentence, we would explain a couple of key points about them, including the variety of topics and the giveaway at the end. You’re basically creating your own script here and constantly revising it throughout the day. By the end of the four days, I think I had about 30+ versions of that one sentence call to action.
IDENTIFY RESOURCES NEARBY
As an actor, you learn to think quick on your feet and solve problems in real time. We relied on the same approach here. People came up to us with all kinds of questions, usually ones too technical for us to answer. Sometimes, even just the industry language alone sounds foreign because I’m not used to hearing it. But I never felt stressed. I actively listened to each person, remaining present and alert, and directed them to someone employed by the company within the booth who could answer the question or introduce the visitor to an employee who could address that particular topic.
REPRESENT THE BRAND BEST
The ability to step into the role of this kind of brand ambassador and align ourselves with the client’s needs is essential to doing the job effectively. It’s no different than working on a commercial or in a film. We exist in those worlds only because someone has given us permission to be there by selecting us for the role. In this case, determine how you fit into the client’s overall needs and how each one of your decisions meets those needs.
Ultimately, it’s not really an acting job you’re doing at the trade show. But for newer and veteran actors looking to enhance and showcase their people skills, this is a terrific opportunity to engage with a lot of different types of people—many speaking English as a second language—and see what types of communication styles work best for you. I prefer a conversational style with a bit of humor. I want each person I encounter to feel at ease and unique, even if I just said the same thing to 1000 other people.
There’s one more value-added of this type of experience for actors. Four days of face-to-face conversations, sometimes as short as 10 seconds, reminds me how important it is to deliver a message that’s direct and easily understood. If I get in the audition room and can communicate the same way I practiced at the trade show, I expect I’ll be razor sharp in the next conversations I have with casting directors.