Steal the Show by Michael Port (Book Summary)

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William Shakespeare the English writer once wrote that “All the world’s a stage.”  He meant that we are all actors. At first glimpse, this is a strange notion. Wouldn’t you rather consider yourself as exceptional? The outcome of your decisions instead of a bit player reading line in another person’s drama?

However, acting isn’t the enemy of authenticity. Just imagine your best Hollywood stars. They are convincing due to the fact that they add their own experiences and characteristics to the role they play. They don’t just act alone; they also become the roles they play.

You don’t need to be an actor to control that insight. From job interviews to presentations and first dates, life is full of circumstances in which you are required to play a part while presenting something unique to the table. Therefore, what’s the secret?

This is precisely the question that will be answered in this book summary, using the wisdom of the performance professional and the former professional actor Michael Port. You will get to learn the tactics of the trade and you will also find how you can use these in your own life,

1 – Performing in public can be frightening; however, learning to harness your natural ability to act can enable you to overcome your fears.

Imagine these three scenarios: a manager went to a make-or-break performance review with his bosses; an up-and-coming corporate hotshot gives a speech at a conference that was attended by her industry’s movers and shakers; a young entrepreneur suggests an ambitious business idea to a group of grizzled venture capitalists. 

Don’t worry; you are not the only one whose hands are clamming up just imagining yourself in any of those scenarios. A lot of people consider stepping into the limelight as a very frightening experience. To put that into perspective, Googling “public speaking” gives you 90 million hits. At the top of the list:  you will find advice on how to keep nerves and anxiety in check.

Hence, what makes public speaking so terrifying? Actually, it’s a type of performance. Whether you are at a job interview or giving a talk, you are basically acting, presenting, staging and playing a role to sway, pleasure or influence your audience.

Probabilities are, this is a thing you have never been taught how to do which explains the feeling of fear. Public performances take us away from our comfort zone. That is why we worry about missing our lines and ending up with egg on our faces! 

However here’s the thing. As strange as this may sound, you are an actor, we all are. Whether you know it or not, you’re regularly assuming different roles in different circumstances. For example, when you are on social media or you introduce yourself on a dating site, you’re introducing yourself in a specific light. Meaning, you’re performing. The same applies to ways in which you might change your actions when Skyping a colleague or when you are talking to your boss at a holiday party. 

The good news is, you already know how to act a role. The trick is to control that intuitive understanding of performance and take it to the next stage. Consider it as a crash course in acting. However, this isn’t about getting a part in your local drama group but it’s about learning a method that you can use in your professional life.

Take it from the author who was a professional actor that changed to the corporate world. Now, he’s a best-selling writer and a greatly sought-after public speaker and counselor. That was a very huge development. However, his acting career gave him an edge: it made him play authentically different roles which boosted confidence in others. 

2 – Harnessing your true voice allows your performance to be more applicable. 

Each and every role has a script as well as a costume. Consider one of the main parts most of us play which is the “professional”.  We have the tendency to talk and dress in specific ways when we are at work. Things that we discuss with our friends doesn’t just feel right in the workplace. Monday morning, we drop those comfy old jeans in the wardrobe of our house and we take something that fits our workplace personality.

Although, this is an act but a significant one at that. Combining personal with professional mostly ends up badly. If Sam from accounts begins to remember his recent late-night adventures, he might destroy his image among his progressively uncomfortable colleagues. If Suzie goes around and starts telling her colleagues that she isn’t worth her recent promotion, her colleagues are very unlikely to respect her.

However, acting a role doesn’t necessarily mean that you should leave your own true voice, the various experiences you have, values and beliefs that shape who you are and what you stand for. When you take that perception to your professional role, you become a person of a better-rounded character which enables you to connect with others.

For instance, consider the anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America show, Robin Roberts. Viewers saw her in a different light after she opened up that’s he was gay. They once saw her as an example of a professional with drive and ambition; but after she came out, she was seen as the rest of us as a person who is trying to figure things out along the way. She continued playing her role as the anchor of the show; however, she was also able to provide an authentic expression to who she was as a person

When you are a leader, this type of honesty goes a very long way. For instance, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote about her conflicted feelings on motherhood, work, and marriage in her book she titled Lean In. By using her own personal experiences as a woman in an ultra-competitive, male-dominated industry, she subjected herself relatable to millions of readers and she encouraged the establishment of a movement devoted to empowering women to follow their dream careers.

Therefore, how do you find your true voice? Here’s where you can start don’t get trapped in the perfection trap. If you are worried about being the most real person in the room, you are unlikely to trust that your own exceptional history, insights, and perception are important to others. However, remember that it’s not so much what you say but it is how you say it that matters. Imagine a mother singing a lullaby that’s been sung several times to her child. It’s not important if that melody isn’t original, what is essential is the way her voice communicates her authentic love.

3 – Successful people become accustomed to different contexts while remaining true to themselves. 

In the former chapter, we have talked briefly about authenticity, however, it wasn’t defined. Therefore, what does this term means exactly? Most times, it means “being true to yourself.” That is not a bad definition, however, it raises another question of what kind of “self” are we talking about? 

This might sound a little abstract; however, it is a significant distinction. In a 2015 article that was written by an organizational psychologist Herminia Ibarra in the Harvard Business Review. Ibarra stated that our “self-concept” can either “keep us from sailing forth” or enable us to become more adaptable.

Let’s explain this a little, starting with adaptability. Successful people from various parts of life have a single thing in common which is that they can change between different roles.  For instance, a Marine Corps battalion leader might be a tough disciplinarian at work however he can play the role of a caring and loving father when he gets home to meet his young daughters. Both are authentic. Consider a chameleon changing its colors. It isn’t pretending to be something it’s not; instead, it’s showing the full range of its potential. 

When your sense of self is excessively stiff, by contrast, you are likely to have a single, unchangeable way of thinking, feeling and acting, whatever the context. People like these find it difficult to improvise and they mostly become absolute intolerant when it comes to different perspectives. Worse, they find it difficult to make big changes in life, for instance, the jump from middle management to leadership, or from bachelorhood to married life. 

Playing the same role all the time also causes conflict and it restricts your ability to excel. Take for instance a comedian who wants to direct a huge budget movie but he can’t reduce his class-clown act in meetings with Hollywood executives. Such act may make him the life and soul of the party in specific settings, however, no one’s going to give him a million-dollar check while he’s making fart jokes.

The strategic to perfecting various roles is quite simple: learn from the professionals who already know how to do it. Just as athletes obsess over every last information of their idols’ shooting or swinging styles, you should be studying the “stars” you meet every day of your life. Respect the master networker in your office? Scrutinize her plays and attempt them on for size yourself. This isn’t about pretending to be someone else, but it’s about learning methods you can make your own. 

4 – Being in the moment enables you a become a better listener and it takes you to more rewarding conversations. 

Have you ever heard of the phrase “dialogue of the deaf?” It means the conversations between people who aren’t listening to each other and are basically waiting for the right time to jump in with their own well-rehearsed talking points. 

It’s a nerve-racking experience that happens in boardrooms and bedrooms across the world daily and it forms a vicious circle. The less you listen, the less you are likely to react in fascinating ways. This means that the person you are having a conversation with is less likely to listen to you.

Actors learn this at an earlier stage in their training. As it was stated by the former voice director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Cicely Berry; surprising reactions are the fruit of openness. If you’re not tuned into what’s going on right in front of you, you’re going to perform an unnatural and boring performance. This is due to the reason that actors don’t just create emotions out of thin air, they get angry or sad in reaction to what they hear. 

This enables listening to a skill that’s well worth cultivating. The trick is to be in the moment.

This was called “the whole brain listening” by the Neuroscientist Seth Horowitz. Consider it as a type of mindfulness. The idea is to be completely present and concentrate on what is being said instead of attempting to anticipate where the arguments might take you to or waiting for an opportunity to share your own perspectives.

Being in the moment isn’t only about the sound waves flowing through your ears. As a matter of fact, you can “listen” with all your senses. Consider a job interview. The fact that your interviewer has dark rings under his eyes makes small eye contact and is laying down a triple espresso is as revealing as what he’s saying about the company. This is also the same for a presentation. If your audience is actively jotting down notes, you’ve probably annoyed their interest. Meanwhile, on the other hand, if they’re watching with stony-eyed unresponsive, that might be the right time for you to change things.  

Having this in mind when you get in conversations, they might become a little bit like a game of long-distance throwing and catching. Imagine tossing a baseball to a partner that is 50 yards away from you. You don’t just look at the arc of the ball; you also have to listen to that striking sound of it landing in a leather glove. When you are talking to someone, you also have to do the same thing of keeping your ears open for any clues that the person you are conversing with has caught the gist of what you are trying to say.

5 – In acting, you really can fake it till you make it. 

We’ve all been there before. You’re walking towards the podium or going to a conference room and all of a sudden you get a familiar anxious from your stomach. Your concentration narrows and the only thought you have in your head are a dull and repetitious refrain “you don’t belong here.” 

That’s your inner critic fighting against your turn in the limelight and this is something a lot of actors go through all the time they take to the stage. In this book summary, we’ll conclude by looking at some of the methods they use to overcome these self-defeating patterns of thought. 

Call it acting like an approach that uses the imagination to prevent anxiety. The idea is pretty simple if you act as if something is real; it’s very likely that it will end up that way in real life. This might seem like a weight of New Age mumbo-jumbo, however, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to support it.

Let’s begin with a study that was published in 2012 in the Journal Psychiatric Annals. In the Journal it was shown by Thomas Newmark that athletes who imagine successfully finishing tasks measurably enhance their performance. When you visualize something, your body feels like the thing is happening truly. The Brain scans display a change in neural activity from the brain’s logical left hemisphere to the creative right hemisphere which forms new neural pathways between the two.

Also, there is power posing which is assuming an extensive, dominant stand in front of a mirror. In order to understand this, imagine superheroes with their hands on their hips and their legs fixed apart from each other. A psychologist at Harvard University, Amy Cuddy revealed that these poses have noticeable physiological impacts. In the article she wrote in 2010 on it, she confirmed that acting boldly in front of a mirror truly makes people more confident. As it was explained by Cuddy, this happened because it enhances your testosterone by 20% which is the hormone that is associated with the feelings of power and control while concurrently reducing cortisol by 25% which is the hormone responsible for stress.

The author of this book has had direct experience with the power of imagination. Having recently gotten his US Coast Guard boat license, he still saw docking his vessel very terrifying particularly in bad weather. When he spoke to more experienced captains, he was told that they usually visualized going through the operation first before actually steering their boats to their docks. Just like actors, they were rehearsing their lines before getting into the spotlight.

This just confirms how powerful acting can be!

Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life by Michael Port Book Review

Whether you are aware of it or not, you are a natural-born actor. Day after day, you juggle between various roles and you play diverse parts. However, here’s the problem: that natural understanding of performance hardly prepares you for those daunting situations when you are forced into fame. Therefore, what should be done when you are on the stage in front of your peers? The major thing to do is to allow your inner voice shine and also remember that perfect is mostly the enemy of good.

Practice your listening skills, act like a chameleon “as if” you already become the performer you want to be and you will actually progress in your acting skill.

Develop your speaking by pausing.  

Speech trainers will tell you most times that an easy way to boost your public speaking skill is to pause and slow down. A few times, this makes sense especially when you are anxious, it’s possible that you will want to rush through the information. However, if you are anxious about speaking fast, you might just be concentrating on the wrong thing. The actual difference between an average talk and a kiss-ass presentation is pausing, talking too slowly is mostly downright soporific. 

 On the other hand, Torrents of fast speech interrupted with pauses forms grabbing rhythms. This enables your listeners to engage or listen to what you are saying. Better still; pauses give your listener a minute to jot down notes. Remember, you’ll lose them quickly if they’ve their heads fixed on their laptops!

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