Archive for June, 2011

Act Better, Live Better

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

jumping_lead_widewebOn Thursday, the Screen Actors Guild Foundation is producing the grand finale of a four-part series on personal branding. After months of smart people sharing wise words about blogs, social media and other tactics to network with employers (in this case: casting directors, producers, directors and development executives), about 200 people are gathering in the grand auditorium to hear two hours that might be titled: “The Ugly Truth About Your Reputation,” which is not coincidentally the name of my new book, coming this August. No coincidence about my book title, because this audience is coming to hear me talk for two hours. Just me. Two hours. Hmmm.

So, I have been pouring over fresh commentary from the world’s most important people in show business, the decision makers in film, television, stage and online entertainment venues. What I want to pin down is how these moviemakers find lesser-known or unknown actors, select them and give them a career. It’s clear the same rules apply for young managers or college students breaking into business.

What’s the secret to a great audition?

I caught some huge light-bulb moments from Bernard Telsey who cast “The Normal Heart” and “Catch me If You Can, ” Daniel Swee, of Lincoln Center Theater and Jim Carnahan of Roundabout Theater.

Commenting in The New York Times, these casting directors answer this question: “What’s the secret to a great audition?” Their answers are profound for anyone else who is trying to establish a personal brand and find meaningful, well-paying work.

Telsey: “When somebody surprises you and takes you to an emotional place that the material is demanding but you wouldn’t have thought of … it makes you want to be in a room with them longer.”

Swee: “The key to preparing is spending (your) time … figuring out who this character is.”

Carnahan: “One of the biggest traps … is trying to be what we want (you) to be… You’re better off being yourself.”

Spend time, figure out the character

Personal brands: spend time figuring out who you are. Take assessments, indexes, quizzes, or journal, doodle, leaf through paint swatches at Home Depot, and decide what you would do with your first million. Figure out what makes you laugh, cry, feel engaged, gets you excited and keeps you going.  Learn to express exactly that, all of it.

Be you so authentically that revealing yourself gives us goose-bumps, our own light bulb moments and leads us to demand that we want to know you better. Make us feel that our organizations, productions or deals won’t be as great as they could be if we fail to get you on-board.

As actors and screenwriters hear from me constantly: I cannot make you better at your craft. I can only make you act and write better in the online and on-ground environments that get you the opportunity to use your skills. Be earnest about improving your skills and relentless about getting visibility for them.

For the rest of us non-theatrically inclined – don’t dismiss what the casting directors are saying. They could easily be the hiring managers or dealmakers you want to connect with. And, you could be the star they are looking for.

Consider every opportunity to communicate an audition for the greatest job you’ll ever have.

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One Perfect Way To Open A Meeting

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

RF5377776What’s the one thing you can say to immediately get everyone’s attention, and focus them on working together to get results in a meeting? Well, it’s not one thing actually. You’ve got three ways to get any meeting started on the right track.

  1. A Startling Statistic
  2. A Dramatic Quote
  3. A Success Story

You might have heard hundreds of people start a meeting. You’ve probably spent thousands of hours watching teachers start their lectures. For the most part, they’ve been doing it all wrong.  That’s why you’ve been bored, focused on the donuts and coffee or otherwise used the time to check Facebook or design a new logo for the company you’re starting on the side.

Prepare to be the best

When you run a meeting, that’s what your audience is doing, too – unless you plan ahead. So, take a few minutes to prepare one of the three best ways to grab their attention and laser focus their efforts on the tasks at hand.

Today we’ll focus on your first option, the startling statistic

This is the easiest opening to prepare and it can be the most entertaining way to grab attention. Consider what surprising metric is directly or indirectly tied to the topic you’re talking about. Pile up a lot of these so you always have a new statistic or measurement to shock your audience. For example:

In the solar energy business or tech support explaining data storage devices:

“The sun is so large, it could hold one million planets the size of Earth.” If you’re selling flash drives, “This drive is that exact concept – just turned around. It’s whole lot of ‘space’ in a pretty small container.”

In project management or global navigation:

“About one in seventeen children born in a hospital are given to the wrong parents,” according to playwright David Mamet in a recent New York Times interview. “If people can’t get that right, imagine what can go wrong when there’s less at stake.”

In electronics, quality control or technical writing:

“Thirty percent of all electronics returned by customers for being defective, aren’t defective. They’re returned because consumers can’t figure out how to use them. Returns cost companies $100 billion annually. Think of what saving $33 billion would mean to profitability, job creation and global economic health.”

In financial management, fundraising or oil and gas:

“A gallon of gas in the US today is about $4.50 cents a gallon. Pretty high until you compare it to the price of other things we commonly buy. Starbucks coffee comes to $32 a gallon!”

Getting statistics together isn’t just smart for getting attention in meetings, presentations, and conversations. It’s fun. Get onto your favorite search engine and let your curiosity lead you to asking loads of significant and quirky questions. Then, then sift through the sources to get metrics that create a wow factor for your meetings.

Hearing “wow, you give great meetings!” is ideal for any personal brand.

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Do You Exist?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

business-networkingSearch engines are doing an ever better job of customizing search results based on the prior behavior and preferences of the user. So, if you like YouTube and you rarely have clicked through onto MySpace, then the MySpace presence of people and things will simply not exist for you. That is, MySpace results for the term or name you’re searching for won’t appear on the first several pages of the search engine’s choices for you. And, we know if something is not in the first one or two pages of your search, it doesn’t exist because we don’t care after page two.

This is how reputation companies make their money – put up so much new content that the worst about you falls to page ten (purgatory).

The scope gets narrow

Now this isn’t a calamity unless you think looking at a narrower and narrower range of news sources isn’t a problem. Do you like Rush Limbaugh? That’s what you’re going to get more of. As the search engines learn your leanings, it will serve up more and more sites from sites like Fox News rather than present you with choices from MSNBC or CSPAN.

It seems the search engines are unwittingly reinforcing your ideology in their pursuit of pleasing you, which may be comforting but certainly not edifying. Does this worry you?

It worries me because I am an educator as well as a coach, and neither job is about my telling you what you already know. I am in the business of creating a wide-angle lens for my clients, students and myself. The last thing I want to know is more of what I already know. How about you? Are you in the business of telling anyone what they already know? Not if you’re paid to think or contribute to a growing organization, or if you seek greater authority and responsibility.

Focusing on the same; loss of exposure of opposition

Consider how the phenomenal loss of exposure to opposing opinions will affect your critical thinking and value as an employee (and citizen). Consider what the over-customization of sources will do to your ability to quickly access a variety of sources, including new and unfamiliar ones. Remember that the ability to gather and analyze information is at least one-half of the success equation in almost any professional occupation.

I live in Los Angeles, but I take the New York Times for precisely this reason, and its review of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser is exactly why I read what I shouldn’t bother reading.

Think about what this means to new media ventures. It will become nearly impossible for new news and entertainment sites to get a toehold because old media is the only media with viewing history. Think about what this means to new blogs and video sites – will it be you who’s effectively shut out? These are all places where you might get your first writing gigs, first job, and first mentions as you fight for visibility among the good old boys and girls in your field.

If my alarm that “your career’s at stake because you’re in an echo chamber” or “new media doesn’t have a chance” isn’t enough to unsettle you, then consider this solely from sales and marketing point of view. When your target audience hasn’t been reading the media where you are posting, being quoted or getting covered, they won’t be presented with you when they search on keywords that fit you. Their old media choices will continue to dominate their searches on keywords where you would like to exist – and where you exist in other media – but you are shut out by virtue of their old habits.

Personal brands: your work just got a lot harder. Over-customization means you have to make sure you are everywhere your target market could possibly find you. If you aren’t in the places where your audience has been before, you’ve got to get there now. Otherwise, you will not exist by default.

Make news. Get it out on the wires. Don’t ignore the grey ladies of any industry.

Read news. Get out past your comfort zone. Don’t ignore the people and sources you hate.

Go where you’ve never been before. Repeat regularly.

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Outrageous Things People Do For Work

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

costumedcharactersdocLast Saturday I spoke to the most intelligent audience I’ve ever had: Harvardwood screenwriters. The group’s members are a Harvard meets Hollywood mash-up. You know, Conan O’Brien, Natalie Portman and 80% of the people who write Thursday night sitcoms on NBC.  At least, those are the icons of achievement for this audience.

Smaller odds?

You’d think really smart people would know better than to try to earn a living in Hollywood. They would understand the odds of getting a job here are smaller than playing for the NBA. At least the NBA takes down even a tank like Shaq before he hits forty. Successful writers and actors can stop up the job funnel for decades and decades. Thank goodness for age discrimination or we’d have to invent writer/actor emeritus status just to open up a few spots on an agent’s roster. ;-)

So with the other speakers from Voyage Media, I ventured into Ivy League brains, all gathered on the corner of Wilshire and Cloverdale at an uber cool creative rental office called Blank Spaces. I don’t know if it was the open beam ceilings or the air these writers emitted, but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier telling people what to do.

After all, I have a public school education, albeit UCLA. Not nearly the thought palace that doesn’t pride itself on an embarrassment of NCAA banner made riches or really good weather.  Harvard people have lived on the Paper Chase and Love Story movie terrain. By contrast, at UCLA we trod the declining years of the original 90210 TV series.

A dirty job that someone has to do

So I lectured 40 working and wish-I-were-working-more writers on which verbs to use with various decision-makers who can greenlight not just their scripts but their careers and as such their lives.

Hollywood is not the patron place of artists. Hollywood is the coal mines for comedy writers sitting in rooms trying to find another joke for Barney when he tries to impress yet another girl on How I Met Your Mother or from the same show: “Robin who begins dating a guy who seems to possess several canine characteristics.” Honestly, that’s an episode description. Check IMDB. Looking at these people, it occurred to me that somebody’s dream job was to write that.  Who thought it would be alums from arguably the best school in the country?

Writing sitcoms is the kind of work that, to me, should be on the show: America’s Dirtiest Jobs.

Nonetheless, like nearly every job, somebody has to do it. Even more surprising: somebody from Harvard wants to do it.

The best part of speaking to these incredibly well educated people was how easy it was. I never worried that someone wouldn’t get the joke. That’s the expression I use when I’ve tried to communicate a complex concept that fails to connect with the intended receivers. Oft times it’s my fault. This time, California was truly a no-fault state. This was a 100% “get-it” audience. They could fill in what I didn’t. They got it.

What are you willing to do?

If you know me, you know one of my favorite and often most exasperating questions is “what was your key learning?” This time for me, it’s that some of the smartest people in the world want a job that is nearly impossible to get and the impossible part isn’t because the space shuttle program is shutting down. It’s that there are only so many people eating in the mostly starving artists colony that is Hollywood and its environs.

The real odds of starving did not deter these people from their dreams.

These smart people give up their time and money on Saturdays to hopefully learn something useful in their pursuit of a career that may not exist.

So, what are you willing to do in your attempt to get to your “impossible” dream?

Comb industry, association and local news sites for listings of weekend classes and boot camps. Learn and prosper.

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Something Is Missing

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Checked my email on Sunday night. Which of these email messages mean anything to me?

  • Tires for Sale
  • VA Loan Review
  • Fly a Private Jet
  • Enlargement
  • Salma Hayek Weight Loss
  • Yoshiblade
  • Walk-in Tub
  • Prince Ahmed Karim
  • CBAtabanswernetwork

Answering centerThe last one. The others are spam. The last one is from my answering bureau, the one that employs real people sitting in an office somewhere in LA. I imagine they are working on their dissertations or screenplays and don’t want to barista.

The personal part is serious

I am not a Luddite. I have voicemail on my mobile, smartypants. But I am in the business of personal branding and I take the personal part very seriously. So my office line has a hundred people waiting to take your call if the receptionist is otherwise occupied or perhaps asleep.

When a real person answers the phone, you can muddle your words, be unclear about your reason for calling or even express outrage and still feel received (that’s psych-talk for understood). You feel relief, pleasure or a vindictive thrill when you hear the words, “Yes, I will let her know.” You enjoy listening to the gist of your message, as it is read back to you. Very validating.

The most important reason to have the bureau is that everyday at all hours of the day and night, people reach out or get back to me. Unless you work in a zoo or split atoms all day, that’s what makes up your career and business, too.

One hundred percent of my business is directly related to somebody needing something. And, I am in the business of supplying the something they need from me and mine. My clients are comfortable with voicemail. Strangers need more I have found.

Strangers need more

So, it’s probably fair to say that if you left a message and I haven’t returned your call – you’re the person who left just nine digits of the ten I hoped to receive from the answering bureau in that last email. Or maybe the bureau guy spilled coffee on his notes.

It’s just proof that you never know why someone hasn’t returned your call. You imagine they received too many resumes. Or the job is filled. Or they don’t want to buy what you have to sell. Or they are just too busy.

It should help you persevere and call back (not stalk, just call back) that recruiter or prospect. Consider that your message or voicemail may just be lost, smudged or missing a digit. It may take seven calls in seven weeks, or a call every month or every quarter – whatever is reasonable.

Just don’t take it personally or imagine the worst. Blame the spam filter, the bureau or a bad cell signal when you don’t hear back, but keep reaching out. It’s what all successful people do.

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