Expert Communicator Series Part 1: Actor

Expert Communicator Series Part 1: Actor

Hawkeye Pierce is Here to Seriously Up Your Communication Game 

You might know him as Hawkeye Pierce from MASH or many other television programs and movies, but Alan Alda has pivoted into much more than a TV icon. He is pioneering the field of communication science and its principles in concert with interviews and commentary are the foundations of our series on Communication. We will be delivering his lessons in communication and offering demo applications to get your presentations heard and felt. Because the emotional connection is going to get your deal closed. 

Alan Alda contends that developing empathy and understanding what the other person is thinking are critical to communication and is the founder at Stonybrook University of the Alan Alda School of Communication Science. There they conduct research and teach the principles of communication leaning heavily on foundations of improvisation. First, we would like to explore what causes communication, then offer Alda’s techniques for improving communication, and exercises for yourself and your team. 

What Causes Miscommunication? 

Alan Alda asserts that miscommunication is caused by inattention to others, situations, and the emotional disconnect in an interaction. Using a sale or demo as an example, if you are so prepared and looking to make a connection to make a sale with your focus on making someone understand your value through product features you are very likely to miss cues and make blunders like Deadly Demo Phrases because your focus is on your own emotional state. As communicators it is our job to connect with the other person, in real time, and guide them, as a leader, through new concepts and information. To make the interaction fruitful and keep the viewer or audience attention, you need to connect emotionally with empathy. 

How do I become more empathic and sync with my audience emotionally? 

One of the reasons Alda began pursuing Communication Science is that he was host of Scientific American for over a decade and needed to help translate discoveries and research to laymen in his interviews. Over and over, he encountered professionals who used too much jargon and could not communicate the importance or or breadth of discoveries, due to poor communication. Alda came to understand that in order to relate information, he needed to relate emotionally and evoke empathy. 

One of the most useful tools Alda teaches at Stonybrook and underscores in his book are Improv exercises that rely on feedback between characters with little or no external cues or inputs. Tossing imaginary objects, playing a scene in which characters do not know their relation in advance are two examples of improv exercises that require total attention between actors to make a scene work. When the players become attuned to each other, connection happens. This happens through developing empathy by responsive listening. 

What is Responsive Listening? 

Responsive listening is when you are listening to take on the emotion of the participating party. Some of Alda’s examples of responsive listening are delivered in contrast to unresponsive listening, such as he was exposed to in the medical field. Responsive listening is visible in babies easily. You smile, a baby smiles, and so on. Only when theory of mind is developed, or rationality, at around age 4, do people start engaging in deception and explaining behaviors to suit their own needs. Reengaging with others through mirroring and Yes, and improvisation techniques are two exercises we are going to relate to help you relearn responsive listening to start connecting. 

What are Exercises I can use TODAY 


Mirroring is said to lead to deeper performances because the two people connect dynamically using Mirror neurons. These exist as safety measures with which we use to automatically judge a situation. If we will be slapped or kissed, mirror neurons are at work. Mirroring exercises work by giving absolute attention to the other person in body language and facial cues. Through mirroring another you become acutely aware of many things outside of language or your relation. Happy, smile, frown, sad, this is how mirroring works, and it heightens empathy in communication. 

Yes, And 

The exercise of Yes, And is one of the best ways to engage a team in the practice of responsive listening and storytelling because you mirror the other person, then add to the emotion or storyline. An example would be, “I was on a ship with waves nearly crashing overhead,” and you look at your partner and he adds, “Yes, and, it was dangerous because we did not have life vests, or pants.” This may sound simple but without context you have to pay attention to absolutely everything about your partner down to how they occupy the smallest space. 

Observation Exercises 

Observation exercises are famous and you may equate them with improv and mimes because you often create stories with imaginary objects, such as a ball. In order for the narrative to develop fully, you need to communicate with your body and language how heavy the ball is, what the impediments to catching the ball are, and so on. Another example of the observation game is to have two team members portray a relationship they are in, without using those words, like the game Taboo. The way you relate to others in a familial way or a professional way helps you tremendously in connecting with your audience in the way you want. 

Actors have the training to communicate and what they can teach in the way of communicating with the present with improv games is essential for your demo and sales teams. Whether you are communicating with prospects during discovery, or your demo. Connecting with your audience, developing and fostering empathy throughout the interaction are possible through practicing actor training. We welcome your comments and suggestions for more series on communication techniques! Please read more in our series. 

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