Archive for June, 2010

Five Common and Avoidable Theatrical Mistakes

June 29, 2010 1 comment

Most of the writing in this forum has to do with social and marketing psychology, but I want to make sure and devote time to acting and directing technique as well. I consider them relevant to “People-triggers” in two ways:

  1. Broader knowledge of how people push each other’s buttons can make for better script analysis and more subtle acting, and
  2. Any storyteller needs to know what will make their audience respond in the desired way.

What up, you cocky bastards?

This weekend, I went to see a regional Shakespeare company do a new adaptation of The Three Musketeers. I’m not going to name them, because I need to knock them a little.

I will say that my wife and I are contributing members to this theatre company, and that they do good work, by and large. This was the first of their shows I’ve seen that I would call downright bad.

This company made a lot of mistakes with a story that is generally considered a crowd-pleaser. They fell into almost all of the common acting traps. But sometimes it’s good to see this happen to paid professionals. First, it makes you feel better about your own skill (always a plus for insecure actors), and second, you can see clear illustrations of what to avoid.

Based on the production I saw, here are five very common acting and directing mistakes that people should avoid: Read more…


Lessons from Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (via Maloney on Marketing)

June 25, 2010 1 comment

The Maloney on Marketing blog comes up with a lot of insightful information. I always learn something new and important.

I think that has to do with the author’s love for Malcolm Gladwell, and authors who take Gladwell as their inspiration. When you dig below the surface, you tend to find a lot of counterintuitive truth. When you find out that something actually works in a way counter to conventional wisdom, there’s usually a lot of gold in that insight.

Two such similar authors are Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick. The book is profiled in this Maloney on Marketing entry:

Lessons from Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while, as it is promoted as a great supplement to one of my favourite books of all time: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The book revolves around six key qualities of an idea that is … Read More

via Maloney on Marketing

Some thoughts:

  • Notice in the SUCCESS acronym that there is something that is very deliberately missing: logical argument. Or, for than matter, explanation of benefits. For all the focus we put on arguments for benefits, such arguments are useless for making ideas stick.
  • Among other points, this book reinforces the notion of thinking in concrete images, even if you’re not working in visual media. There’s a reason landing on the moon is emotionally motivating, but curing cancer by the end of the decade is less so: you can see the former, but not the latter.
  • For more information on sticky advertising, see Roy H. Williams (The Wizard of Ads).


The Power of Charm: How To Win Anyone Over In Any Situation

June 24, 2010 3 comments

I just recently finished The Power of Charm, by Brian Tracy and Ron Arden, which was a recommendation to me from a friend of mine with excellent taste.

This book is about projecting charm, and covers material similar to Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and other famous books on the topic. The authors cover techniques to come across as attentive and appreciative, so as to charm others by giving them a feeling of importance.

This book proposes improving yourself from the outside, in. That is to say, if you adopt the physical characteristics of an attentive listener, with appropriate head tilts and eye contact, you will eventually become an attentive listener on the inside. One of the co-authors is an actor, and he compares this way of working to the British system of character development (As opposed to Americans, who tend to work on inner motivations first).

Tracy (an internationally-known self-help guru) and Arden emphasize what they call the “5 A’s”: Acceptance, Appreciation, Approval, Admiration, and Attention. The book covers physical techniques in attentive listening, speaking slowly and precisely, lavishing smiles and praise, 2nd Person-orientation, etc.

These are wise traits to focus on. Everyone could become a more attentive, focused listener, and improving that trait will almost universally make one seem more likable. Likewise, we could all find more ways to give honest praise.

Here’s my thing: there’s another element to this type of material that is always missed by self-help authors. And it’s every bit as important as the five A’s. Read more…

Sizing Up the Nightlife – A study of status distinction

June 23, 2010 2 comments

Sizing Up the Nightlife – A study of status distinction.

The article linked above highlights a study by a sociologist at the Kellogg school of business, Dr. Lauren Rivera. It’s a fascinating summary detailing the incredibly intricate status distinctions at New York night clubs.

A few thoughts:

  • Since this is an elite setting, celebrity and celebrity-association are the strongest determiners. After that comes wealth. After that comes gender (women first).
  • Bribes seem to be outdated and unwelcome, even though they indicate wealth.
  • The best thing a guy can do if he is a “new face” is to (Duh!) bring young, attractive women with you, and dress well.
  • The author notes that (attractive) women are given more value than men. She notes that this is opposite of the typical, more cliche dynamic like that in a workplace. But she doesn’t seem to note the fact that men follow hot women to an establishment, but not the other way around.
  • Note that dressing well for a club, and being “well-dressed” are two different things. The author notes “elegantly-dressed” men being turned away…but doesn’t seem to recognize that there’s something inherently wrong with wearing a suit to a dance club.
  • Behavior matters less as a status-factor in this situation, because the decision takes place in a split second. So ask yourself, if you had to, how do you show your social value in a way that’s instantly recognizable?

What do you think? Please take a moment and leave a comment below.


How to Write Subtext (via The Revolution is Within)

Now that I’m finally done with the Cialdini posts, I’m free to do what bloggers are supposed to do: re-blog other people’s stuff. You know, in the hopes that their cool insights will somehow make me cool by association.

I wanted to do a post on the concept of Meta-communication, because it’s a very important concept in interpersonal dynamics and in acting. So, an hour of blog-surfing later, I had to change by strategy because I could not find a single blog author who wrote with passable quality about this topic. And ironically, it’s a communications topic!

Meta-communication is to real life what subtext is to the actor. It’s the real meaning of a communication, when you take into account tone, body language and underlying assumptions.

If someone says to you, “You’re really awesome at that!”, and you only paid attention to the text, you’d be 100% sure you were receiving a compliment. But very rarely in life are text and subtext fully aligned. I’ve seen statistics that suggest that we receive only 7% of meaning from the literal definition of communicated text. The rest of the meaning we get from the meta-communication (subtext).

So if I took the above piece of dialog, and changed the underlying assumptions (called re-framing) so that the person receiving the compliment just got shot down by a girl he was trying to pick up, what does that do to the dialog? What does that do to the status dynamic?

These distinctions mean everything to writers, directors, and especially actors. As I mentioned in my post on the biggest actor-mistake in the universe, 99 out of every hundred actors gives lame on-the-nose readings (subtext and text perfectly match up). Those who understand this concept on a deep level have a huge advantage in the world!

Here’s the best blog entry I could find on subtext. It uses examples from the script for As Good As It Gets to illustrate insightful points.

How to Write Subtext The Mystery of Subtext. by Hal Croasmun For most people, subtext is the most elusive of all the writing skills. You ask a writer about subtext and you’ll get a vague answer that will leave you confused. Why? Because many of the best writers of subtext operate primarily from intuition. So they don’t have a conscious structure they can teach. But there is a structure to subtext and it can be learned. The quality of your dialogue can be dramatically … Read More

via The Revolution is Within

I tried to find posts on meta-communication, but they’re all written by therapists who are overly impressed with their own jargon. If I hear any more about “conflict spirals” or “interactive communication transfers,” my eyes will roll into the back of my head.

For the next few days, try paying conscious attention to meta-communication and subtext. What are commercials really saying? What are members of the opposite sex really telling you? What are certain artists trying to say? What are news media and politicians implying? See if you can “see the Matrix.”

Make any discoveries? Please share them by leaving a comment.


The Six Weapons of Influence – Part 6: “Scarcity”

June 21, 2010 10 comments

So far in this six-part article, we’ve covered five of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six “weapons of influence”Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, and Authority. Now for the sixth and final weapon, the one that may have the most viscerally powerful effect on us:

Weapon number six: “Scarcity: The Rule Of The Few”

Scarcity is the reason why someone who’s breaking up with you seems much more desirable than she did when you were thinking about breaking up with her.

The Scarcity Rule is the sales tool that is most obvious to us when we see advertising: “Sale ends June 30th”; “The First Hundred People Receive…”; “Limited Time Only”; “Offer Expires”; et cetera ad nauseum.

Remember this one well: the only thing more motivating than a limited supply of something is a rapidly diminishing supply of that same thing. It creates a hell of an itch. Now, we not only want an item for its utility, but we want to possess it simply to possess it.

When I was first learning the principles of direct response marketing, my mentor taught me early on that no promotion ever went out without a very explicit expiration. Sometimes promotional prices (set not by us but by our vendors) would be steady for months at a time. So month after month we would announce that prices would expire at the end of the month (factually true; we didn’t know for sure what prices would do in the coming month), but the month after that we would announce a similar promotion at the exact same price. This would go on for months.

But those promotions unfailingly encouraged end-of-month sales, even though the prices never changed. Why? Because the prices were expiring at the end of the month. They never actually expired, but that didn’t matter. Read more…

The Six Weapons of Influence – Part 5: “Authority”

June 15, 2010 5 comments

So far in this six-part article, we’ve covered four of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six “weapons of influence”Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency, Social Proof, and Liking. Now it’s time to talk about the weapon that really scares me…

Weapon number five: “Authority: Directed Deference”

The Authority Rule is the reason no one questions the guy with the clipboard at the head of the velvet rope line. Well, that and the really big bouncer dudes who flank him.

Bill Murray, studying "negative reinforcement on ESP abilities"...and hot college chicks, in Ghostbusters

Cialdini opens this chapter very dramatically, putting the reader in the hypothetical situation of participating in a research study involving negative reinforcement (electric shocks) on memory quiz answers (kinda like Bill Murray in the beginning of Ghostbusters). You’re the volunteer who receives the shocks, and there’s another volunteer behind a two-way mirror who, under the direction of the researcher, administers the shocks.

The shocks begin mild, but as the wrong answers accumulate, so does the electrical intensity. Soon it reaches the point where you yell out as you receive them. You finally scream that you want to quit the study, but your pleas get no response. The other person simply repeats the next question into the intercom.

You can’t think straight anymore, and all your answers come out wrong no matter what. The pain is searing. You stop answering and just remain silent, but the examiner interprets your silence as an incorrect response and continues administering higher voltage…

You may think the story is starting to sound like something out of Orwell, or some really bad dream. Now here’s the kicker, and this really shocked me…

This experiment was actually done with real people.

Only one thing was different.

The person receiving the shocks was an actor, pretending to be in serious pain. The experiment was not testing the quiz answers at all. It was testing the behavior of the other volunteer, the one who was administering the shocks. They wanted to see how much pain a person would be willing to inflict on another innocent person, simply because someone in authority told him to do it.

Read more…