Theatre Lessons That You Can Apply To Business
Yes that is me as Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, and yes they had to use heavy mascara on my chest hair to make it visible to the audience.
I went to theatre school for 9 years before deciding to study commerce in university. Throughout elementary and high school, I spent a minimum of 4 hours every day singing, dancing, and acting, and then I spent countless evenings and weekends at extra rehearsals and doing live performances. While theatre turned out not to be my calling, there were many lessons that were drilled into me that have been critical to my success in business and more specifically, Customer Success. Here are my top 10 (in no particular order):
Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.
Very easy to understand and to follow. Being early is a simple thing to do, but it shows you’re prepared and you care (i.e. your customer should never be the first onto the conference line!).
Each show should be better than the last.
Always up your game on a continual basis. Never be satisfied with where you are. If a customer achieves a great ROI and renews their contract, celebrate the win and start strategizing how you can deliver an even stronger ROI and expand their contract even further.
Nerves are good!
If you’re not nervous, that’s when you should be concerned. Being nervous means you’re pushing, you’re out of your comfort zone, and you really care about what you’re doing. If you’re not nervous, you probably don’t care about what you’re doing, or you simply aren’t challenging yourself. Lean in to your nerves!
A performance is only as good as the weakest person on the stage.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best lead singer in the world - if one dancer in the back corner of the stage is half-assing their performance, that’s exactly where the audience’s eyes go. It’s the same in business - you’re only as strong as your weakest team member, so hire well and nurture your team!
If you don’t believe what you’re saying, neither will the audience.
It’s no secret that customers can see through bullshit a mile away. If you aren’t buying what you’re selling, why should they? You should genuinely believe in what you are saying, and if you don’t, you may need to look at making some changes.
If you make a mistake and pretend that it was on purpose, the audience won’t notice either.
People make mistakes constantly in theatre, but audiences almost never realize because the actors are trained to just carry on as if what happened had been planned all along. The same lesson can be applied to business: if you focus on the mistakes you make, they become a much bigger, more noticeable problem than they need to be. Be prepared to adapt to situations and roll with the unexpected, and others will move along with you.
Take care of your body - you only get one and it’s how you make your living.
Our bodies and minds are interconnected, and yet we are disproportionately focused on our brains over our bodies. If your body isn’t healthy, you’ll quickly find your mental health starting to decline as well. Exercise at least every 3 days, eat healthy food (most of the time), dress appropriately for the weather, drink lots of tea, and party intelligently (i.e. not all the time, and when you do, drink lots of water).
Control the energy of the room.
Pay attention to the energy level of a room. Is the energy low? Can you make a joke or share an anecdote to lighten the mood? Is the room out of control? Can you rein it in and get everyone back on track? Being able to control the energy of the room is a difficult skill to learn, but it has an immense payoff.
Pay attention to posture, diction, blocking, etc.
When you give a presentation, are you sitting or standing? It makes a huge difference. What are your hands doing while you’re talking? Crossed arms send a protective signal, while hands relaxed at your sides sends an open and approachable signal. Are you speaking clearly? Can everyone in the room hear you and understand you? Are you blocking the projector? Are you speaking only to one or two people, or are you making eye contact with everyone and addressing the full room? These are all important things to pay attention to, especially in a Customer Success, Sales, or leadership role.
No one is irreplaceable.
Everyone can be replaced, without exception. In the theatre we would always have understudies (people who are directly meant to replace you). In business, you might not always have a direct understudy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be replaced. You need to continuously earn your position, and never take your job for granted.
Thanks for reading! Since you made it the end of this post, here is some additional photographic evidence of my time in musical theatre: