To further your career, you must step out and do appropriate auditions, summer programs, find new and safe places to practice your craft and perfect a new role. You will have the opportunity to work with unknown and new coaches, conductors, stage directors, and colleagues. You will also have the opportunity to network, and build new relationships. That sounds like a job in and of itself doesn’t it? But, this is how you continue to gain credibility in this industry and get your name out there as someone who respects their craft by being able to do it all. Having the skills and tools to feel comfortable and confident is the first step and requires practice just like anything else. You can’t just do it in your head and think you have it down.
So what can you do to improve the odds of making this all happen? Right off the bat, there are three basic, yet critical getting-to-know-you skills that need to be mastered: introducing yourself, remembering people’s names, and asking questions. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But in the heat of the moment, you simply aren’t confident or comfortable enough to perform them well. You find yourself forgetting the other person’s name, feeling awkward, and then avoiding conversation.
- How do you go about introducing yourself, especially if you are still an “emerging artist”? Most performers in this situation do what I like to call the singer shuffle. They shuffle back and forth from foot to foot, mostly looking anywhere but at the person they are talking to and say something like, “I’m an opera singer, but I work at Denny’s.” Does this sound familiar? No! You are an emerging artist – in the process of preparing for an operatic career – working toward becoming a professional opera singer. Anything but the shuffle, please! The problem is that you have not yet decided what to call yourself at this stage of the game. So figure it out and start using that phrase all over the place. You have to practice it and own it. And say it out loud lots of times every day until you start believing yourself. The job that you have that makes the money to prepare you for your entry into that opera world could be an interesting job, but it is not who you are or what you want to become. So stand up for yourself.
- There are many ways to help you remember someone’s name, but it has to work just for you, so see, hear, and feel what makes sense to you. What can you associate that name with? Is it making sure you use that name immediately and keep doing so through the conversation as you put name, face, voice and body with that name. Perhaps they have the same name as a friend or family member even if they are nothing alike. Maybe it’s an unusual name that you can start a conversation going by finding out where it came from and remember it from that experience. As I said, you have to find what works best for you. And if all else fails, you can always just say, “I know you just told me your name, but I got so caught up in the conversation, I need you to refresh my memory.” With practice you will get better at this. Everyone has this same problem. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a stupid person, just another human being. I often say jokingly, “I’m so bad with names; I’m going to ask you 100 times to repeat your name to me.” Believe it or not, this seems to put others at ease because they feel the same way.
- As for making conversation, the key ingredient is learning how to ask questions, and then really listen to the answers. We are so not used to listening anymore, because of texting and tweets. Real conversation requires your full attention and focus. The questions you ask can just be simple ones like, “Are you from…?” (put a city name in here) Then you can ask what it is they love about this city, what are their favorite restaurants, parks, museums, books, singers, music etc. And you are off and running. One thing leads to another and you are having an interesting conversation. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, so give them the chance and subjects to do so. Simple! But you have to practice. You can’t just have the knowledge in your head; you actually have to do it often to make it come easily.
Confidence comes from having the practiced tools and skills in place to use as you make your way out into the world. Notice that those that seem confident aren’t afraid of making mistakes like forgetting a name or piece of information that has already been given. That’s human nature, so get over yourself and get going. Build your confidence one experience at a time and make it a good one. Avanti. Now you know what I think, let me hear from you. Ciao, Carol