What's useful to you and helpful to others? This month's column, hopefully, and your emails to everyone, myself, included, after you've read it.
At some point or another, everyone is on the "ask" side of the equation. That's when you want something, information, attention, assistance, someone else is in the position of being able to deliver that thing, and there's a piece of communication bridging the gap between you.
These days, because of cost and ease of use, the first communication of choice is usually email. The phone is very disruptive and intrusive, and can't be time-shifted without the aid of voice mail, which generally just adds more weight to the recipient's load. (In case you can't read between the lines, this is me saying do NOT call me unless specifically requested to do so, and don't go calling casting offices, producers, agents, etc. without similar express permission.)
The problem is that email's ease of use has enabled a lot of laziness and bad behavior. There's no lag time between you coming up with a GREAT idea to email someone and, well, firing off an email. Back in the day, when you had to compose a letter manually or on a typewriter, people put more thought into their missives, for the better, I'd argue.
I think it's time to apply some thoughtful principles to email communication. It is, after all, a component of marketing, and one of the things under your control as an actor. Ready?
1. Before you write, figure out exactly why you're writing
A good story has ONE theme. A good advertisement has ONE message. What does a good piece of correspondence contain?
Here's a hint: one thing.
One request, one question, one thing.
Not two things, not a list of things, but one thing. It should be succinctly phrased, and teed up properly. More on that as we go. But if you remember this, you will be well-served in any email you write to anyone. It's way easier to sort and process emails if they contain just ONE idea, not a laundry list, which is almost certainly your laundry list, not the recipient's. So don't write an email about coordinating a meeting of your theater group AND a pimpage for your latest show AND a request for a great hair colorist. (But if you need one, cheap, email Gaby [gabycolorist AT yahoo DOT com], especially if you're in need of blond-ing.)
2. Spend some time thinking about what the other party needs
I'm a columnist; I need ideas for columns and an understanding of what people want to read about. You're an actor; you have questions you want answered and you're trying to get a leg up in your chosen profession.
If you start paying attention to the first part of the equation, what the person on the other end needs, I can almost guarantee you that it's going to serve you better at achieving your own goals. Yes, the relationship is a little off-balance in favor of the recipient, unless you have some surprising opportunities to offer that will benefit the other party.
But a casting director not only needs to find actors: she needs to find actors who are good and who "get" it. A manager or agent needs a roster of bookers. A producer needs talent who can help him tell his story.
When you respect the needs of the recipient, by crafting succinct messages, by framing your request in terms of the other person's needs, by showing (not, god forbid, telling) us that you have a head on your shoulders and are ready to work, you communication is more likely to land and stick, and possibly be responded to.
All of a sudden, your reaching out to me is a transaction that's filled with possibilities for both of us, instead of one more crazy favor I'm supposed to do for you.
3. Make it goodâ€¦and maybe add a treat!
Okay. Everyone knows when he's being sucked up to. Anyone who's got a clue, anyway.
It's still nice to hear something nice.
"Nice" can be a compliment. It can be an acknowledgment of some kind of accomplishment. "Nice" can be a bit of news or information you're privy to that you can share, something that's not self-serving, but that is useful to me. (And by "me", I mean whomever you're communicating with.) "Nice" is taking the time to learn a little something about them and their needs and goals, and then showing them you have by personalizing the communication.
Whatever it is, it's something personal that relates to the recipient. You don't have to add a treat, but if you can do it well, without being a brownnose, without coming off as smarmy or insincere, you will likely be well-served.
When in doubt, though, leave it out. And just show that you respect the person you're connecting with by at least following the basic rules of correspondence.
4. Follow the rules, if there are any
I'm pretty specific about how I want to be contacted, to the point where I create links (or have the nice people who format my column create them) that are pre-populated with subject lines. So when you click on the email links in my columns for the Networker, for example, a fresh email will pop up in your email program of choice saying "Hey, Colleen! Thanks for showing me how to follow the rules of the road!" (I turn that off here in favor of the contact form.)
I do this for a reason: to make my life easier! Also, to help me sort your emails automatically, file them appropriately for later use, and reply to your questions fasterâ€¦which makes my life easier!
5. Ready? Practice what you've learned with my rules!
Send me a great question! I love questions about marketing yourself, organizing your time or any other behind-the-scenes stuff that makes the acting engine run that I have not answered already. Think "helpful to me AND other actors." Check the archives first to make sure I haven't already addressed it. Then contact me with your question.
Next month, Part 2: Email Rules of the Road
Want more? Check out the acting resources page. It's got links out to all kinds of good actor resources, plus information on how to sign up to get on the list for upcoming workshops.
Colleen Wainwright is writer-speaker-consultant who started calling herself "the communicatrix" when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good and not evil by helping actors and other good, hard-working people with a dream to uncover their unique fabulosity and get it out there in the world.