How To Master Networking Using The Meisner Technique
by: Shannon McNay
“You’re giving me a quizzical look.”
After years of taking acting classes, that’s the one thing I’ll never forget.
“You’re giving me a quizzical look.”
I took the classes because a small piece of me always wanted to act; but also because, being the writer that I am, I figured I’d end up with a few good stories, if nothing else.
And a few good stories there were.
To give you some background, there are two main acting techniques: Method Acting and The Meisner Technique. I took a class on The Meisner Technique. The Meisner actor is taught to live in the present moment on stage to convey the emotions in the script. The feelings should be so authentic that one performance could never be exactly the same as another.
The most important part of The Meisner Technique is being able get outside of your head and listen. Nothing is about you in this technique. It’s all about the connection between you and your partner. It takes a whole lot of practice to get to a moment of true connection. That’s where the quizzical look comes into play…
You’re Not Listening
To learn The Meisner Technique, the actor participates in a listening and repeating exercise. The actor looks at their partner and observes something about them (such as, “you’re wearing a blue shirt”). Their partner repeats what they said, exactly as they said it.
Everyone thinks they’re repeating exactly what they heard. But when they hear their classmates get it wrong, it becomes clear that perhaps they didn’t. It’s nearly impossible not to add inflection of your own. But once you can repeat the phrase exactly as you heard it, you move on to point of view.
“I’m wearing a blue shirt.”
Point of view means you repeat the phrases, but you repeat them in first person. “You’re wearing a blue shirt.” “I’m wearing a blue shirt.” “You’re wearing a blue shirt.” This adds a whole new layer of difficulty and takes another few weeks of practice to get right. But when that happens, something amazing unfolds:
The repeating turns into an improvised and authentic conversation packed with emotions. “You’re wearing a blue shirt,” ventures into a heartfelt exchange: “You’re feeling sad.” “I am feeling sad.” “Your heart is broken.” “My heart is broken.” You and your partner have now connected and are living in this moment together. It’s as if the world around you melts away, the conversation floats above your head, and you two are out in the deep end on a life raft together. You understand each other completely. You trust each other completely. Magic happens.
…but there was one guy who this magic never happened for. No matter what his partner would observe, he would respond with, “You’re giving me a quizzical look.” Every. Single. Time. How could someone be so clueless after months of watching the exercise?
He just wasn’t listening. He always entered into the exercise with an agenda. For whatever reason he wanted to say that phrase, so he said it regardless of whether it made sense for the exercise (which it never did). At the end of the day, he prioritised his agenda above any attempt at connection.
When meeting new people, we all tend to focus on our own agenda: what we want to say, how we want to portray ourselves, what we want to get out of the interaction. This prevents us from ever really listening to the person on the other end.
Here’s a problem I have. When I first meet someone, I’m so concerned with looking them in the eye and giving them a good handshake that I never hear their name. My fear of giving a bad first impression causes me to completely forget to listen to the first vital piece of information.
In other words, I fail at most of my interactions within the first few seconds. And recovery from a failure that early on is pretty hard.
Now think about your past interactions. For example, what happened the last time you met a potential boss or client? When they spoke, did you listen clearly? Or did you mentally repeat your spiel to make sure you’d get it right when it was your turn to talk? Now what if listening closer, you would have realized that your spiel as it was had nothing to do with them? Or what if your spiel had everything to do with their needs – but a little bit of personalization would have enabled to you connect on a deeper level?
Listen, Observe, Adapt
The next time you meet someone, remember that the person on the other end of the interaction is just that, a person. Although it’s easy to fall into scripted speech – especially when networking – remember what that feels like on the other end.
If you really want to connect with someone, listen, observe, and adapt.
Listen: Ask them who they are, what they’re about, what their needs are.
Observe their behavior during the interaction. Are they crossing their arms? Not good. Are they facing you with an open stance? Good.
Adapt: If their behavior changes for the negative – a small sigh escapes from their mouth – shift gears. Think about what you may have said to put them off and bring the conversation back to their point of view.
…in other words, don’t be the guy who says, “You’re giving me a quizzical look.” Forget about your agenda. Never forget that feeling listened to empowers people. It makes them feel cared for. It makes them feel like they belong.
Why Everyone Should Learn The Meisner Technique
It’s difficult to convey the epic power of The Meisner Technique in one blog post. But for the sake of trying, here are a few skills it gave me that I wish I had learned much earlier in life:
- How to get outside of my head.
- How to really hear people.
- How to notice microexpressions: the reflexive expressions our faces make milliseconds before we change them.
- How to improvise my words or behavior to be more empathetic to the other person.
- How we say little through our words – and much through our facial expressions, our eyes, and especially through our slight body shifts.
If you want to improve your networking skills, find a local acting class that focuses on The Meisner Technique. It will change the way you view human interaction forever. So much more than an acting class, this is a class to that will make you better at life.