The stage is yours

by Aldric Chau

Stand out from the crowd with drama skills

Alfred Cheung
producer, writer, director and corporate training consultant
Alfred Cheung Acting Studio
Photos: Wallace Chan

To many people, drama is a dynamic form of art enjoyed best as entertainment. Most would also acknowledge there is a distinct difference between drama and reality. However, for Alfred Cheung, renowned director and multimedia performer, drama is far more than just entertainment — it has a direct impact on life.

At a recent Career Times seminar "Winning a job interview with drama skills", Mr Cheung revealed the importance, and relevance, of drama techniques.

Valued skills

"Work is theatre and business is the stage," stressed Mr Cheung, who believes that every individual applies drama skills in the various roles they play everyday — at job interviews, in their relationships with co-workers and, most critically, in their day-to-day interaction with others.

Unfortunately, Mr Cheung said, "acting" is marginalised and sometimes regarded as hypocritical in the Chinese cultural context. Therefore, it is generally not encouraged at job interviews where candidates are supposed to be sincere and honest. "It is not about telling lies," Mr Cheung contested. "On the contrary, it is about telling the truth with a stronger impact by choosing a proper manner of presentation."

He noted that westerners are more exposed to drama education, and therefore tend to perform better at job interviews. "The reason why westerners often come off with flying colours at job interviews is simple. They are more prepared in expressing themselves," Mr Cheung said.

Steps before stage

Just as every actor who has experienced backstage jitters knows, mental preparation is the first step in overcoming those nerves. Stage fright does not necessarily rear itself on a stage; it can strike just as easily during a job interview. With the help of acting techniques, one can overcome those nerves and turn a standard meeting into a powerful presentation.

Elaborating on this, Mr Cheung said the most common reason for botching an interview is the lack of verbal communication and emotional interaction. Passively answered questions and a menu-like presentation of facts do not impress interviewers, said Mr Cheung.

In contrast, a candidate who is able to carefully manipulate his script, scene and costume to put on a good show will create a lasting impression.

Meanwhile, the key to achieving an emotional interaction with the interviewer is to interject emotion into one's speech. Poems are a great source for this, suggested Mr Cheung. A reflection of the poet's emotions with pauses and rhetorical styles, among others, poems provide a good learning ground for one to practise conveying messages with different moods.

Practise makes perfect, said Mr Cheung, and individuals are encouraged to rehearse their speeches before an audience. On one hand, it allows the individual to collect feedback from the audience. On the other, it helps the individual brush up emotional expressions for maximum effect.

Another key element in verbal communication is pronunciation. During the seminar, Mr Cheung tested the audience on a couple of commonly mispronounced words and found that many were unaware of their mistakes. "Pronunciation is always scrutinised in a highly competitive environment, especially so during the employment market downturn today," Mr Cheung remarked.

In addition to verbal communication, Mr Cheung also highlighted the importance of gestures, eye contact and body language. Practising in front of a mirror helps people see the effect of maintaining eye contact and facial expressions.

"Look in the mirror and you will be able to spot the minor mistakes that may lead to a negative perception by your audience," Mr Cheung said. For instance, blinking too slowly before answering a question may be construed as arrogant, while pointing a finger to accentuate an argument can be seen as impolite.

Your story

On top of polished articulation, facial expression and body language, an interviewee should always come prepared with an anecdote.

"You should be ready to tell a story about yourself," Mr Cheung advised. By doing so, it distinguishes one candidate from another and allows the interviewer an insight into a candidate's past, present and future.

A story based on facts, an anecdote can illustrate a person's skills and abilities to the prospective employer. It helps to research what the job requires and prepare stories that prove you have those attributes, or have experiences that are relevant to your prospective employer.

Mr Cheung emphasised, "Most importantly, preparing and organising the stories beforehand, and familiarising yourself with them, will help you come off far more natural and convincing than delivering an impromptu anecdote."

In conclusion, Mr Cheung reaffirmed that drama techniques can help package a job candidate's portfolio and therefore enhance his or her "brand equity". "Think of the job interview as an audition, and yourself as the scriptwriter, director and actor," he said. "Drama techniques, in essence, help you win applause from the audience when the curtain is closed."

Taken from Career Times 31 October 2008, p. B11
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