The art of being genuine and authentic is characterized as being real, truthful, not phony or counterfeit, not copied. So how can a Tribute Artist, someone who is impersonating, pretending to be, and imitating someone else, be genuine and authentic? … Do you see the irony? … The dichotomy?
How does a new parent, the day they take their first child home from the hospital, be genuine and authentic? After all, they have no experience at parenting, they’ve never done it before. They probably read some books but they have no real experience. In a sense, they are impersonating a parent at the beginning. It’s no doubt awkward. But with time, hard work, trial and error, they figure it out and it happens … they parent genuinely and authentically.
How did you feel the first day you started a new job? Did you know what you were doing? Did you immediately take the bull by the horns and wrestle him to the ground? Of course not, you were most likely impersonating someone competent, and in some cases pretending you knew what your were doing. In reality, you didn’t have a clue and secretly hoped that others didn’t discover your phoniness. But after a few days you started gaining some comfort with your new surroundings and co-workers; with hard work and dedication you figured it out. Your genuineness and authenticity bloomed.
Here is my list of 7 things a Tribute Artist (or anyone) can do to be genuine and authentic in the role they are impersonating:
1. Know who you are
Since I didn’t start impersonating Forrest Gump until my late 30s, I had almost 20 years as an adult to figure out who Steve Weber was. Despite having instant success in my new role, I knew people were impressed with my character and not with me personally. My healthy sense of who I was allowed me to clearly see that difference. Steve Weber was a good promoter, loved meeting people, and loved being in the spotlight, so the role was a natural. Do you know your own personal strengths and preferences?
2. Know the role you’re playing and then just do it
Whether you?re portraying a character, a singer, a politician, parent or the ?new guy? on the job, it?s necessary to understand as much as possible about that role. Do your homework, study, prepare. But more importantly, just do it. The reality is that despite all of effort I put into preparing for the role ahead of time, 99% of the real learning actually occurred on the job. The preparation was great in the sense that it gave me the confidence to try, but the actual ?getting good? occurred as I was doing the work. Nike is right ? just do it!
3. Willingly mix you and your role
So you know who you are and you know the role you are playing; now it’ time to blend the two. This is important for two reasons:
- You will have more fun. Since you are now taking advantage of your own skills and talents, you’ll be more comfortable and personally be having more fun. In my case, using my own joke-telling style and sense of timing made people laugh. This was different than Forrest Gump’s style. But by integrating a few Gump-phrases with my own style, my presentation became Gump-like.
- Your audience will have more fun. Fun is contagious. By willingly mixing your own style with the style or requirements of your role, your audience will sense your own comfort and feel more comfortable. Once they are comfortable, they are more than happy to forgive little imperfections or differences from what they may have expected and what they are seeing, or receiving, or getting.
4. Be in the moment
Forrest Gump was really good at being present in whatever he did … he lived life in the moment. One of the reasons I’ve been so successful in portraying Forrest Gump is because I’ve learned how to (and been willing to stay in) the character and give each person I’m talking with my 100% undivided attention. This wins fans every time. It helps people feel special, it shows care and concern. Do you parent better when you’re thinking about work? Do you perform better at work when you’re thinking about your wife or kids? Of course not … learn to focus on the task or job at hand. How’s your ability to concentrate on the task at hand? How do you like it when someone checks their cell phone for messages while you’re talking to them?
5. Keep on learning, improving
So you’ve met with some instant success at your new job. How far will that take you? Is it good enough? Of course not, you need to keep improving, keep learning. You are only as good as what have you done for me lately! The days of a life-time job at the factory because you’re a good guy are long gone. I remember many times when I’d be driving home after working as Forrest … I’d replay in my mind a particular interaction that went especially well and try to figure out why. What were the circumstances that enabled that new joke to pop out? What could I do to re-create that mood or the same circumstances in the future? What could I do to improve the punch line? Do you continuously try to improve in your role?
6. Innovate – try it a new way
As we previously discussed, improving is important, necessary. But at certain times, incremental improvement is not good enough – it stops working. At those times, it’s sometimes best to just throw the whole thing out and start over. That’s being innovative … transforming. For the first several years I was reluctant to say the famous, “life is like a box of chocolates”. It was a cliche, boring … and besides, everyone else was saying it to me. But one day several years ago, I realized it’s the best thing I can say. I’ve made saying it fun again. It brings joy to my audience. The point is that things are always changing and sometimes improving just isn’t good enough; when that happens you need to be innovative and be prepared to start over from scratch. Are you willing to do something innovative to transform your role? Do you know when simply making improvements is no longer effective?
7. Know your audience
Over the years my audience has changed dramatically. At first, they were people who had fresh memories of the movie from seeing it in the theatre. Many years later they are a combination of people who haven’t seen it in over a decade to people who watched it last night on cable TV. They are kids who weren’t born back in 1994 when the movie was released but just saw it for the very first time. Remember, audiences change. Audiences priorities change. Knowing that it’s not about you (the actor, impersonator, parent or employee) but ultimately about your audience is the difference between having a job and being unemployed. Who’s ultimately your audience? Who’s paying you?
Being genuine and authentic is a way of paying tribute to your audience. Simply impersonating without that level of commitment to the activity is as interesting as hanging around the wax museum … not exactly genuine and authentic … only a good representation. Are you just an impersonator? Are you pretending to be someone else? Or are you genuine and authentic in the special role you’re playing?
Next Blog Title: Sunburst 2010 – Being Agent Friendly in a Google world (Part 3 of 3)
Next Blog Date: October 1, 2010