It has happened to all of us. Someone calls us on the phone and asks us to do something—a benefit concert, an acting job, attend an event—and before we know it, we say yes before we think carefully about whether or not we should do it. Sometimes we say yes before we learn all of the important details we need to know! After all, it is exciting and exhilarating to be sought after, and it feels like a confirmation of our self worth. We are so excited that we are barely listening, and all the while in our heads, we are hearing the same thing over and over again: Yes! Yes! Yes! We get off the phone and slowly dread begins to rear its ugly head. Thoughts begin to race through our heads: "What have I done? Have I accepted a job that, after some distance and contemplation, looks a lot less stellar than when I picked up the phone? Now what do I do? How can I prevent this from happening in the future?"
Preventing it from happening is really very simple. I tell my clients who are in the habit of accepting everything that comes to them on the phone, they better start using my little technique. Just follow these steps: Don't speak, don't commit, listen, and write down all that is being said. Then simply thank the caller and tell them that you will let them know as soon as possible. If you have a representative, this is particularly important. Remember that your representative needs to know all the information too, and if you have agreed to be in something then your rep has really no room to negotiate for you. (Not to mention that the non-paying gig you just agreed to do may prevent you from auditioning for and/or booking a conflicting paid job.)
I think it helps to put a sticker on your phone—yes a sticker. Any sticker would do—just make sure it is something that you will notice. Every time the phone rings, as you begin to answer it, the sticker you placed on your phone should trigger you to remember: Don't commit to anything. In the event the phone call is actually an offer to do something, you are prepared.
Here is another trick you can use when being pushed to commit to something. (Especially if it is someone you know, and they really want you to do this job for little or no pay.) Use an excuse to call them back later. This can be a little white lie—i.e. "an often trivial, diplomatic or well-intentioned untruth" that harms no one. You can say that you are crazy busy now, your significant other is on the other line, you need to check with your agent or manager to make sure the schedule works for you, or say that your apartment is on fire. (OK, this is a bit extreme, but I think you get the picture.) Just say you will call them back later. That way you can slowly and methodically process all the information that was presented to you.
This trick works with just about any phone call. A "friend" who you don't really like that calls to ask you to a party. Your mother calls to check up on you and wonders when you will be coming home to visit. Your "day" job wants you to cover a shift. Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes saying you won a million dollars. (OK people, this call you may take!)
So take control, get a sticker, place it on your phone, and never commit until you have all the information and are fully comfortable doing so.
John Essay has been a theatrical manager and producer for nearly 25 years. His company, Essay Management, represents actors, writers and directors in all areas of the entertainment industry. He also created www.TheActorsGuideToEverything.com, a website reflecting the culmination of all that he has learned in the last 25 years as a personal manager.