How to Communicate Better as an Actor

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Photo Source: “The Fabelmans” Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Whether it’s Channing Tatum using his charm to work his way up from an extra in “War of the Worlds” or Charlize Theron being discovered while asking a bank teller to cash a check, navigating the industry is a matter of effective communication. While good communication is necessary for better performances and building chemistry with other actors, it is also useful to work on communication skills offstage to improve how you connect, collaborate, and create.


What is effective communication?

Communication actingLightField Studios/Shutterstock

Communication is central to every aspect of life. Verbal and nonverbal methods of communication convey our thoughts and feelings, allowing people to connect with one another. And since acting is all about connection, it’s especially important for actors to become effective communicators. Effective communication means using communication practices to convey ideas, knowledge, intentions, and more in a way that is clear and understandable. “When we communicate effectively, both the sender and receiver feel satisfied,” explains a Coursera article. This means that effective communication requires not only the ability to speak or use body language effectively, but also to be receptive to others. 

To improve your communication, it is vital that you not only pay attention to the messages you send through your voice, gestures, and facial expressions—you must also consider the messages you receive from those around you, including agents, fellow actors, directors, and the audience.

How to communicate better

communication tips

“The Last of Us” Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO

To improve your communication skills as an actor, consider context, actively listen, develop your emotional intelligence, and refine your nonverbal cues.

Consider context

A communicator connects with their audience through context. Trying to connect with a potential agent without understanding the context of what that entails—like having your headshots, acting résumé, and demo reel ready to go—means it’s unlikely you’ll succeed. While you’re performing, the context is usually established through a shared understanding of setting, style, and genre. If you’re performing onstage without a mic but use the quieter, subtle acting style usually reserved for filmed performances rather than the robust, full-bodied acting style of theatrical performances, you risk losing your audience by disrupting the shared context. 

Be an active listener

Communication is an exchange, meaning you shouldn’t just put forth your own thoughts and walk away. Once you’ve presented your ideas, it’s time to pay close attention to the other party’s response. Listening actively means really considering what someone is saying, where they’re coming from, and why they think or feel the way they do. While it can be tempting to tune out someone if they are critiquing your performance, for example, active listening allows you to learn from the experience and grow in your craft.

To improve your listening skills while acting, stop focusing so intently on your next line and start focusing on what your fellow actor is saying and how they’re saying it. A minor change in their tone can mean that you’ll need to revise your delivery as well.

Improve your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is about understanding and controlling your emotions as well as understanding and controlling how you react to other people’s emotions. Emotional intelligence is a key factor in effective communication because it requires a person to interpret the emotions of others and respond in a constructive, effective manner. Emotional intelligence involves self-awareness—knowing your own strengths and weaknesses—as well as empathy, or understanding and relating to others. To improve your emotional intelligence, here are some steps adapted from Harvard’s Continuing Education Division:

  • Pay attention to, recognize, and name your emotions (or the emotions of your character). Taking a moment after an interaction to examine your emotional state can help inform your response and provide insight into recurring feelings and behaviors.
  • Ask for feedback from professionals you work with regularly. Ask for constructive criticism from fellow actors, family members, directors, agents, and your audience when possible. Use their feedback to further develop your craft.
  • Practice script analysis. Reading and rereading a script will help you better understand character emotions, motivations, and behaviors. This applies offstage, too; reading makes you consider other people’s perspectives, which studies show can increase empathy.

Work on nonverbal communication

Perhaps the most well-known aspect of nonverbal communication is body language. In addition to body language, nonverbal communication includes touch, use of objects, and the way you move within your environment.

Improving your nonverbal communication means considering your body language, facial expressions, and movements and trying to ensure that they match your words—unless, of course, you’re portraying someone who says one thing but means another. Observe how other people move their bodies and faces, since these can provide a lot of information, and adjust your body language and facial expressions accordingly.

How does effective communication impact acting?

actor communicating

“Knock at the Cabin” Credit: Universal Pictures / Aaron Ricketts

Being onstage or in front of a camera is just the final step in a long process that includes everything from auditioning to costume fitting. And while your performance represents the culmination of your communication abilities, each step of the journey involves communicating with people who can make or break the experience.

  • Headshot photographers: Effective communication can help you find the right headshot photographer and make you feel comfortable in front of their camera so that, together, you can produce the best headshots possible. The photoshoot is a collaboration, so you’ll need to be able to communicate what you need and what you’re trying to convey with your headshots. 
  • Agents: A good agent is hard to find, so brush up on those communication skills to make sure you find a match that will land you your next big role. Often, if an agent is interested in you, they’ll want to meet in person. You’ll need to be able to actively listen to their questions and respond in a thoughtful manner. It also helps to be able to clearly and concisely answer the agent’s questions and give them a sense of who you are. Even once you’ve landed an agent, you’ll need to keep the lines of communication open. Developing comfortable, open communication with your agent will help foster a strong relationship. 
  • Managers: Not all actors need a manager, but if you find yourself in need, effective communication skills can help you find the perfect fit. Managers often focus on different mediums, so knowing your desired mediums and communicating them can be a big help. As with an agent, managers will likely have questions for you; being able to answer in a clear, succinct manner can help them better understand what you’re looking for. Listening is also key; a manager should have good insight into your career and potential next steps and will advise you accordingly. Listen carefully when speaking with your manager (or a potential manager) to see if they have any ideas that align with what you’re looking for. 
  • Casting directors: Using nonverbal communication skills can elevate an audition to the next level by conveying emotions that emphasize what you’re saying with your lines. Practice facial expressions, add appropriate gestures, and have a good sense of the space around you to fully embody your character during an audition. 
  • Crew: Film sets are busy, bustling places with lots of people and moving parts, meaning that it’s easy to get some wires crossed. Practicing empathetic communication helps mitigate these issues and prevent them from becoming full-blown problems. Some easy things for an actor (or anyone!) to do on set are to be polite, introduce yourself to new people you interact with, and be ready to listen to any directions or instructions that might impact your role. 
  • Directors: Effective communication with the director can make a huge difference in your performance—and, therefore, your reviews. This is a time when listening skills should be sharp, because a director is likely to have a lot of input about what’s happening in the scene. Being able to listen to and ask questions of the director will help actors further develop their characters. 
  • Other actors: Don’t forget everything you’ve learned if you make it to the set or stage. Acting itself is all about communication, so aim for subtlety, nuance, and clearly expressed emotions and ideas to be an effective communicator while acting.

In the end, communication is an everyday skill that can benefit every aspect of your life, both personally and professionally. Spending the time to develop your communication skills can be the secret that takes your career to the next level.