I recently participated in a dramatic reading as part of the annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival (http://www.baltplayfest.org). For the unintiated, "the BPF receives a number of original, never-produced plays by people who have lived in Maryland or Washington, DC...Submitted plays are read and reviewed by members of the Baltimore theater community as well as representatives of the BPF's producing theatre companies...Those plays reviewed and evaluated as 'Ready for Reading' are qualified for a public reading, usually held at one of our member theaters." So sayeth the BPF website (and I encourage you to visit to learn more).
In 2011, I began pursuing a lifelong dream to try acting and, having made a few contacts, was lucky enough to receive an invitation to take part in the reading of a new play.
Now, if you've seen my photo and know anything about me, you know I "rock the Connecticut insurance salesman" look, i.e. I'm 50, white collar-y, Clark Kent-ish PR guy, growing up on Sesame Street not the mean streets. So when local director Miriam Bazensky called me to ask if I'd like to read the role of a 30 year old, street savvy, very politically incorrect drug dealer, I took a good, long look in the mirror and concluded, "Yeah...that's me, allright."
My character, Denny, is a borderline racist, calls his friend, Clay, "dog"...continuously...enjoys walking into homes unannounced, slurring Jehovah's Witnesses, and has a thing for very, very large knives. My fellow actors and our director were all in agreement that this guy...well, not that likeable a fellow.
I came to realize that Denny is, in essence, the exact opposite of what you want in a public relations professional--that is, someone open and fair minded, eloquent, good natured and good humored, sensitive to all manner of cultures, ethnic groups and social strata, a unifier, not a divider.
I wondered, could I really connect with this character, to someone who is so diametrically opposed to what I am career-wise and just plain HUMAN wise? It would be a challenge. It would be uncomfortable. Definitley outside the "comfort zone" (which, for me, has meant playing lawyers, middle class middle aged guys, nurturing types and more lawyers).
And that's a good thing. Because here in lies another good PR lesson.
One must "go outside one's comfort zone" every so often, otherwise, you miss opportunities. For example, a job of a good PR person is to give one's client perspective. I've found president/CEO types are so involved with the running of their organizations they can become insulated, disconnected from social and cultural changes, trends, etc. So sometimes you've got to tell these high powered people that they may be missing the boat about something.
Imagine when Steven Spielberg and his crew started working on the film, "E.T." Story goes, the good people at M&Ms chocolates were approached about having their candy appear in the film. Somewhere along the way this request arrived at some suit's office who was not aware of the incredible popularity of sci-fi films at the time, given the STAR WARS and STAR TREK franchises, thought, 'Why do I want to be part of some dumb space fantasy where the star is some weird looking puppet' and let it go. Reese's Pieces followed, said 'Heck YEAH we wanna be in a Spielberg movie!" and the rest is history.
Go outside the comfort zone.
Don't be satisfied with "the usual." Hey, we'll have a gala. Black tie. Band. Silent auction. Well, maybe you want to try something different...Is it a costumed affair? A "come as you are" party? Or you hold your gala in someplace different, like in a museum or baseball stadium instead of the usual hotel.
Going outside your comfort zone is a way to spark your creativity, to learn new things, to find new ways to best achieve your clients' goals. Not everything may work (should we do a flash mob? well, realize there's now a whole branch of litigation governing flash mobs, believe it or not, visit the American Bar Association website to learn more), but sometimes one must break the "ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim..." chain and just go for it.
Go outside the comfort zone. Next press conference, ditch the podium and chairs and do the whole thing via Skype. Forget the 4-panel brochure, create a video...or have a video making contest or whatever it may be. If the idea of doing it makes you nervous, you're on the right path!