Ask a Mentor
How to Be You
Mentor Kenny Smith has advice for introverted writers who need a little help selling themselves.
While it might seem clichéd, there’s some truth to the idea that writers are more comfortable expressing themselves on paper than in person. For some, it’s the reason they gravitated to their chosen profession. Even writers, however, must occasionally sell themselves or their ideas face to face (or face to FaceTime). Self-professed introvert Kenny Smith (Black-ish, The Game) describes how he learned to loosen up and be himself in the room.
Question: “I’m an introvert and find it difficult to sell myself in the room. Any advice on how to improve on this?”
Kenny Smith: I’m very familiar with this because I’m an introvert, and if it’s possible, I’ve passed it on to my daughter. She refuses to listen to my advice, but since you’re asking, I’m sure you’ll be more open to it.
There are two pieces to this. If you’re talking about selling yourself to get staffed, then you have to be yourself—not the self you are when you’re in a new or uncomfortable situation, but who you are when you’re with your friends/family. The people you have fun with, the people you laugh with. That’s the you they have to see.
Easier said than done, right? It is easy. To have a paying job doing the thing you love, you just need to go in and imagine that these people are your old friends for 30 to 60 minutes. That’s it. It’s a little bit of a performance, but it’s still you being you. And it’s worth it. Someone gave me this advice years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Whether it’s for staffing or pitching a project, these people are my old friends, and sell or fail, we are gonna have a ball. It lowers my stress and usually draws them in. Now, what if they’re not giving that same energy back? Then you push through, and stay who you are. These are your people, and you’re entertaining them. If they’re somehow not entertained, then you’re spending the next 30 minutes entertaining yourself and that’s ok, too.
The second piece is if you’re talking about selling yourself in the writers’ room. The above advice is too hard to maintain long term. Do Not Attempt. For the writers’ room, you want to make yourself comfortable to help you come out of your shell. Join in the room banter. Sometimes if I felt myself slipping back into my shell, when the next lull came around, I’d kick off the banter. When you’re just talking about nothing, it relaxes you for when it’s time to talk about something. It also gets your coworkers used to hearing your voice, so it’s not so jarring when the introvert speaks up after an hour of silence.
Another thing is, if you can do prep work at home, do it. The next day, when they ask for thoughts or punches on a script, you have them written down. Speak up early if you can. You can’t say it if it’s already been said. Being overly prepared always took the stress off of me because I knew I was coming in with something to say. Something to break the ice. It made it easier to speak up for the rest of the day.
Now this last one is showrunner dependent, as it could be annoying: get up. Sitting in a chair can get too comfortable, too safe, which leads to too quiet. Some showrunners don’t mind. I would get up and stand behind my chair every so often, sometimes pace the room. It helped me think and relax. It has the same effect as when you take a bathroom break, and on the walk there (or when you’re peeing) you have an epiphany about the story. When I started running the room, if I felt the need, I’d jump and slap the top of the door frame once in a while. It loosened me up.
Yes, you’re an introvert, so you may have to work a little harder than some of your coworkers to sell yourself. But if you haven’t noticed, all my advice is about finding ways to relax, because that’s how you are able to be you. That’s how you’re able to sell yourself. And that’s how you’re able to get heard. “Have fun, it’s TV.”
Send your questions about the craft, job hunting, your career, or Guild service to Connect (under 100 words, please) with the subject “Mentor,” and we’ll send them to an established screen or TV writer to answer. Questions might be edited for space or clarity and will be published anonymously. WGAW mentors provide informal career advice and are not expected to read scripts, give notes, hear pitches, or help find representation or work.
Missed a previous “Ask a Mentor”? Read answers to these questions.