So, today, let’s talk about networking. Some people love it. Some people dread it. Some people think it’s a waste of time. But it can be a useful tool if you do it right.
First of all, what is networking exactly? Well, in its essence, networking involves people in related fields connecting with each other with the intention of forming professional partnerships. I’m going to discuss it here in terms of actual networking events rather than random encounters.
These events can arise in various ways. An organization, such as a film group, may have regular gathering for those involved in the film industry – everything from writers, to DOPs to animal wranglers. There may be networking events associated with a specific conference or festival, like NXNE or Canada Music Week or TIFF.
So, let’s say you’re a screenwriter and there’s a monthly gathering of film people coming up. Before the day even arrives, you might want to practice a little spiel about you and your work. Just a few sentences – something you might have time to reveal during a ride in an elevator – in case someone asks what you do. And they will. It never hurts to be prepared because you probably don’t want a potential collaborator asking, “So, what do you do?” just to respond with, “Oh, I don’t know. Stuff, I guess.” You’d be surprised at how easily you can get stumped with such a question, especially when you’re dealing with what you do all day long. You would think it would be easy enough to talk about but when you’re put on the spot words can fail you.
So, the day of the event arrives. You may be going by yourself or with friends or colleagues, which gives you a bit of a leg up because you have a home base of people to talk to. Sure, this can provide a level of comfort but be careful that you don’t stick with the same people the whole time. You need to be able to branch out and make new connections eventually. That’s really why your there, isn’t it?
If you’re a social butterfly, you may be comfortable with approaching people you don’t know and that’s definitely part of the battle because many people are not okay with talking to strangers. But even if you are open to it, you may find that, like I just advised against, people in these situations tend to congregate in groups of familiar faces (because they aren’t hip to what it means to network like you are 😉 ). This can leave you feeling like the odd man out, especially if you’re new to the whole thing. On one hand, it’s kind of a loss for them because they could be missing out on meeting folks like your fabulous self but fear not! These clique dwellers don’t have to remain entirely out of reach.
When I have experienced insecurity around networking events, a feeling which comes and goes for me depending on my mood and the environment, I like to rely on an old trick – the food table. If there is a table of appetizers etc. at the event, which there often is, attendees will periodically show up to grab a little something, sometimes in pairs but often as individuals. In this scenario, they have been removed from their group and you can strike up a conversation, like a predator going after the prey that has separated from the herd.
So, now you are at the food table and a pleasant looking person is heading your way. You have finally mustered up the cajones and have the opportunity to start a conversation. What the heck do you do then? Regale them with a detailed account of your morning hygiene routine? Ask them why on earth 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?
Well, you can start by commenting on something about the food – hopefully positive because people don’t like complainers unless, of course, they’re hilariously funny. “These spring rolls are amazing! Have you tried one yet?” or “Someone should throw this shrimp back in the ocean because they aren’t doing anybody any good up here” might be fun openers. You could also exchange names while complimenting the other person – maybe on something they’re wearing. “Hi, I’m Tiffany. Those are great shoes.” Then you can ask them what brings them to the event – that will lead into a discussion of what you both do in the industry. This is where your practiced speech comes into play. You don’t necessarily need to spill all the beans at once. Start off with, “I’m a screenwriter.” Then let them ask, “What kinds of scripts have you done?” Let the conversation evolve piece by piece. You might want to avoid being overly aggressive. “I’m a screenwriter. Wanna produce my script about a lizard man who discovers he is a cow having a dream?” I’ve seen people do that and it smacks of self-centeredness and desperation.
Here’s the thing to remember as the conversation progresses. The person you are talking to may be the answer to all your prayers, the one who finally helps your career take off. And maybe they aren’t. But regardless, they are still a person. Have a real conversation, ask questions, get to know them, and detach from expectations of possible outcomes. I have too often witnessed and experienced the beginning of a networking conversation and, when one party discovers that the other party isn’t “important enough”, isn’t worthy of talking to, they lose interest and just walk away.
Don’t be that guy.
Some people may take this approach as a way of saving time and energy but, even if the other party understands this on a logical level, they might still feel put off and be unwilling to work with or help you in the future should such an occasion arise. There’s no need to go burning any bridges.
Here’s the thing. You don’t know where the conversation is going to lead. If you are a screenwriter, your intention may be to pitch your latest script to all the producers in the room but you might find yourself inspired by an unexpected conversation with a composer or a horse wrangler. You might be meeting your new BFF or romantic partner. Even if you are going to think of it strictly in terms of making business connections, you never know who the other person might know. That horse wrangler might be the brother of Steven Spielberg – if he has a brother. I don’t know.
Anyway, don’t dismiss someone just because they don’t seem to be the type of person you were hoping to speak to.
That being said, you also don’t want to keep the conversation going for too long, unless you both are totally vibing on each other somehow and are ready to go off and get a proverbial or literal room together. The goal for you, and likely everyone else in attendance, is to meet several new people during the course of the event, not just one. And once you start a conversation, a polite person may not be able to remove themselves if there is someone else they want to talk to.
I would say ten minutes is a good length of time – long enough to learn a bit about each other and see if there is potential in the relationship but not so long as to be dominating. You can close the conversation off with, “It’s been great talking to you. I should probably let you continue working the room.” Awe! Aren’t you considerate? Then you can exchange cards or agree to meet again over coffee or something if you have some actual business to discuss.
Now, let’s say there is no food table or, God forbid, all the food is gone! What happens then? Well, I know it’s a scary thought but you can simply stand in with an existing discussion – provided it doesn’t appear to be private. You don’t want to barge in on two people talking about a recent break-up or anything. You might get the stink eye for doing that.
If it’s a decent size group and they seem good-natured enough, just stand there with them and they will likely widen the circle to accommodate you. Don’t feel the need to talk right away, unless of course you’re addressed. Listen for a little while, click in with the vibe, and then feel free to share and take part!
A final thing I will say is that if you discover that you’re not feeling it that day, if you’ve given it a good attempt but you’re just too tired or too nervous or you’ve met a couple of people and your sociability account is maxed out, that’s alright. Don’t be hard on yourself. We all have times when we’re feeling more or less willing to be around others and maybe it’s better to step back and try again on another day than to put yourself out there when you’re not up to it and end up making a bad impression. Have you ever been at a party where there was a guest who was just not in a good frame of mind and you figured it might have been better if they had just stayed home?
Don’t be that guy.
So, think of networking as a chance to build some confidence, practice talking about what you do, and you just might meet someone who will be in your life for years to come in some way or other. If nothing else, you’ll probably have some good laughs. There are always entertaining conversations to have so enjoy and don’t worry about it. It gets easier with practice!
Now, in Swimming Tigress news, Swimming Tigress Music has now listed much of its catalog on Sheet Music Plus! You can visit the publisher page here. Of course, you can also access the entire catalog here on our site at the Swimming Tigress Shop , including the songbooks Bad Moods and Seven Other Super Reasons to Sing a Silly Song and Brain Freezes and Seven More Super Reasons To Sing A Silly Song.
Have a great day!