Now, I don’t expect I’ll have any Coffee Chat clients requesting a consultation strictly on networking, but based on some behaviors I’ve seen over the years, that might not be a bad idea!
As an actor I’ve learned that although networking with other actors is fun, it’s really not the quickest route to your next job, unless of course those actors happen to be multi-hyphenates, and become part of your tribe so to speak, where they refer you and cast you in their projects. There is nothing worse than being at an actor networking event, where everyone walks up to you with card in hand, and says “Hi, I’m Leah, I’m an actor, what do you do? “
True networking is being able to expand out of your actor circle and network with all types from producers to writers to editors and everything in between. See it takes a village to produce a project (or was that raise a baby?), and you want to meet and authentically connect with all of the inhabitants of that village that you’d like to move into.
Events like Comic-Con can be frightening and intimidating.. I mean there’s Joe Smith the creator of your favorite show hanging out at the Lobby Bar having drinks with the folks he was on a panel with earlier. They’re 5 feet away from you, how do you approach them? Authentically. But events like these can also be amazingly fun, exhilarating, and a place to make life-long contacts that you wouldn’t have run into any other way.
The best advice I can give you is to take a breath, be yourself, and be authentic.
Here’s a few Dont’s That I’ve Witnessed Recently—and how to switch it into a DO.
1) Entitlement. Don’t walk up to someone that you’ve never met and ask them to give you contact information for their colleagues or friends that you want to work with. A) This makes this person (you’re connector), feel used and unimportant. B) Why on earth is someone going to give you (a stranger) information that they’ve worked years to build up trust and confidence?
Instead, connect with this person authentically. Thank them for the knowledge they shared at their panel or event, and if the mood is right swap contact information. As they get to know you better – down the line- you may have an opportunity to ask for an introduction to that friend that is on your ‘wish list’.
2) Mind your manners! You were taught this in grade school. Don’t interrupt. Don’t stand too close. Don’t talk too loud. Don’t force your business card on people. Networking is social interaction and requires proper etiquette.
Instead, interact with manners. If there’s a group circle happening, ease your way into it. Stand and listen to the conversation, and join in if you have something to offer, but keep it on topic! Don’t switch the conversation from the latest Action Movie to your latest audition. No one cares. They’re having a chill conversation, and they’d much rather learn of your similar interests in the film than be banged over the head with your resume.
3) Have Marketing Tools Ready and use them properly! – Before any big event you should update your marketing materials. Especially your business cards. Not only, should they represent you as you are right now, but you want to feel good about the card you’re handing out. If the card is 3 years old and you’re so sick of it, that energy is going to follow you, and people may not know why, but they’ll feel that the energy is off somehow. Be happy about your marketing materials!
However, know when is a good time to share a card and when is not. If someone is in conversation, and you just randomly walk over and hand them your business card, chances are it’ll never make it out of that room. A good way to handle it, is as you make your exit, to ask, “May I give you my card?” 9 times out of ten, the person will say yes. They’re at a networking event, they expect to be getting cards, but given them an option to say yes or no, leaves a much better impression then throwing your card at someone.
4) No Gossip! No Dirty Secrets! No Rumors! My life is pretty much an open book, and I share an awful lot with my online networks and social gatherings. But here’s the thing, although your friends may enjoy your stories, or your scandalous secrets about the time you ended up in a Jacuzzi with the cast of True Blood (kidding!), the people you’re networking with are not your friends (yet!). And believe me if you’re standing with a group of people who don’t know you well, and you start telling secrets about someone that they *do* know, or start dissing dirt on a project that one of them may have been involved in, it’s going to look poorly on you. They’re not going to trust that someday you’ll be telling secrets about them and their project.
As awesome as a story that may or may not be, save the Jacuzzi story for your family and nearest and dearest friends. And if you *DO* tell the scandalous story in public, be careful not to name names, tell it in a “this one time” way… you have no idea, who’s standing behind you, and who they’re connected to.
5) Be a human having a human interaction with another human. We are all human beings. We all have moments of great pride and accomplishment, and we all have down days too. Be aware enough to know if this person you’re dying to approach is open to being approached. Body language. Are they staring down at their phone avoiding eye contact? Are they waiting in line, and open to killing time with some chit-chat? Feel it out, and by all means introduce yourself and be friendly. There’s something strange about someone talking to you about you and knowing all about you, without first introducing themselves. Say, “Hi, I’m Leah. That was a great panel you were on! I really enjoyed it.” If you get a simple thank you, that might be it, but they may engage in conversation and then you take it from there.
There is so much more I could talk to you about this topic, lessons I’ve learned, and bad networking (and good) that I’ve experienced first-hand, but I’ll leave you with this funny little impromptu video on networking, that Helenna and I participated in a few weeks back at the “Ms. In the Biz” picnic, with the lovely Emily Grace.