Investing time and money on education can contribute to one’s career success. However, one area often neglected is the skills of networking. Most industry newcomers put off learning about them until their hopes are dashed and their finances nearly depleted.
Networking is the means by which we engage new business friends, seek out innovative and fresh ideas, find useful information, and foster connections that can grow into lasting partnerships. Networking can also secure jobs and help increase one’s income. But most of all it can lead to a long productive career.
The most useful networking tool will be your ability to tell stories. You see stories help harness, manage, and communicate the value of your talents. You can list your experience, credits, and training on your resume, but what makes you memorable are the tales that spark the imagination and kindle the spirit. These are stories about your struggles, your triumphs, and the obsessions in your life. They are stories that go beyond the mundane and remind the listener of something greater. Maybe it’s a successful endeavor, a learning experience, or maybe it’s a story that calls for a collaboration to complete them.
In networking situations, people don’t always buy your talents, your knowledge; they buy the stories attached to them. Your stories must be compelling, truthful, beautiful, believable, and inspirational if they are to have an impact on your prospects. Stories connect us and everyone has a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.
We all have such stories and to tell them you have to search your own life and find what resonates. We have to go back and get them. Frequently, we belittle our true accomplishments, our struggles, and the lessons we’ve learned. And what we perceive, as a bump in our journey may be the stepping-stones to a rewarding story. Find what is most meaningful or memorable about your story. How will it be perceived? Choose a story angle that helps people get inspired and internalize the truth. And in your story find something agreeable and build your story around this message. Agreement makes for solid connection.
Once you have your story, try it out on people. Obtain feedback, make changes, and continue to hone your storytelling skills. It might take several times to perfect your story before you use it in a networking situation. And one story is not enough. You need several. What you will likely find is that with each telling, your stories will help identify the real you and you will find you feel better and better about yourself.
All too often, networking talk turns into a competitive bragging match. Each person is caught up in out doing others. Facts become inflated and as a result trust and integrity go out the window. Connections become temporary and opportunities are wasted. You have to ask yourself, “Am I sharing my story for ego validation or am I doing it as a service to my listener?” The reason behind telling the story shapes how we tell it and how it is received. If the objective is to impress rather than share, your listeners may be turned off. But if your story resonates in a relevant and personal way, you’re likely to connect on numerous levels.
In framing a story, you should start with the point of the story and build the story around that point. This is the “why” of the story you’re telling. For example, if you’re telling a story about what you’ve learned from an experience, this needs to be made clear and articulated in the telling. The story progression might consist of a problem, apparent solution, set backs, realization of capabilities, new tack, result and lesson learned.
Another type of story is overcoming obstacles. Often people speed through the problem, solution, and result format. Instead exhibit real emotions and real humility. Nobody’s perfect, and mistakes and setback are bound to happen. How you handle these crises establishes your character. And character trumps credentials every time. So include the missteps, and your emotional reaction as well as your corrective action. Phases like, “My mistake then was…,” “What I did not know at the time…,” and “In the end, I…,” make your scenario much more appealing and open to discussion.
Revealing flaws has strategic value. By being vulnerable in your stories, your listeners react in a profound way. They see you as human and that’s what creates an emotional and caring connection.
Stories are the understanding of how and why things in life change. And when we share our human experiences of change, those pivotal moments in our lives, we display our humility and a more humble approach that admits our limitations. As a result, we draw in our listeners and resonate with their lives, their struggles.
The topic of your stories need not always relate to your work or your career aspirations. There are other scenarios that illustrate your character and capabilities. For instance, childhood situations can be strong indicators of character. Daily life situations can also be appealing especially when they resonate with the listener’s life. Topics like weather, traffic, sports, restaurants, and customer service are good icebreakers. And when your perspective reveals you as a bright thinking, diligent working person, you connect as a likeable person.
Besides your stories, you also need some additional tools. Let’s say you make a connection. How do you stay in touch? Professional people carry business cards and so should you. Your business card should have your name, contact information and your professional vocation, i.e., actor, writer, director, etc. Union affiliations are also a must if applicable, i.e., SAG, AFTRA, WGA, DGA, IA.
For actors, colored photos are essential on a business card. Many use the backside of the card for printing contact information that won’t fit on the front. Some use this space for an abbreviated list of credits, i.e., last seen in… If you have a website or social site, make reference to these on your card provided the content is relevant to your job. On the backside of the card write or print some call to action, what you want the recipient to do. For instance, check out the trailer/demo on my website or view my credits on IMDb.com.
Before to attending a networking event, do some research on possible prospects. Check out the company website to find out what projects they’ve done. This is a good way to show off your knowledge and ask intelligent questions. What is their track record, their specialization, and how successful have they been in the industry? Sites like IMDb.com, BoxOfficeMojo.com, and Baseline Studio Systems (blssi.com provided you have a subscription) will provide useful background information. Also use search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing to read up on the company and its personnel. The trades, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and news sites like indieWire, The Wrap and Deadline Hollywood are also good sources.
When you arrive at the venue, survey the crowd by physically moving around and working the room. All too often, you’ll be inclined to congregate with your own kind. Instead reach out to the decision-makers that can help advance your career. Introduce yourself and add a tag such as, “I’m new in town.” Listen intently and ask open-ended questions, questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Find out about the interests and concerns of other people. When the opportunity exist, segue into your story and somehow connect it to their issues.
Become a resource for others. Introduce people to each other and look for ways to help other people make contacts. By doing so, you become the sort of person that others want to know and want on their projects. You not only show off your talents, you also show that you are a facilitator, one that can make things happen.
Be prepared to talk about your work. If you are a screenwriter, you need to talk passionately about your projects. If asked about your latest work, you’ll need that vibrant elevator pitch to hold their attention. And if you do it in a succinct, enthusiastic and inspiring way, you’re succeeding in making a worthy connection.
Networking is about making long-term connections. Soak up and remember the ideas and information you’ve gathered. Write them down along with the contact’s information. By repeating some of this information in your follow-up or thank you cards you help solidify the relationship.
Your follow-up can be tricky in that being too pushy may drive your prospect away. Your objective should be long-term and establishing a relationship. Newcomers often become impatient when they don’t obtain immediate results. Good connections take time and they are built on trust and integrity. Nurture the relationship by staying in touch. If you made any promises, fulfill them and show you are a person worthy of your word. Your follow-up is a great opportunity to reiterate locations of resume, website, demo reel and/or work samples.
Remember, when you are authentic, unselfish, and honest, you stand out above the rest and wonderful connections will happen. People want to know you and help you. The key is to be a decent and honorable person.
Networking is a skill that takes time to accomplish so don’t be put off by marginal results. Find ways to perfect them by attending mixers, conferences and film festivals. Showcases and industry expos are also great venues. Networking should become an essential part of your craft, one in which you are always active.