Written by IDEAS Intern Aimee Helm. Last week, we held the Film Florida Quarterly Meetings Welcome Reception here at the offices of IDEAS. When I heard that we would be hosting the event on a day that I was actually in the office, my eyes lit up like those of any hopeful intern eager to make any and all connections necessary to break into the film and television industry.
So, that day I wore my most professional outfit to work and waited enthusiastically as the time for the event approached. It wasn’t until the moment that the first few guests started to trickle into our lounge that it suddenly began to dawn on me: I had no idea how to network. I, like many other creative-minded people, am of a rather introverted nature. And though I genuinely do enjoy meeting and learning about fellow industry professionals, I had to confess that the prospect of attempting to waltz through a crowd of dozens of industry leaders, all while trying to make a positive and memorable impression of myself, suddenly gripped me with all the fear and apprehension of asking my high school crush to the prom while singing karaoke on live television. “How do people do this?” I thought. There must be a way to learn. There must be some insights out there, some key methods I could start practicing to help me succeed at this. And if networking was, in fact, a learn-able skill as opposed to a God-given talent then I would find a way to teach myself to do it. I was determined.
So, the next day, I scoured the internet for information on networking- tips, advice, do’s and don’ts, ways to get over shyness and questions to ask. I was relieved and surprised by the vast reservoirs of information I was able to find on the subject; apparently I wasn’t the only one who found the prospect of networking foreign and intimidating. Luckily for me, the Film Florida event at IDEAS was to be followed up the next evening by an even bigger, more networking-oriented event to be held at Full Sail University, the annual Women in Film and Television Jingle Mingle. My networking trauma from the night before actually ended up being highly beneficial for me, because it provided me with the sense of mind to prepare myself better for what was to come, and prepare I did. Here are the three key pointers that I found most useful during my night of networking, which allowed me to leave the event with a handful of business cards, and much more importantly, a renewed sense of professional capability and confidence.
Lesson # 1: Don’t worry about yourself.
Contrary to popular belief, you are not there to talk about you. You are, first and foremost, there to listen to and learn about others. This is, in fact, your best method of selling yourself because it is the only way to make positive and productive connections with those you meet. The most helpful advice I found in my research compared the networking process to working with a potential client or customer- in the beginning, you wouldn’t just start by pitching your pre-fabricated spiel about how great your service or product is. An effective salesperson would first listen to understand the other person’s perspective and needs, and offer thoughtful input based on the information they have given you. People love to talk about themselves- what they do, what they want, where they want to go. As in any other social interaction, the most effective way to form a bond is to show your interest in the other person, without seeking any sort of benefit on your own behalf. By listening attentively to what others have to say, and showing genuine interest by asking thoughtful questions, you will be noticed and remembered ten times more likely than if you had centered the conversation around yourself.
Lesson # 2: Just be you.
This one can be tricky for us introverts. On one hand, we are constantly told that when meeting new people, it’s imperative to “put your best foot forward.” And that’s certainly true- but not in the way you might assume. You don’t have to suddenly transform from a thoughtful, quiet bookworm into a super bubbly, über-talkative social butterfly in order to make new friends. You don’t even have to try to be especially funny, or witty, or charming. You should, however, show off the strengths that make you unique, interesting, and memorable. Just like any other social situation, you should be in touch with and aware of your own identity- your own unique personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and let the best of yourself shine through. If asked about what you do and are passionate about, speak openly and genuinely. Let them see the real you- the best of yourself, that is. People respond to and remember passion and sincerity. Don’t waste your time trying to appear as someone you are not.
Lesson # 3: Have fun.
People want to work with people they enjoy being around. You can be the most talented, smart, capable human being to ever hold your position in the history of your industry, but if you don’t come off as generally a happy, fun person, no one will want to work with you. So… smile. Laugh. Take in the thrill of being around and meeting tons of other people who share the same passions and interests as you. If nothing else comes of the evening, at least you enjoyed your time, sharpened those networking skills, and most likely managed to make a positive impression that might just come in handy down on the road.