Networking. There, I said it. It’s a word that is dreaded by many artistic types, who would rather lose themselves in their art than succumb to the seemingly artificial task of making contacts to further their career. Or, perhaps the word “networking” is a misunderstood phrase that really equates to making friends.
Everyone has heard the tired cliché that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. The people you know and are friends with are the people you surround yourself with, give jobs to, ask to participate in your next project and so on.
Occasionally, you’re blissfully unaware that you’re networking — such as when you’re waiting during intermission in the lobby of a theatre and strike up a delightful conversation with a director about how amazing the Whole Foods brownies are. Other times, it’s painfully obvious that you’re supposed to be networking. You’re expected to strike up conversations at the Theatre Networking Mixer, but instead, you spend the whole time hiding in the corner texting your mom.
The point is, networking is part of the package of being an actor/writer/director/set designer, etc. Here are some ways to help you network (make new friends) and get the most out of it:
1. Go to Networking Events
When you go to a networking event, everyone is there for the same reason, so don’t feel awkward about putting yourself out there. These types of events can range from a Women in the Arts guild you pay a membership fee to attend to a Meetup.com group for playwrights in your neighborhood.
2. Create Your Own Event
Feeling shy? Create your own group! If you’ve met several fantastic individuals you think would jive really well with one another, celebrate with a gathering at your place. They’ll be able to meet like-minded people and then pool their resources. Plus, they’ll be so thankful to you for hosting that they’ll never forget you.
3. Get There on Time
Networking events aren’t the time to be fashionably late. Getting there early lets you get your bearings while it’s calm and quiet. Plus, it’s much easier to strike up conversations with people before they’ve already sequestered themselves off into private groups.
4. Break the Ice
To get the conversation going, simply walk up to a group and say, “Mind if I join you?” or “What brings you to this event?”
5. Toss Them the Ball
People love to talk about themselves, so toss the person you’re speaking with the ball (so to speak) and get them going on about themselves. This is great for two reasons. First, the pressure is off you to be interesting — boom! — and second, the person you’re speaking with will love the attention and being listened to.
6. Actually Listen
Make the person you’re speaking with feel special by really listening to them, looking them in the eye, smiling and saying their name when you address them.
7. Complement Their Card/Website/Headshot
If someone gives you his or her business card, take a second and actually look at it. Comment, “This is a great card! I love the box shape, so original.” Or say, “Great headshot! I love that photographer.” People pay money for these, so it’s a real bummer when they’re tucked away without so much as a glance. Taking the extra second to give props can go a long way.
8. Take Notes
After a conversation has ended, take a second to jot down a few notes on the back of their card to remind you of what topics you covered. This will help when you follow up with them later. A “Nice meeting you last week! How’s your pug, Charlie, doing?” will go a lot further than a generic greeting.
9. Be Positive
Nobody wants to network with the whiny person who repeatedly says, “Life never works out for me! This business is so hard, I haven’t had any auditions in a month.” Stay upbeat and save the pity party for another time.
10. Be a Friend
Networking works best when people connect over real things. If something about the girl across the room wearing the killer red lipstick and groovy outfit speaks to you, go over and talk to her. You can bond over Sephora sales and concentrate on your human connection at the event. Then, you can hit her up later to star in the play you wrote.
11. Don’t Hog One Person’s Attention
You finally found someone to talk to — yes! You’re a wallflower no more! It may seem tempting to sink your claws into them and never let them go so you don’t have to start over again with someone else, but you need to kindly let them leave once the conversation starts to wane. After all, they’re there to meet other people too.
12. Plus One or Not to Plus One?
Don’t bring your friend or significant other if you know you’re just going to cling to each other all night and never meet anyone new. Go alone and force yourself to socialize. Unless, of course, if you have that one amazing friend who connects with everyone and can get anyone involved in a conversation, bring that friend!
13. Know What’s Happening in the World
Prepare yourself for a social event by knowing what’s happening in the world. Check out what’s trending on Twitter or what all the buzz is on Facebook. This is a great way to start conversations while appearing to be interesting and in the know. Word to the wise, stay away from heavy or dicey topics. Keep it light and fun and stick to pop culture or interesting news stories to keep things moving. Bringing up fun topics increases your chances of being memorable. Nobody remembers the guy who talked about how bad traffic was or how cold it is outside.
Smiling is the simplest thing you can do. It immediately helps you relax and simultaneously makes you more approachable.
15. Follow Up
There’s no point in going to networking events if you never see or speak to these people again, so be sure to follow up in some fashion. If you met someone you clicked with, add them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Better yet, reach out through email to say you enjoyed meeting them and hope everything’s working out with their latest project they were telling you about. If it feels appropriate, offer to help out in any way you can.
Hopefully you’re feeling a little less intimidated by the world “networking” and are ready to get out there and make new friends. I’ll leave you with a few icebreakers to try out the next time you’re in the trenches:
- What are you reading now?
- Have you seen any fun plays lately?
- Have you traveled anywhere interesting recently?
- Have you been to this group/meetup before?
- Where did you fly/drive in from?
- Did you have to travel far to get here?
- This year’s event seems busier than last year’s, don’t you think?
- Do you have any pets?