Network Essentials: Making Vital Business Connections
Editor’s Note: The following is a chapter from Jessica Sitomer’s book And… Action! (Cold Tree Press, 2008), which serves as a 52-week self-help training program for creative content professionals. Using the plot of a well-known movie as a jumping-off point (in this case, Pretty Woman), each chapter offers analysis of important obstacles everyone faces on the road to success. Here, Chapter 23 examines the need to network, and offers some exercises on how to improve upon your skills in this all-important area.
By Jessica Sitomer
Edward, a successful businessman, picks up Vivian, a hooker, to be his escort. In his position, Edward knows the importance of attending networking events. He goes to parties, polo games and business dinners. Unlike Edward, who wants to form or to maintain relationships at the events, his date, Vivian, has nothing at stake. Therefore, she chats with various people whether they are kind or catty.
Almost all people in our industry have no problem talking to people who have nothing to do with the industry. However, the moment they know that the person to whom they are talking can hire them, they become shy, uncomfortable and awkward.
I do a wonderful exercise. I ask a client to pretend that a friend has asked him to pick up his out-of-town guest at the airport because he’s busy working. I assume the role of the guest, who is a teacher.
I “get into the car” and see how the conversation goes. It always seems to flow freely with no questions about my career because he already knows I’m a teacher.
Eventually, we hit a lull in the conversation where the client, who let’s say is a TV writer, tries to break the silence:
“You’re a teacher?”
To which I reply, “Yes.”
He asks me what I teach. “Writing for Television at NYU,” I say.
He asks, “Really? What’s your name?” To which I respond with the name of a hugely successful television writer, such as Dick Wolf.
What happens next is always fascinating. It’s as if I’ve suddenly morphed into a man and became Dick Wolf in this client’s eyes. Usually the client’s face drops, turning white. He has shortness of breath and begins stumbling on his words. This forces me to end the exercise, point out that I am not, in fact, Dick Wolf, and remind him to take some deep breaths.
I cite this exercise because this chapter’s subject is the importance of networking. Before I discuss its necessity and value, I have to address the fear that engulfs so many people when I suggest they attend an event for the purpose of meeting people.
I hear many reasons why people don’t like to network:
• They are shy and/or don’t know how to break the ice.
• They perceive networking as schmoozing or phony.
• They don’t know what to say.
• They don’t want to be perceived as using people.
• They don’t know where to go to network.
• They have people in their lives who don’t like to go with them and/or are not supportive of them going.
• They don’t have enough time to go.
These reasons are simply limiting beliefs that have become obstacles. Limiting beliefs are general statements that you’ve turned into facts. By now you recognize that meeting new people is a necessity of our industry. If you want to be successful, you’ll have to come up with solutions to help you break through your internal obstacles.
I will address each of the above individually, beginning with shyness. Most people who tell me they are shy are generally comfortable with people they know. But when it comes to going on their own to a place where they have to meet new people, they feel shy. A solution for this obstacle is to review your Contact List. Find an outgoing friend to accompany you. Be sure to tell your friend your purpose for going to the event and ask him/her to “break the ice” for you. You may know someone outside of the industry who is very outgoing. As with Pretty Woman’s Vivian, when there is nothing at stake for the person, it’s even easier to start conversations with people. If you are alone, a simple icebreaker is to ask people what brought them to the event. Another is to ask them what they do. The key is to write down at least five icebreakers before you go. This preparation will give you the confidence needed to start a conversation. You may consider asking your outgoing friends what they say to break the ice.
Not knowing what to say to people may have been an old stumbling block of yours, but you should realize that you have wonderful stories to tell. Talk about how you got into the business, your highlight moments, and what you want to achieve. Also, prepare yourself with questions to ask other people. Sometimes, it’s better to talk less and listen more. If you are prepared with questions to ask and stories to tell, you will be on your way to a very successful networking event.
Most people don’t like schmoozing or being phony because they’re aware of some sleazy people out there. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be one of them. If you genuinely are looking for likeminded people and are being sincere, you are not schmoozing or being phony. You’re simply creating new relationships. Should you come across a phony person who rubs you the wrong way, simply move on. There are many kind, passionate people with likeminded sensibilities at networking functions waiting to be met. To disregard them by buying into this limiting belief is unfair and detrimental to your career.
If you don’t want others to think you are using people, ask yourself, are you? If not, and you are genuinely looking to create relationships, you’re not using people. Just because they’re in positions to hire you doesn’t mean you’re using them. Instead of focusing on what they are thinking about you, focus on what you think about them. Are they people with whom you have likeminded sensibilities? If that’s what you’re looking for, you will not be perceived as a user.
Not knowing where to go to network in this computer age is simply an excuse. If you are in a major entertainment city like Los Angeles or New York, finding networking organizations is much easier. The Internet is a great resource. Go to google.com or ask.com and put in keywords such as entertainment networking organizations and the closest major city to you. Look online for organizations like Film Independent, Independent Feature Project, and Filmmakers Alliance. These are some of the big ones. If you went to a film school, you could research any alumni communities. Many special-interest groups have organizations such as Women In Film. Film festivals are another great place to meet people, especially if you live in a non-entertainment community. Research the festival by reading up on the films they’ve selected and the people who worked on them. You can plan a trip to the festival with a specific Target List of films to see and people to meet. Big film festivals are Sundance, Cannes, and Los Angeles Film Festival. In addition, many different countries/
states have film festivals.
Complaining that you don’t have enough time is, once again, nothing but an excuse — you must make the time! Remember to be patient with yourself. You’ve spent most of your life buying into these limiting beliefs, so it may take some time to undo them.
For more information about Sitomer's book, check out her Web site at www.thegreenlightcoach.com. She will speak at Digital Video Expo at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, CA, on September 22 and 23.