Most people have a love/hate relationship with networking events. We come up with any excuse we can to avoid making small talk and circumvent the potentially awkward interactions while we wait for a plastic cup of cheap wine. We’ve all been there; we’ve all done that. But, there’s a better way and it’s what we like to call “How to Work a Room (and Not Hate Yourself in the Morning),” or, more simply, “Networking for Introverts.”
Step One: Focus on a Single Goal
Before you even walk in the door, you should have an idea of what you’d like to get out of the opportunity. Whether it’s finding a producer willing to read your script or simply getting to know a few of the filmmakers attending the festival with you, it helps to have a game plan going into the event. It can also help to have an idea of who else might be in the room with you. If you have specific individuals with whom you’d like to connect, do a little research and make a point to approach them right away before you get distracted or they leave the event. Your goal could also be to start five conversations with people you don’t already know. You might be very pleasantly surprised by what a random walk through a cocktail party can produce.
Step Two: Know Your Story
If you’ve ever been tongue-tied when somebody asks you what you do, this will help you avoid that in the future. When you have a clear idea of what you do (or want to do in the future) and are able to convey it in a simple, straightforward manner, you’ll feel your confidence (and effectiveness) increase exponentially. This can often be the most difficult part of a cold-open conversation. You don’t want it to sound over-rehearsed, but you also don’t want to struggle to answer what should be a simple question (i.e. “What do you do?”). Ideally, this should take about 15-30 seconds and would be followed up with a friendly “How about you?”
Step Three: Be an Active Listener
One of the main issues that most people have with networking events is that everyone only ever seems to want to talk about themselves. If you must (and you must), keep it short and sweet (see Step Two). And then stop talking and start listening. Ask follow-up questions. Try to be the person with whom you’d want to have a conversation. It will feel like a radical subversion of the classic networking paradigm. And people will thank you for it. Everyone likes to talk, but very few people like to listen. Be one of the listeners.
Step Four: Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Now that you’ve survived the happy hour (we hope), you can’t forget to close the deal. Find all of the business cards that you stuffed into your pockets and send a thoughtful follow-up email. Bonus points if you reference something from your conversation (see Step Three). People will notice this and appreciate it, and it will help them remember you. Even if there isn’t an immediate opportunity to collaborate or support each other’s career goals right now, there very well might be in the future.
Try to think of “networking” as more of a relationship cultivation process; as a long-term career strategy and not an instant gratification, “not only will I read your script, but I’ll greenlight your movie after one cocktail party conversation and a follow-up email” transactional interaction. You’re building your career, and that takes time. Be patient and enjoy the journey.