There’s more to effective networking than good grooming and breath mints.
Not too long ago I attended a networking event sponsored by my local industry trade organization OMPA. It was a fun format: sort of a speed dating thing where we started at tables of four or five and went around, each person having a couple of minutes to pitch his or her skills, services and business. After everyone at the table was finished and we’d exchanged business cards, we got up and went to the next assigned table with a different assortment of folks. It was the first such event I had attended and here are five things I learned from the fifty or so other professionals and aspiring professionals who were there.
Media Production is a big ol’ umbrella.
It covers a lot of jobs and skill sets. In attendance were actors, directors, casting directors, advertising account execs, scenic designers, story board specialists, editors, make-up and wardrobe stylists, animators, caterers – you name it, we had it covered. It was fascinating to hear everyone’s stories about how they came to be where they were in their careers. There were people who worked full-time on one of the network TV series being shot in town (Grimm, The Librarians, or Portlandia), young people looking for their first PA jobs with whomever would hire them, and everything in between. Being there made me feel part of a very cool tribe.
Even media professionals are clueless about the modern Voiceover industry.
As the only Voiceover specialist in the room (though I also do on camera work) I learned that even within the industry very few people are aware of the changes that have taken place since the popularity (necessity?) of home studios. Most seemed to think we still work primarily with local agents and trot down to a local studio a couple of times a week to read audition copy or record a gig. It took a little explaining to get across the notion that nowadays we are required to be entrepreneurs; marketers, producers and editors as well as Talent, and that our equipment investments could easily rival that of a “one man band” video producer. They were also quite intrigued with the idea that I could work in my PJs and record projects for clients across the globe!
The ability to listen is the best sales tool.
This was not a new concept to me, in fact I blogged about it a while back, but this lesson was repeated several times that evening. In particular I’m thinking about one young fellow who was so focused on his own elevator pitch that he clearly wasn’t listening to anyone else’s. At one point during his presentation I noticed that he was glancing under the table at cribbed notes on index cards! Rather than being put off by this I remembered that I’ve been that guy a thousand times before and worked all the harder to draw him into a spontaneous conversation. I think the lesson here is that it’s great to prepare your pitch, but be ready to toss the cards and be yourself when it’s your turn. And by all means give the other folks the respect of your attention. The knowledge and experience they share might just be more valuable than if they offered you a job on the spot.
Dress for success, and I don’t mean clothes.
A second “what not to do” lesson came from another attendee, this one a fellow who I think should have known better. A very nice guy approaching sixty I’d say, he said he’d been in business for decades, producing and directing industrial videos. He was so cordial that his card was at the top of the stack when I got home and started looking at websites. I quickly began to feel sorry for my new friend when I saw that his website was most likely created during the Clinton administration, and that the videos he featured were at least 25 years old (I recognized the Talent, some long deceased) and of very poor SD quality. The lesson? Put your best foot forward or leave the Hokey Pokey to someone else!
But don’t overdress (still not talking about clothes).
Okay, since I called out a couple of other guys’ missteps, it’s only fair that I share my very own mistake. I thought I’d be clever and take branded promotional items to pass out along with my card. I had a bunch of pretty cool lens cleaning cloths printed with my logo a few years back so I took them and proudly started passing them out. Judging by the looks on people’s faces their reactions were mixed to say the least, ranging from “was I supposed to bring gifts?” to “just what I needed, another one of these.” I don’t regret taking them, but should have waited to get a sense of the room and see if it was appropriate to pass them out.
All in all it was a fun and productive evening. I met some very cool folks who are trying to forge their way in the same crazy industry that we are. I honed my pitch a bit to better express what skills I bring to the party. And to top it off, I landed a small VO job from one of the producers I met! I definitely recommend checking to see if your area has a similar organization that might sponsor networking events, and if it does, dive on in!