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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Networking: Jucandoit!

Good morning, Wavers. I have spoken before about the importance of networking in building and growing your writing career. It's part of the Five-a-Day (Write, Promote, Network, Learn, Live Well). But sometimes networking can give writers an anxiety attack. When do you network and when do you not network? Network all the time at any opportunity. But say you are going to an event specifically designed for networking. How can you handle the anxiety, shyness or overwhelm-ment that can be attendant to such things?

Today we have a guest blog written by Keith Tutera, the newly hired Creative Director for The Script Department. If you've seen our new website and marveled at the look and the catchy copy, you have Keith to thank. He's young, he's hip, he's hilarious and he can network like nobody's bidness. Indeed, part of his job description is making connections and growing relationships. And we couldn't have hired anybody more skilled at doing just that. So today Keith has a few words for Wavers who know they should be networking but may need some tips and motivation:


So you’ve managed to gussy yourself up, find parking, and make an entrance without face-planting. Now what? For those of us who weren’t endowed with networking chops from birth (i.e. most writers), attending a networking event can be intimidating, even downright scary. EEK!

Fear not, Wavers, with a little bit of courage and a lot of common sense you’ll have them eating out of your hand. But like any good scout you must come prepared. And that doesn’t just mean having stacks of freshly printed cards on impressive card stock a la American Psycho. You’ve got to be mentally prepared.

Begin your night with some simple visualization exercises. Envision yourself meeting lots of people, having a great time, and exchanging lots of cards. Concentrate on your breathing as you do this, and as you begin to feel the excitement and confidence build — hold onto that feeling, and (here’s the tricky part) EXPECT to feel it again when you arrive. Your successful night will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For those of you who are reading this thinking that sounds like some California flim-flam hocus-pocus (ok, I am writing this from Venice Beach), allow me to offer an alternate suggestion — laughter. It can defuse tension in pretty much any situation.

Consider the following:

Last night my friend Linda and I attended a networking event for the Ivy Plus Society as guests of our friend, Adam. Being that neither of us are Ivy Leaguers (I myself went to UT, a “Public Ivy” and Linda went to UA, a fine institution, but nonetheless, no Ivy) we were both mildly intimidated. Especially since we were all arriving separately. Would they smell our non-Ivyness a mile away and pin us with The Scarlet Letter? Would we be tarred, feathered, and ridden out on a rail?

So what did we do about it? Did we fret, lament, and pull our hair out in neurotic anticipation? No, we made jokes. Linda told me that if anyone asked where I went to school, I should look them straight in the face and tell them that I just got my Associates degree from El Camino Community College. I laughed about that the entire drive to Hollywood. And if anyone asked where she was from, I told her to tell them that she grew up on a pile of dirt and was a 100% self-made woman. She got a kick out of that one.

And do you know what happened? We got to the insanely crowded venue in such good moods that we were relaxed and good to go. And we ended up meeting a bunch of really, really nice, interesting people. And we never even had to use our lines. In fact, I think one person asked me where I went to school the entire night and when I told her she was complimentary and kind.

Now, on to some networking tips:

Establish rapport first

Play it cool. Make sure there’s a vibe. When there isn’t - and someone thinks there is - you feel like you’re, well, being networked. It’s kinda hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it, but to suffice it to say it feels like an invasive procedure.

Once you’ve established a rapport, use it to network

About 99% of the people I met last night were lawyers, and I wanted to meet entertainment industry folk. So you know what I did? I asked some of the lawyers I got chummy with if they knew anyone there in the industry. Genius, right? Guess what — it worked. Introductions were made and it went very smoothly. But you gotta go with your gut — if I’d asked someone who wasn’t feeling it, I could have received a very awkward, “uhm...well...uh...”

Don’t be afraid to be bold - push yourself out of your comfort zone

At another event last week I walked by a group of people, one of whom I overheard saying that he had just posted an ad on Craigslist for a script doctor. I took a big swig of my beer, steeled myself, and went over and handed him a Script Department card and introduced myself in front of the whole group. He was super cool - as was the whole group - and before I knew it the rest of the group was asking me for cards, too. But this isn’t for everybody - it’s important to know your limitations. Whatever you do, do it with confidence, or don’t do it at all.

Should you drink? How much?

Ahh...the ubiquitous alcohol — a blessing and a curse. I recommend drinking enough to grease the wheels in the beginning, and then enough throughout to keep them greased, but not so much that they fall off the car. This is business, remember? The last thing you want to be is the guy that got sloshed and started getting handsy with the wrong girl. You know, that guy.

Above all else, DON’T BE PUSHY. And READ THE SIGNALS. They’re there
I met a guy at an event a few months ago who wanted me to teach an online course on his website. Faintly interested, I asked him to send me the link to his site, and told him that I would follow up with him if it seemed like a good fit, but [hint, hint] that I had a lot going on. No sooner did I get the words out of my mouth then he asked if it would be ok to follow up with me in a week or so. No, it’s not ok. I just told you I would follow up with you IF I were interested.

So get out there, Wavers. You have something to offer - remember that.

Position yourself as a center of influence - the one who knows the movers and shakers. People will respond to that, and you'll soon become what you project.
~Bob Burg

Originally from Washington, DC, Keith Tutera is a proud Public Ivy Graduate of the University of Texas at Austin where he earned a Master's Degree in Advertising. Having worked at illustrious ad agencies like DDB, McCann Erickson and Deutsch, Keith is an award-winning copywriter and master networker. The Script Department couldn't be prouder or happier to have him on board.

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Steve said...

I usually enter every networking event with an emotion somewhere between anxiety and despair. Once inside, I usually don't mind it so much, but it takes awhile to shed the negativity. I love the idea of positive visualization and I'm surprised I never thought about it before. I do my best to be positive when I sit down to write, why should be any different when I try to network?

Great tips!

db said...

In today's day and age... networking can start way before you actually end up at the face-to-face point.

Facebook, Twitter, Mandy, Craigslist, LinkedIn, etc. can all allow you to present a persona way before you actually have to present a persona.

A famous cartoon once said "On the Internet no one knows if you're a dog". Likewise, it allows your bark to be as big as your bite.

Be creative. Reach out in entirely different ways. Create ridiculously smart online dating profiles. Post recipes for success in online cooking forums.

I agree Keith. You should never get drunk at the party.


Julie Gray said...

@DB - I agree that one can get very creative these days and that online networking is important but NOTHING is like being face-to-face. Nothing.

Melissa {Metal Sugar} said...

Keith, what a great and well written post! I have many fears before and during the networking process and after reading this, I feel like I could walk into any event and "work" the room! If I just come prepared and visualize myself in a few networking situations, I have nothing to fear and am confident I'll make amazing connections. Thanks!

Milli Thornton said...

I'm sitting in a coffee house right now, working on my screenplay. That's my favorite part - it feels so safe! Networking is not my favorite part.

But reading this blog post gave me lots of smiles and chuckles and a new, feel-good feeling about networking.

Laughter. What a perfect solution.

I recently moved to a new city and know hardly anyone yet. In this same coffee house a few weeks ago, I overheard a man (who was talking quite loudly) telling his coffee partner that he needed to have a garage sale. The items he wanted to get rid of would probably sell faster on Craigslist, so I took a chance (that he would not resent me for accidental eavesdropping!) and walked up to his table to join the discussion.

Both parties enjoyed my Craigslist suggestion and the ice was broken. Further conversation led to the discovery that this man wants to write a screenplay. Wow. Now I have a new friend with a mutual interest in screenwriting.

Not quite the same as networking for career contacts, but it sure gave a boost to my confidence.

(Actually, come to think of it, my new friend does have contacts in Hollywood--through his son in L.A. who works in the industry--so some day that might be helpful.)

bobbi said...

I find this post positively refreshing! Coming from someone who refuses to take part in facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. and focus more on forming social networking groups and dialoging face to face - it is nice to read advice and tips on this very subject! I love the concept of laughing and joking on your way to an event....what a great way to relax and calm down! I'd much rather talk with someone who is smiling on the inside than someone who is a ball full of nerves!

Luzid said...

I think the key, as Keith suggests, is to HAVE FUN!

It's so easy to get wrapped up in the "how do I break in" mindset that remembering to have fun is sometimes forgotten.

Keith said...

@Milli- Awesome story! Way to grab the bull by the horns! Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And after all-- what's the worst that can happen-- a little embarassment? And doesn't that make for good creative fodder anyway?

Emily Blake said...

Cleavage is also a good idea. If you're a girl. Usually you don't have to try very hard to talk to people if your boobs are high and tight.

If you're a boy, though, cleavage is a bad idea.

Julie Gray said...

@Emily - cleavage has its uses but not when networking, imo. I would like to be taken seriously; it's hard enough being a woman in a man's world.

db said...

Dear Emily.

Please give me a call.