We recently had a visit from a documentary filmmaker who mentioned the importance of networking. He told us about a production project he secured based on meeting someone two years prior. Through a very brief interaction, a stranger took note of his skill set, recorded his contact information, and saved it for retrieval and reference.
That is networking at its best and the scenario was not inevitable. A thousand things could have prevented this connection from being fruitful. Here are a few networking tips I have learned from successful operators and entrepreneurs that must consistently create effective, innovative work groups.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Often, at a networking event there is a diversity of people and you might not be sure who is in the room or exactly where you are. Putting the event in context is a great way to spark early and easy conversation. This means that your first investigative project is to assess who is in attendance in a general sense. How did attendees find out about the event? What groups were invited? Who organized or sponsored it? Small talk about why the event even exists creates a context for later more substantive discussion. General awareness of your surroundings also includes expressing an interest in the hosting location, which is also an easy topic. Googling the event location beforehand and reading about its neighborhood and history can be helpful in this area.
Be Specifically Curious
Curiosity is one of the most prevalent traits of successful people. It suggests that you enjoy learning and you understand its importance. When you are curious in a specific way it sends the message to the speaker that you are listening. For example, instead of asking what you do, ask: what project are your working on now? What got you into the business? What are you looking to do next? Specific questions are easier to answer and leads to more comfortable, insightful discussion.
Know What You Can Teach
This starts with self-awareness. As a professional you should know what skills you have developed and which areas of knowledge you command. Often people who attend a networking event are looking for people that can become part of a project at some point in the future. They will remember your areas of expertise if you can communicate them clearly and concisely. If you don’t have an elevator pitch, just practice stating two important skills that you possess and why they help you be effective. Don’t go overboard, because a long list of skills will not be remembered. In addition, feel free to add one thing you are passionate about that is relevant to your audience and the skills you just presented.
Concentrate on New Connections That You Sincerely Like
Networking should never be about how many new connections you can make in a certain amount of time. Cinematographer Drew Xanthopoulos sheds light on this in an interview in Filmmaker Magazine (Digital edition) when he talks about how he chooses projects: “Number one is people. That’s the most important thing — who you’re working with. You could be shoveling shit for a living, but if you’re doing it with great people, it’s the best job in the world. That was the first hard lesson I learned in this industry — to work with great people. The second thing is, I’m really drawn to work that is of the heart of the creator. It means a lot to them, it’s personal, they’re passionate about it.” (“It’s Black or White to Me, a Frame that I Like or Don’t Like”: Drew Xanthopoulos on Lensing Discreet by Chris Ohlson in Cinematographers, Interviews on Apr 6, 2017)
These comments from Xanthopoulos are spot on. The importance of working with great people can never be overestimated. The people that you work with best might share a similar work ethic, a complimentary skill, or just an admirable level of likability. It is up to you to recognize them and notice when a brief interaction hints of a fruitful relationship yet to come. It is also important to know where others are coming from. Knowing why someone does what they do can be even more informative than knowing what they do.
You might not click with everyone you meet at a networking event. That is really okay. Your goal is discovery and sharing, not to gain “likes.” If you ask the right questions and give two or three people a chance to reveal what is most important to them, it is always worth the time.