Written by Karyn Keene
Eventually in the life of any storyteller, or in the life of any professional person, the word will come up. Networking. For some, this word conjures images of mad self-promotion complete with snazzy business cards and then hours staring at your cell phone as it never rings. Others feel a horrifying terror grip their insides at the mere thought of talking to people. For a very few, the word makes them brim over with excitement (and we all envy these strange people). But over all of these feelings, most of us feel uncomfortable about networking for two reasons. One, we feel bad promoting ourselves. Two, we feel that we are using people.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be like this. In an age where relationships are growing in value, good networking should follow suit. Instead of shameless self-promotion, we seek out talented people who share our passions and dreams. Then, through collaboration we get further than any of us would have alone. The other benefit, the type of networking is mutually beneficial as both parties are giving and receiving in return, so there goes worry number two. This type of networking does take time and includes doing some research…but the results are well worth the effort.
Phase 1: Research
Spend some time researching your field and find people with whom you’d like to network. Try to find a few people who are at the same level of success as you, a few who are more a bit more successful, and a few who are still emerging. Then you have people who are your equals, people who are helping you out, and people you are helping.
Once you chosen who you want to network with, begin to collect facts about them and their work.
- Where are they from?
- Where did they go to school?
- What are some notable projects they worked on, especially any that strike your interest?
- Read their bio and take note of anything interesting, especially any mutual interests
Coming to the conversation armed with this information allows you to steer the conversation towards points of mutual interest. Friendships, even ones focused around work, are most easily created by finding a point of mutual interest and having an enjoyable conversation about it. So try to find something you can both geek out about. If you discover that it’s hard to find mutual connection points at this phase, it might be best to find someone else to network with. A good rule of thumb is that you don’t want to network with anyone who you wouldn’t want to go to coffee with.
(A note of caution – do not research them further than a quick review of their website, DeviantArt profile, social media “about me” sections, etc. Showing that you did basic research on a person is flattering…quoting a poem they wrote in 5th grade is creepy. Don’t be creepy.)
Phase 2: Start the Conversation
From here on this article assumes a convention or similar event as the location for networking. Online networking is a bit different and will be discussed later.
Your research is done, now comes the scary part. You have to talk to them.
First rule: Do not lead with yourself. Don’t talk about what you do. Don’t give them your business card. That time will come, but that time is not now. You want to show people that you are genuinely interested in them and what they are doing. Hopefully, you really are after researching them. There is no substitute for genuine interest, and people can smell a fake. For those of you who are nervous to talk about yourself, this step should be a relief. Be a good listener first and put off having to actually say anything about yourself!
Here are a few ideas to get people talking about themselves:
- If they have a table, find something interesting and ask them about it. What went into making it? What was their thought behind it?
- Ask about a project you know they worked on. Show you know about their work and want to discuss it more in-depth.
- Find out how they got to where they are. When did they first start wanting to do what they do and how did they get there?
- Bring up a mutual interest, usually this should be done after one of the above conversations, and geek out for awhile. This is one of the most effective ways to ensure people remember you. You’ll be the one who talked with them about Battlestar Galactica!
Once you get people talking, it should be pretty easy to keep the conversation going. Just remember to listen to listen well and show interest. It’s as easy as that.
Next time, I’ll discuss about how to talk about yourself and how to turn the conversation into a connection. Until then, happy researching!