How to Get the Most Out of your Networking

The subtitle of this post should be … during a global pandemic.

But in the cause of making this content somewhat evergreen, I’m going to extrapolate some lessons learned from this time to any time, this season of challenge to life in general.

Image by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay

Here are some thoughts about networking in the entertainment industry.

1.Networking is still the way you are most likely to find your best opportunities – accept it.

If you spent time during the last year attending Zoom conferences, online classes, and meetings, like I did, GREAT! Production crashed to a sudden halt and people had time to join groups. Then we learned how to be safe and production slowly started up again, and is now moving towards a full and busy slate again, partly as companies try to catch up. Streaming service are suddenly everywhere. The hunger for new content is tremendous even while the same amount of content takes longer to produce because of Compliance. The business is going to get busy. I’m slowly starting to see people being too busy with work to attend every meeting or event, or stopping by only briefly because they have to get to work.

But don’t just fade away and ghost your networking group. Let people know what you are up to. If a time for a regular meetup is no longer working for you, negotiate another. Or meet up with people individually via Facetime or other service. Your people would love to celebrate your successes

2.The technology that mediates connection has changed – embrace it.

It feels like once we went to screenings and wrap parties, conferences and lunches with our industry organization, and then suddenly we couldn’t and so technology stepped in to fill the gap and now we meet via Zoom. It feels like it was nothing and is now everything. But that’s not quite the full picture. New technology has always mediated how we approach each other. but technology has always been there

Large companies had started selling virtual tickets to their major industry conference events – a different, and arguably lesser, experience – years before Covid-19 made that the only way forward. For those that attended expos in person, once we gave out our business cards almost automatically – a few years ago the name badges started having bar codes for vendors to access for their mailing lists, and they began to display QR codes. That sped up the process of contact information collection, as it was designed to do, but could also mean less actual interaction with a person.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to work on a movie, especially as an Extra, you showed up at the Studio gate and checked their notice board for what was needed that day. That’s just about the most analog you can get, short of a town crier. 25 years ago the upcoming production listings were still published in the Trades midweek – on paper! If you didn’t have a subscription – delivery by USPS – you bought a paper at one of the specialist newsstands around town to learn about new projects. Then listings started being sent once a week by email, and today it is possible to subscribe to listing services that are updated daily, almost in real time. (My favorite is BTL). Because they are online, with what seems like infinite column space in a virtual database, the listings can include more names beyond just the department heads. That is helpful for finding people in your network!

Then there was resume distribution. In the really old days resumes were printed and mailed – hand delivery might have been faster. Then came faxes, and now Email or video resumes. Now you want to invite people to your website to see your reel, instead of hauling around a big book with your portfolio in it. (I don’t miss that.) Remember pagers? We could give selected people our pager number for connection purposes, because we didn’t have mobile phones. I was an early adopter – I had a mobile phone built into my car in 1993. I could always return a page – all I had to do was pull over.

I’m sometimes shy and often uncomfortable in social situations. For me, the Zoom meetings have been wonderful. I get to see and interact with a whole bunch of people while still feeling like I’m in a safe and comfortable place. I like the efficiency of listening to a speaker with a minimum of unrelated small talk. I like the follow up by email too, when I can rewrite my remarks, and not get tongue tied. It is rather ironic that I have done more – way more – networking this last year, than in the four or five years prior.

As for the future, the ease and convenience of meeting from home might well mean that networking stays a “hybrid” undertaking – some in person meet-ups and some virtual. That is helpful for people who are traveling to distant locations and other time zones.

3.The fundamental idea has not changed at all – forming and maintaining professional relationships

We are still leveraging our connections with individuals to find our next job, gain access to new people and new information, and maintain a sense of optimism about the future. Essentially the way to network is to contact people you know to say hi, to let them know about a gig you hear of, to congratulate them when you hear they are working or have been nominated for something, and to update them with your recent accomplishments. Joining an organization lets you do this in a group setting, or via social media.

Not every connection is going to lead to a fabulous gig – but it is still worthwhile to reach out. If your attitude is one of contribution, you might find that you can help someone else to their next opportunity. Karma will surely take care of the rest. The natural result follows – people let you know when they hear of an opportunity, or have the ability to recommend or hire you.

And think of the money you are saving not having to buy a meal or drinks or pay for parking or transport.

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