I want to talk today about meetings, networking and…
The art of the schmooze.
Somebody once said to me that if you roll into a social situation and the first topic of your conversation is about work work work work work work work industry industry industry industry work work work work (as a lot of actors and beginning industry people do) people will be repelled because it is the last thing people want to talk about at a social event.
Even I have been guilty of this when I started my career and I understand why beginners do it.
We all get very excited about things in the entertainment industry and the things we are working on and the things that we’ve seen other people working on and we just want to talk about it and celebrate it.
But I have learned and also I’ve been on the receiving end of that energy when I’m in the midst of a social event that is not related to the entertainment industry and all someone wants to talk about business,
I’m just like, “Dude, not right now. I’m playing darts.”
It’s interesting being on both sides.
A Personal Story
Here’s an example of what NOT to do, but I’m telling this story because I think it’s pretty funny and there was no weirdness.
I was at a party recently it was interesting because I discovered that someone in my social circle was in Cats on Broadway in the 80’s/90’s. I am a HUGE musical theater fan since when I was little kid and I love musicals.
I grew up in New York and my parents would bring me to musicals (which I am so grateful for) I love Annie and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Rent and all that stuff.
I saw Cats so many times and I had the Book of Practical Cats and I knew all the words to every single song.
So when I found out my friend had been in Cats and realized I had probably seen him perform when I was a kid, my inner eight-year-old came out and I went there.
Boy, did I go there. I turned into a superfan.
I broke out of my trance of reciting “The Naming Of Cats” and when I realized I was about to start crawling onto the table in a very cat-like fashion I managed to stop myself.
It wasn’t like I randomly rushed him in Starbucks with all of this energy, but because we had been friends a while he was cool with my excitement and superfandom. Maybe even a little impressed and amused.
If I hadn’t been friends with him I probably wouldn’t have even I wouldn’t have gotten that excited (outwardly) but I felt safe enough around a familiar group of people that I could be a little bit more vivacious in my enthusiasm.
At a networking event, I probably would have cooly said something like, “I love your work,” or something else more toned down.
It’s very weird. It’s a touchy thing sometimes and I think some celebrities love it when people gush over them, but when you start taking on the fan energy especially with famous people at events where they feel they can let their guard down a bit (like industry events, charity events, etc) they kind of retract and you have to have a balance of appreciating their work while also not getting too crazy as a super fan.
Let’s say you’re playing softball with people or you’re at a charity event, it’s best to stay chill and maybe this is fairly obvious especially about charity events, but a lot of people go to charity events to get business connections and don’t really care about the event. This happens a lot in L.A. I think it’s gross but I guess it brings money and attention to the charity so there is some positive that comes out of it.
But generally, it’s good to just make a conversation about the screening you are attending or a great bar or restaurant nearby that you like really love or something you were doing last week or hobby that you share with the other person.
Something like that.
Bonding happens in these spaces of casual conversation, not when asking to meet someone’s agent the first time you meet them.
The entertainment industry aspect usually comes in the last five minutes of the conversation. As a side note. As sort of a randomly tacked on aside at the end because I think if people mutually enjoy the conversation, they also have an urge to find a way to reconnect after departing.
It could be “Facebook Me!” or “Send me your script!” or something like that and it often happens even if no conversation previous to that has to happen except an awareness of what roles you both play in the industry.
I’ve had actors rush me with headshots while attending screenings and doing volunteer work. It leaves me with nothing to say to them except “thanks” and then we both stand there awkwardly for a minute before they turn and go back to their friends.
I have compassion for them because I totally get it. I was an actor, too, and I see it less as desperation as seeing something that is percieved as an opportunity and going for it.
But here’s something better…
I really like keeping FUN the emphasis of networking (rather than a straight dash toward goals) because it’s made the fun times in life about fun but it also makes the networking feel better than just talking to each other about the industry.
Heading straight for the business talk is how most networking events are in LA. It’s why I got sick of going to networking events.
What I didn’t get sick of was hanging out with the people I used to play softball with even though everybody was kind of networking in the industry through softball, but it didn’t feel like that because we were just out there playing softball.
So it was actually very “networky” but it created nice bonds and that’s what we’re going for here.
It will be much more fulfilling to you and to other people to go for the fun rather than go for the goals directly and will allow for more flow in your career at the same time.