What IS Networking, Anyways? (and 5 Tips for How to Do It Well)
Amanda Charney pledges Delta Kappa Alpha, a pre-professional cinema fraternity, and ruminates on what it means to meet people with whom you share common interests.
For me, this has been a week of madness. "More madness than usual, you mean?" you might say. Yes indeed. You see, I looked at my schedule, subconsciously panicked over my excess of free time, and pledged a fraternity.
There are many of my friends and family who were quite puzzled by this move. Apart from the fact that I am not really the Greek "type," they didn't quite understand how I could be a female and in a fraternity. The key to this whole situation is that the organization I am in the process of pledging is Delta Kappa Alpha, my school's coed, pre-professional cinema fraternity.
I am a theater student, it's true. So why am I joining a group that's centered around film and television? The way I've justified it (besides wanting to be around a lot of extremely interesting and all-around cool people who love movies) is that I'll be meeting so many people in the business, and getting some great networking done.
This leads to my point: what is networking, anyways? When it comes down to it, it's supposed to be "a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes." However, when most people think about networking it seems devious at best, and selfish at worst. That's understandable, when you think of it from the perspective of being shallowly nice to people in order to advance yourself…but from the perspective of meeting new and hardworking people who share similar interests with you, you might find that you'll be able to create a network of talented individuals who you are able to help as much as they help you. United we stand, divided we fall!
1) Don't "expect" anything in return
The biggest issue with labeling a venture as "networking" is making it seem like the only reason you're interacting with an individual or group is because you expect someone out of them to benefit you. Not only does this sound selfish, it makes you seem fake and untrustworthy too. In fact, it's way more important to understand the needs of others and work to help them.
2) Self-promotion tools
You don't need to be the star of Hollywood or Broadway to have your own website! All it takes is a little computer savvy (or a computer-savvy friend), a domain name, and a day's time! If you're not really feeling the website, even something as simple as a Facebook fan page or professional Twitter account is great for keeping people updated on your work.
And having a business card to hand people goes miles. Something simple with your headshot and website on it will help someone remember you when they're trying to find an actor for their next project!
3) Be genuine—talk about something you love
Networking has more lasting results when you share what you're truly passionate about and find a few people who really get you, than be extremely vague and make a lukewarm impression on a larger group. Rather than meeting as many people in as little time as possible and throwing business cards like confetti, take time and effort to go into deeper conversations with people who seem to share your interests and goals.
4) Be a good (and genuine) listener
Heaven knows it drives me crazy when I can tell no one is listening to me. Finding someone who can listen well—and legitimately hear and understand you, not just nod vaguely—is a rare and wonderful thing. And it's something that people will appreciate and remember. If you talk about how awesome you are for hours, then text or let your eyes glaze over when others are sharing, you'll make your "lasting impression" a very negative one.
5) Don't forget to follow up!
I've done it many, many times; I had a great conversation with someone directing a show or getting ready to start their own company, gotten their information, then found their business card 3 months later in my desk drawer. It doesn't take much to stay in touch! A simple email a day or two later saying, "I really enjoyed meeting you! Please keep me updated on future events I might be able to attend" goes a long way. People will remember you if you remind them more than once who you are and where you met.