Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Shy guide to networking: so you want to Network

A Shy guide to networking: so you want to Network.

Let’s set this up. You are invited to a mixer/mingle with about 50 people of whom you only know about 5 of them. As you walk into the venue, your heart starts to pump a little faster because you are just a bit insecure and experience a little social anxiety in having to meet people you don’t know. It could stem from fear, a lack of confidence, self-esteem issues, looking or sounding silly or even not having enough information. Whatever the reason is, you have a hard time meeting people. As you enter the mixer/mingle you see people that you do know and you bee-line toward them as they give you comfort and are familiar to you. Over the next few minutes and one by one, your friends start to move towards other people and you are left sitting at a table by yourself, aimlessly looking around, and feeling like you don’t belong.

In a business that centers on networking and meeting new people that are, themselves, looking for new opportunities, not being able to network, talk to people or meet new people may be preventing you from moving forward in your goals. It is imperative that you get out of your comfort zone and to feel comfortable introducing yourself to people that you have never met. You never know whom you are going to meet. This could be the person that gives you that big break you have been dreaming about for so long.

To be honest, WE experience a little social anxiety every time we go out to an event or a mixer/mingle. We are concerned about being “judged”, it’s a common human nature sort of fault. Why? Well, there are plenty of psychology books; articles, research studies, and Dr. Phil type pop psychology discussions that can lead you toward an answer that will fit your particular reason why you have problems meeting new people in any social event. But, let’s take an easy approach to this and say that we feel “uneasy” about social situations and feel even more so having to meet new people. On a basic level we are scared, plain and simple.  On a personal level, I don’t hold to the idea that someone can be without fear. It is ingrained in our DNA. Someone that claims to be fearless is fearing that he will be found to be scared or that you will find out other weaknesses.

We have picked up several books on how to meet people, how to work a room or how to overcome the uneasiness of meeting new people. The one thing that they all have in common is that they take up most of your time elaborating on the need to present yourself as a commodity and an opportunity waiting to happen. They suggest that you approach people that can help you in your career. They suggest that you only give out your business card to people that can further your status. And, they advise you to pick up their latest publication for further development.

You don’t need all that and here is why. WE have social anxieties. WE are not a people person or possess an “A” type personality. WE are introverted and shy. WE shriek at the thought of having to meet new people. When we do go to a mixer/mingle WE tend to linger on the edge where we can make our quick and silent getaway. WE have struggled with our approach to meeting someone new and with all that, we have been told that WE seem to be a “natural” at doing something that not long ago I would consider not doing at all.
But, here we are and I would like to pass along a few tips that can help you meet new people and, at the same time, make new friends or acquaintances.  What I present is not inclusive and by far the magic formula for expanding your list of contacts. However, the people you meet will remember you and appreciate your personalized approach to taking the time to meet THEM.  It does take a little guts to get out there and present yourself to strangers and it takes a little practice, on your part, to develop your skills in approaching new people. Remember, you never know whom you are going to meet and all it takes is that one person that believes in you, gives you a chance, and changes your life.

The first step in breaking that wall around you and to start meeting new people, is to take a deep breath and remember that you are not alone in feeling like you have social anxieties. Everyone has them to various degrees. Some people have learned to deal with their anxieties, they have taken the time to practice their skills, and, eventually, they have come to enjoy the prospect of meeting as many people as they can. While others are still developing their skills, they continue to confront their fears and are honing in on what works out for their particular goals. The more mixer/mingles you go to, or rather the more people you meet, the more comfortable you will be in approaching other people that you don’t know. Before you know it, you will be that person that meets everyone in the room.

(One of the most memorable events that has lingered in my mind for many years is an after party I attended by invitation in Blacksburg, Virginia where I, personally, didn’t know anyone, but my, then, girlfriend knew several people. I felt pretty awkward and absolutely out of place. But, I always feel out of place. There were about 20 to 25 people grouped in small cliques throughout the apartment. As I was looking around aimlessly and watching my girlfriend and the ease at which she talked with people, I noticed this one guy moving from group to group. What was peculiar was that he was taking the time and effort to introduce himself to every person in each particular clique. Then he would excuse himself and move to another group and do the same thing…he would introduce himself to each person in the clique. He finally made it to my side of the room and not only was he very skilled, he looked you directly into your eyes and lingered as if he was genuinely trying to know you. He possessed a firm handshake and introduced himself. We spoke for a few minutes and I was very impressed by his consideration and his people skills in taking great pains in introducing himself and making new friends. Good guy Greg.)

The next step is a little more complicated and requires an effort on your part to exit your comfort zone, take that leap of faith and approach a stranger. Remember, you are at a mixer/mingle or event where there is a common denominator and that is your key to starting up a conversation with a total stranger. All you have to do is go up to someone you don’t know, and say “Hello”.  You will be surprised at how many people will say “hello” back to you. Now, this is where it gets a little problematic. After the initial greetings, where do you go from there? One solution to staring at each other is to continue the conversation with your key common denominator - the purpose of the mixer/mingle or event.  For example: “Are you enjoying yourself?”, “How are you associated with this event?”, “What did you think about the movie?”, “What area do you work in?” and “Are you one of the filmmakers?” are good start up and “breaking the ice” questions to ask. If you notice the questions all reference the person you are addressing. Generally, people like to talk about themselves and, more importantly, they enjoy the fact that someone other than their friends or relatives are taking an interest in them and their work. Continuing with a conversation after the initial greeting requires a bit of small talk on your part. That is another skill that has to be applied and practiced when you are trying to improve or develop your people skills.  Some people have that gift of gab. They can talk endlessly about absolutely nothing, and, at the same time, they can talk about a lot of general things that they know about because they work in their specific areas. 

Most of the time you will find that the conversation will die out because the person with whom you are conversing with, is in the same position that you were just a minute ago and before you decided to exit your comfort zone, take that leap of faith and approach a stranger. You just happen to be able to approach first and initiated a conversation. YOU are one step closer to meeting new people who may be able to help you in the future or one step closer to meeting friends that you can collaborate with on a project.

Of course, this may not work all of the time. There are some people that are very difficult to talk to and they have their own motivations for interacting with others. Simply, say, “it was nice to meet you. I hope to run into you again but can you please excuse me?” This is your exit line and it is a very polite way to move on to your next total stranger.  (One word of advice… do not take it personally. There may be other reasons for their lack of interaction or they may be having a bad day.) I can not count the many times that people have been quiet and reclusive at one meeting and very outgoing and friendly at another meeting, mixer/mingle or event.

Now that you have taken that deep breath of air and understand that you are not alone in thinking that you are a social misfit, have exited your comfort zone, have taken that leap of faith, got your butt off that chair, and started a conversation with a total stranger, there is still the matter of the “little” things that you need to remember as you develop your skills in meeting new people with similar goals. While they may seem minor and not at all important in the overall goal, it is nonetheless, something that will give you “street cred” as you move forward into your life and when you network.

Your first impression is what gives you the credibility in being able to approach people who may be looking for new opportunities. It is important that you act PROFESSIONALLY and in a PROFESSIONAL manner when you meet someone for the first time. You may be the type of person that thinks that people ought to take you for who you are, but that is na├»ve and unrealistic especially in the business world. And, of course, as an actor, director or producer in a field that centers on networking and meeting new people that are, themselves, looking for new opportunities you are only as good as you appear to be. People will judge you and, let’s be honest, you are judging others.

When you meet someone for the first time and as you introduce yourself, you are going to be judged by your handshake. Your handshake should be firm. This goes for both men and to a certain extent…women. YOU would think that a handshake doesn’t matter if your talent is exceptional, but YOU are wrong. A firm handshake establishes your initial confidence. Whatever you do, don’t just put your hand out there and let someone squeeze your hand unless you feel the need to commit social suicide. Shake someone’s hand with firmness and with conviction. YOU don’t have to squeeze the hell out of someone’s hand, but you ought to match their own squeeze. As you are shaking someone’s hand and introducing yourself, be sure to always look the person you are meeting directly in the eyes. Now, we have a tendency to shift our eyes from one eye to the other, so pick an eye and look at it. I have found that most people in the field are creative and the best eye to look into is their left eye or the right eye if you are looking at them.
When shaking hands, don’t linger too long. A short burst of a handshake is all you need and will accomplish far more than you can imagine.

All of this takes a little practice on your part. Make it a point to meet someone, if not everyday, at the very least, whenever you step out into public for a meeting, a mixer/mingle or even going to grab a cup of coffee. It is absolutely true that practice makes perfect and WE are a testament to that as we have taken a cognizant effort to change ourselves and to be able to meet people. We meet a huge amount of people in our business and it is part of our job to be able to network, to mix and to mingle. Most of the people I meet are friends and while some are acquaintances they are nonetheless part of a community of people that can help you. ]
After you have decided to get up and exit your comfort zone to meet someone that you don’t know and being as professional as you can muster up, introduce yourself and follow up with a firm handshake while looking the person you are meeting squarely in the eye and start talking. 

Be sincere in getting to know the person you are meeting for the first time. Before you know it, you will be the type of person that can work a room, meet people and you will not be afraid of approaching a Steven Spielberg. Remember, all it takes if for you to start with one word…”Hello”.

Don't be Shy! 

Written by H. Luna, Producer 11-17-15 
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