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Networking 101

By Peter Carlos

One of the topics discussed at the MCA-I St. Louis Chapter April 2014 meeting, and keeps coming up time and time again, is the ins and outs of networking. Few of us do it well. Some of us could be better at it. Some people are uncomfortable in crowds, and others hate one-on-one situations. But it's important to all of us. So here's some refresher tips:


Don't Sell! 
We tend to sell too damn hard before we create a lasting, meaningful relationship. We're looking for a point of entry instead of listening. Men and women both struggle with this concept.  

Have a Plan. 
As with any presentation, there's an objective or goal, a defined audience, and a beginning, middle, and end to it all. 

  • Before going to an event or presentation, do your homework and find out as much as you can about the organization putting on the event (objective) and the people involved (audience). Internet searches are a quick way to get what you need. That will give you something to talk about and make you interesting because you're interested in someone else's business. Leave your ego at home. Relax and see this networking opportunity as another lesson in life. Your goal is to network, not get a job.
  • Get there early when things are relaxed and non-threatening. Introduce yourself (the beginning), shake hands firmly (not real hard or too soft), make good eye contact, ask the person you're talking to their name (repeat it back to them to help you remember it), and then ask them what they do (the middle, Part I). 
  • Here's the important part: Listen (really listen hard) to what they say. Show interest in the story you're hearing. Don't try to one-upmanship them or cut them off or cut in. Use listening cues so they know you're there in the flesh ("Yes," "I know," "Uh Huh," etc.). 
  • When they finish, they might ask you what you do. Don't oversell yourself or pound your chest or Alpha Dog it. Keep it short and sweet (the middle, Part 2). One of the things I learned from a past ex-father-in-law who worked for the IRS is "don't talk too much or offer too much information." That person is listening to you and might hear something that could hurt or defame or embarrass you. Criminals get in the back of cop cars (handcuffed, naturally), and blab away. That spontaneity can be used against them in court. So less is more. You're building here, one brick at a time, so take your time. 
  • Finally ask them for a business card, and they will probably ask you for one (the end). That's it. If it's right, maybe ask if they know someone you know, but be careful with that ploy. The way you know someone is not necessarily the way that person knows your friend or family member. Unless you're positive about the credibility of your connection, then save it for another day, another time. If you don't have a card, then you've missed out, and it gets a little awkward at this point. You have their card and they have nothing in hand. Always have simple, clean business cards to close the deal; it makes you look like a professional. 

 Don't Ask for Work 

Do not, I repeat, don't ask for work; let them ask you if it's going to happen at all. Keep everything minimalistic. You can tell them you might be interested in talking further over coffee or lunch if they have time, and on you, of course. Don't pressure anyone to give you a job right then and there.

You're building relationships, not interviewing for a job.

But in reality, you really are interviewing for a job (kind of zen-like-yin/yang). If you're pushy and obnoxious in this informal gathering, then you might be hell to work with. Don't turn this potential positive into a negative. Think soft sell. You're trying to get that person relaxed around you, to like you. If they don't have anything right now, they might recommend you to a friend in the business because they like you. 

You closed the deal of the first round of networking. Then, send the people who gave you cards a thank you note for taking the time to talk to you. They will remember that simple gesture. And your name.

Remember, that you usually get hired because you fit in with the group, not by being a know-it-all or show-off. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

Networking is at the heart of who we are and our connection with others, our communities, our tribes. So it matters that we try to get better at it.

--Peter Carlos, MCA-I St. Louis Chapter

Peter Carlos is the current president MCAI's St. Louis Chapter and the Station Mgr at LUTV  (Lindenwood University, St Charles, MO) where he is also Associate Professor of Digital Cinema Arts