I’ll start with a confession; I dislike networking events.
The only networking evening I’ve ever attended I spent the entire time talking to one person. He was a man with a vehement distain for networking events and the people who attend them. We stood in the corner a pub full of friendly people making useful connections and he explained why this shameless self-promotion disgusted him.
He demonstrated these opinions by glowering at anyone who approached us, and giving me knowing looks when they smoothly extricated themselves and moved on. I felt it was impossible to leave the conversation in any polite way, so I spent my time balancing my glass and flyers and nodding, far too embarrassed to ask why he’d come in the first place. The evening finally drew to a close, and I left, promising myself that I would never go to another.
Over the next few years I avoided any kind of event that looked as though it would involve standing awkwardly around with slightly more things in my hands than I knew what to do with. Any workshop or masterclass I attended would usually see me sidling out of the door as the time set aside for Networking Drinks was reached. On those occasions I stuck it out, I tended to find another set of problems coming into play.
People rarely remember meeting me the first time. This can work to my advantage – who hasn’t sometimes wished for a chance to re-do a first meeting? – but makes networking harder. My poor ability to articulate what I do in 60 seconds, coupled with my innate lack of control over my limbs, means that I’m more likely to be remembered as ‘The girl who knocked over that tray of glasses’ than ‘That producer who is useful to know’.
I felt that this was a shortcoming that I should try and overcome. After all, one of the things that producers definitely do is network. Who you know has influence over so many elements of your career, what kind of a producer was I if I couldn’t master it?
Then I noticed something. I was getting emails from directors and producers I’d never met asking me if I’d like to meet with them. Someone I’d worked with, or who knew someone I knew, knew them and had mentioned me. It clicked that I’d been networking all along. The connections I had made naturally, through working and getting on with the people around me, were an invaluable resource.
Now one of my favourite things is the moment in conversation when I realise that I know someone who would be useful to this person. That moment when the interests of two colleagues dovetail, and I can help them both. Networking takes many forms, and is only effective when you’re comfortable with what you’re doing. Some people can work a room and be themselves when their doing it, but there are other options. And they don’t have to involve holding too much.