Most screenwriters know that networking and getting to know producers, agents and managers – or having them know you and read your work – is critical to a successful screenwriting career.
You’ve heard how you should attend networking events, and you know you need to take the plunge yourself. So you pay your money to attend a popular networking event (Great American Pitchfest, Hollywood Networking Breakfast, etc.) but then you dread it because you’re not sure what you should do or how to really make the most of it.
It often turns out to be a blase experience, and you dread it even more the next time.
Does this sound familiar? If it does, I have three words for you:
“Stop the cycle!”
“Do something different!”
“Prepare, yes, prepare.”
Learning how to prepare for networking events will make a world of difference for you. (Assuming you actually use what you prepare!)
Here are 3 tips on how you can prepare so your attendance at a networking event will be successful and forward your screenwriting career.
1. Prepare a 30-60 second elevator pitch about yourself (not just your screenplay).
People will generally ask you what you do because they want to know if you are someone who can help them not because they are THAT interested in you! However, depending on what you have to share with them they may come to learn that you are very interesting and are someone they want to know more about.
How you present yourself and your screenwriting career or your screenplay is make or break for your success at these affairs.
Don’t ramble on dryly about your screenplay unless you really have their ear. Drop in a story or two about your recent experiences about working on your script.
If you’ve done professional work as a screenwriter, casually share a story about that to show you’re professional.
But don’t try to rush in and pitch your script if they clearly don’t want to hear it.
Don’t talk about how hard it is to find a literary agent or manager. Being negative will only get you that expression of dread that begs, “How do I get out of this conversation?”
Practice your elevator pitch about yourself at home and with friends until you can say it with no reservation.Same with your pitch of the script itself.
Get comfortable with both things – the pitch of you and your script.
Have a good business card, preferably one related to screenwriting. Maybe even with a logline or title of your script on it. At least put “Screenwriter” on it.
2. Be genuinely interested in other people.
As the saying goes, “Be interested, not interesting.” People love to talk about themselves and when you meet someone you want to connect with, listening to them is the easiest way to make that happen.
However, don’t ask a question and then tune out while nodding your head in agreement. Listen. Really listen. Then engage.
Listening is an undervalued skill for communicating at networking events. Listen with your entire self and not just with your ears. Pay attention to body language and the tell-tell signs expressing that it’s either time to change the topic, wrap-up the conversation, or provide more information. If the person you’re talking to is not making eye contact with you and scanning the room during your conversation, it may be time to try a new strategy for engaging them.
Ask them a question, make an observation about the going-ons within the room, or share something personal to make a connection. For example, “I am quite impressed by the turn-out at this event. I had read reviews from previous years and wasn’t really sure if it would be worth the effort. Thus far, it’s working out well. What’s been your experience?”
The more you know about your contact, the faster you can connect with them when you eventually call them on the phone. Referring back to your conversation is a great icebreaker.
Don’t worry about saying a lot about yourself. The Hollywood VIP you meet probably won’t remember much of what you say, and important details about your screenwriting background are better discussed in a different setting.
If they want to hear your pitch, go for it. Give it to them. Don’t force the issue or you could lose them forever. Get friendly with them first.
The truth is, if you do most of the listening and engage with them about them, your new business contact will be thinking later, “Wow. He was interesting!”
3. Think quality of contacts not quantity.
Rushing through conversations gathering as many business cards as possible won’t get you the quality contacts but will instead make you look like a jerk.
When you participate in networking gatherings, concentrate on making a quality contact with each person you speak to. However, to do that, you must determine for yourself what qualifies as a quality contact.
Determine what your goals are for interacting with others at the event. You may want to start with some basic goals: introduction and brief conversation that indirectly expresses who you are as an “individual,” a writer, and what value you bring to the gathering of people.
No one wants to hear your prepared speech when talking to you one-on-one, so speak indirectly about your story in a way that illustrates who you are, what you’ve done and what value you represent. But, most importantly, you must begin the conversation by first showing an interest in the contact — as stated above in #2. You don’t want to leave an impression that the interaction was all about you.
Your job is to move your career forward, deepen the contacts you make, not just quickly meet the most people at the networking event.
At the same time, if you find yourself talking to someone who isn’t the best connection of the night, don’t be afraid to politely end the conversation with, “It was so great meeting you! Take care and enjoy the rest of the event.” Or you could say, “You have a lot going on. I wish you the best with your projects.” Then move on.
You will definitely come across those people who clearly are clueless about networking. You don’t want to be one of them! So, have a plan going in, know what you want to accomplish and how you will go about accomplishing it. That plan should include the proactive steps that you will take with the information you took away from the networking event. For example, do you plan to follow-up the next day with an email to the contact expressing how much of a pleasure it was meeting them?
Want to get your screenplay out to legitimate Hollywood producers and literary agents? Check out the Email Query Letter Mailings and Hard Copy Query Letters at Smart Girls Productions and discover what other marketing services may be right for you at http://www.smartg.com/writers, offering marketing and consulting for all aspects of a screenwriting career. Also get your Free Marketing Hot Tips For Screenwriters.