How To Be (Not So) Great At Networking

Help me! Networking no-nos.I have been generous in letting Dr. Paige Turner hijack my blog. dig into her mailbag and answer writers’ questions with a suggestive nudge and a saucy wink, not to mention a bit of snark. But, I’ve been getting correspondence of late that begs for me to vent my frustrations and hopefully, shed some light on positive interactions between aspiring writers and industry professionals.

My turn!

 

Hello Barri,

I attended an event today where you were the speaker. Great talk.  

Afterwards we actually chatted, shook hands and chatted briefly. You were very nice and personable and made me feel comfortable talking with you.

I mentioned my project, a screenplay I wrote and am championing to produce, and that I certainly need all the help I can get. I hope you become interested enough to get involved or steer me right to move the project forward, make deals or whatever, fast. Well, as fast as humanly possible. Am I asking for too much? I think this story is a money maker.

[NOTE: Tagline and logline omitted.]

I hope you develop an interest from the above enough to help me push this project further.

Big Fan

 

Dear B.F. and every other writer approaching an industry professional,

What is going on, when being polite and professional is misconstrued as an open door that results in a sweeping email request before I’ve even returned home from the event?

A show of enthusiasm? Yes. But in this industry, that translates to desperation. Even a faint wisp sends people fleeing as if you were carrying the plague.

This is no way to win friends and influence people. You, my friend, are doing it all wrong.

To be fair, you’re just one in a long, long, long line of people asking for help in the worst possible way. Folks just screaming, “Help me!” Not even asking for something specific.

Everyone in the industry faces this and, to be honest, we have two reactions. Our first thought is that this person is not a professional, because they are not presenting their project professionally. (I didn’t clean up the typos and repetition in the email above.) Therefore, there is no point in pursuing this project.

Secondly, it makes us feel as if you are just out to get what you can get from us. This is treating pros like a girl in the bar at last call. A single life raft on a sinking ship. Therefore, we have no interest in building this relationship.

You’ve quickly convinced an industry professional that you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’ve made them feel used. That their only value is in what they can do for you. Networking fail.

My friend from the email above included a logline, which I removed here to protect his privacy. Had he asked if he might send me material, I might have said “yes.” Had he asked if I have a preference as to what you send, or how you send it, or genres I respond to as a producer, we might have begun a polite dialogue which could have led to a “yes.” As he didn’t, it made it perfectly easy to quickly read his pitch and decline as “not my cup of tea.” He set himself up for failure.

Please don’t feel picked on B.F. Here’s another exchange from a social media connection:

Who can you get my story in front of? 

Do you think I could talk to your friends sometime?

I’d still love your help in any way possible. I’m glad we connected. I know I’ve asked like 100 questions already.

Yup, that’s a lot of questions.

Lol that’s what I do

Well questions are good, but if that’s your networking MO you will quickly burn out potential relationships to be honest.

I’m sorry I was just excited to connect not trying to over do it

And I’m just sharing some helpful advice with you.

I think the above interaction – minus my generous responses – sums it up. Networking fail.

Networking Vampires

I think we can all agree that in the world we live in, time and energy are the most precious of commodities. Networking vampires are out to drain an industry pros’ lifeblood to feed their own needs – even if it exhausts the source. While I can empathize with the hunger, I fail to understand the lack of common courtesy.

I can’t help thinking of the old joke:

A guy is walking down the street when a prostitute offers to do anything for $50.

“Anything?” he asks.

“Anything,” she agrees eagerly.

He thinks for a moment and says, “Okay. Paint my house.”

While I enjoy working a bit of naughty innuendo into a column or blog as much the next girl, I’m actually a very nice person. I’m so kindhearted, that when a writer pleads for my time and advice for free, no matter how grueling my own work schedule and responsibilities are, it’s tough for me to say no. But the more I am burned in these situations, it gets a little bit easier to say “Sorry, I’d like to help, but I can’t.”

Every occasion where I have gone above and beyond and been taken advantage of, makes it that less likely that someone else will get a shot at my very limited free time.

Don’t be that person who burns a relationship from the very start. When you are, you part of the problem that leads to aspiring writers getting shut down across the board. That makes people not want to shake hands after an event. And we’re certainly not going to paint your house.

After another talk I gave, a lovely older gentleman, almost Santa Claus-like, was quite intent on speaking with me, while many other people were hoping to introduce themselves as well. I’m happy to spend time meeting people, but, just as you learned in kindergarten: Wait your turn. Be polite and don’t interrupt someone else’s conversation.

When we spoke, Mr. Claus insisted that he was eager to learn from me. He knew that I was the one to help him achieve his vision. I mentioned an upcoming Big Ideas Seminar, (which comes with mentorship!) but he was adamant that he could not wait.

He insisted he wanted just 15 minutes of my time to pitch me his story. I’m not unrealistic, but I was glad that he had volunteered a timeframe. I set an appointment for him to meet me at a local coffee shop where I would be writing. This way, I could still be a nice guy and save myself the commute time.

Or so I imagined.

For starters, the lovely Mr. Claus did not offer to buy me a beverage.

He pitched his project in great detail and, as this was a highly personal piece to him, I encouraged him to explain the genesis of the story before offering any feedback. I have tons of experience with writers, and I know when to tread lightly.

Now remember, St. Nick begged for my advice. After taking in all that he said, I offered him a thought on a different angle that could make the story more effective and emotionally impactful. He burst into tears. He could not consider varying his personal story, even to make it more successful. Now I had to do my best to console the Jolly Old Elf.

I understand the human need for validation, but my sought-after professional opinion went to someone plugging their ears with their fingers.

So now here I am, comforting a sobbing Santa as my 15 minutes turns into an hour.

The capper? After pleading for my tutelage, Mr. C. never signed up for the seminar.

And the burn: He didn’t bother to so much as send me a thank you note for my time.

Kindergarten lessons yet again! “Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”

Don’t shake your head and think that this is an isolated incident. Virtually the exact same thing happened to me in identical circumstances. No beverage, no openness to my professional feedback, no thank you note. Networking fail.

For Pete’s sake! If you ask someone for their professional opinion – as opinion that they are trained to and paid to give – at least pretend to be open to, or appreciative of their insights. It’s Pro Writer 101.

It’s Nice To Be Important, But It’s Important To Be Nice When Networking

There are writers who are doing it right when it comes to networking.

As in any relationship, common courtesy greases the wheels of social interaction. If you met a friend for coffee, wouldn’t you offer to buy them a cup?

The best relationships builders – in any area of life – approach networking as a two-way street.

I recently received an email from a writer I met years earlier, while mentoring at a screenwriting retreat. He reminded me of our connection and made a nice reference to something that the two of us could appreciate based on the retreat.

Off to a good start.

Mr. Polite was hoping to produce a short film which he had written, and had a ton of questions that spanned the board from physical production to packaging. But he wasn’t asking me to paint his house. He offered to take me to lunch in return for my advice.

Frankly, I rarely take the time to eat lunch these days, and when I do, it’s often sitting at my desk dropping crumbs on the keyboard. I was in the midst of a massive time crunch.

As this was an issue-oriented piece, one that resonates with a great many people, I told him that this was the key to moving forward. Finding people who shared his passion would make all the difference in putting the production together – from negotiating a good deal on a camera rental to bringing actors on board.

I explained that my personal passion was children’s literacy, and that I founded and run a nonprofit. However, I was certain that he would find plenty of people who would respond strongly to his cause.

I asked to read Mr. Polite’s short before attempting to answer any questions. And I asked that he wait two weeks to send it, as it would most certainly be buried in my correspondence otherwise.

Mr. Polite timed it just right, sent the script, and asked some specific questions. I still couldn’t get to the material, but I sent him a note with an update about others ahead of him – because I am polite – and received this reply:

Hi Barri, that’s fine, thanks for touching base. I DO understand. Many people, many different projects… I really don’t know how you do it. I will look forward to hearing from you, whenever you’re able.

Nice.

When I had a tiny bit of breathing room, I read the pages, looked at his website, and gave him some feedback on both. I offered a phone chat or a quick cup of coffee.

He was appreciative. He was open to my thoughts on the material and on the presentation. Mr. Polite said that forcing himself to write out his questions brought him a lot of clarity. He told me he appreciated the time and effort I had already given him. He would pass on the chat for now, and reserve it for further along in the process when he would have specific questions that I could answer.

Overall, I felt positive about the whole exchange. I had been able to offer some support, and my time and advice were appreciated. I knew the pleasant and respectful exchange would make me open to helping Mr. Polite in the future. Throughout this entire exchange Mr. Polite’s networking worked.

And then this happened:

Mr. Polite made a very nice donation to my nonprofit.

I was touched beyond belief, and wrote him immediately to say how incredibly gracious he had been.

Major networking success, as he now has a very open door to me. You can bet he will get my time and attention when next he asks.

It’s not about the money. It’s about being treated as a human being.

Mr. Polite respected my needs and boundaries. He was open to, and appreciative of my input. He thanked me. He listened and paid attention to what mattered to me.

Isn’t that what all of us want in a relationship? To be heard and respected?

This networking thing isn’t nearly so complex as many aspiring writers think.

The choice comes down to “Paint my house!” or “Do unto others.”

Kindergarten lessons really do apply.

xoox, Barri

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