Sunday, August 22, 2010

Play well with others

This is what it's all about. When your parents sent you off for your first day, as you got on the bus, their main concern was that you would have fun, be safe, and make friends. As I began orientation, the little giddy girl inside me was reminded to always play well with others. This is something that has not been easy for me in the past. I learned, often the hard way, that my opinions were not common, and not everyone cared. I can be off-putting. Back in grade school, I was teased, as most kids are at some point. This developed into a snarky, defensive facade, pushing away people before they could be mean to me. As I've gotten older, self-reflected and attempted to change this about myself, I was struck once again with a "new school" situation.

Not only is this a pressure we put on ourselves, because truly, who doesn't want to be liked? But this is also a pressure put onto us by business school. For two days, every presenter, all the alumni, faculty, and current students spoke about the importance of networking. Coming from the film industry, this is a mantra I am very familiar with. That being said, what networking really means is "go make friends, sweetie." Going forward, as I begin my two years in business school, this is one of those quiet fears no one dares to mention aloud. They might say "I'm not big on networking" or "Networking is really intimidating" but what it really comes down to is that kindergarten fear that the other kids won't like you and you'll end up eating alone. The strongest networking relationships are those in which people also count you as at least an acquaintance, if not a friend. So if you fail at this, what hopes do you have in succeeding in your career?

Doom and gloom, hardly. Because truth be told, if you can't make friends, make yourself valuable. People may not like you, but they'll need you. We're all brilliant or we wouldn't be here (so they tell us). Find your niche, your personal brand, and run with it. Show it off and let it shine...then the friends should come. It's been hard to breathe this week, but I'm learning. I don't think I'll be eating least I haven't yet.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Networking as Yourself

There are a ton of networking "rules." Part of being in business is that it requires connections to get things done and to excel. While my experience is specific to entertainment, the mother of all networking industries, a rolodex can rule just about any businessperson's life and success.

Especially if you are new at networking, I feel like it is very easy to just play the game. "Drinks," "coffee", "lunch." The ways in which you can connect with someone seem to be horribly limiting. You have to go to the "parties" and you have to dress the part. While I may not have the highest quantity of contacts, I do believe I have extremely high quality. How did I manage this? I don't play the game the same way everyone else does, and this makes me seem more genuine.

I act like myself. I love hockey and halloween and softball and frozen yogurt and wine. I do not like trendy cocktail bars or paying a cover or loud parties where you can't speak and you blindly trade business cards like that means something. My contacts know me on a personal level. We've gone horseback riding and to a hockey game. We've gone to a gallery opening instead of drinks. At Comic-Con, an event in San Diego that has become a huge hub for Hollywood networking, I have not once attended a party but I have approached executives dressed as Harley Quinn, the Joker's girlfriend in the phenomenal 90s cartoon. This executive who had a new deal with Top Cow publishing was impressed by my actual fangirl persona, not someone faking an interest in Comics because Comic-Con is "the" place to be.

This year at Comic-Con, I knew someone was speaking at a panel for the Jim Henson Company. This is someone I had met before and wanted to renew the relationship. I went to the panel and spoke with him afterwards. What made this exchange more valuable is my ACTUAL interest in all things Fraggle Rock and Muppets. This validates my being there as well as sparks a conversation in a more unique and specific way. Finding a way to connect honestly is far more important then faking it. First of all, if you are good enough to fool them upfront, eventually, when projects and meetings become reality, your facade will fade and the relationship may ultimately suffer.

At an entrepreneurship conference I recently attended as a volunteer, I listened attentively to all the business proposals, trying to find a connection. One guy was Canadian and was starting an internet sports network. He had started as broadcasting curling and hockey, two things I had genuine interest in. I approached him, spoke honestly about my television watching habits, a curling clinic I had attended, and my love of the Washington Capitals. As it turned out, he knew the owner. I eventually mentioned my background in entertainment and he offered me his card, encouraging me to keep in contact as they might have a job for me down the road. I know that by starting the conversation on common ground, asking him questions about our mutual interests, and laughing over the playoff catastrophe that was my team, we forged a connection and a memory that is far more vivid then if I had feigned an interest in what he was doing to get employed.

I have always had a sincere interest in breaking the mold of Hollywood Networking and forge relationships that mean something and have genuine staying power. Rarely does a person not remember me and often I have repeat endeavors with the same person. Be yourself. Join a softball league if you ACTUALLY like softball, go to wine tasting events if you like wine, head to a non-profit art gallery if you like art. Obviously, occasionally you have to play the game, but don't fake it. When you don't have things in common, ask questions. Find that connecting factor that will make you more memorable. Besides, do you really want to always do business with people who you don't relate to? The mask wears out and the lies get old. Bring some integrity back to the networking process, and you might actually get better at business.