Last week, after a long hiatus, we had a Hollywood Happy Hour Holiday Bash and it was awesome. Over a hundred lovely folks from all areas of the industry popped in over the course of the night and enjoyed happy hour food, drinks, and mostly networking. Of course, “networking” is a word that strikes terror into the hearts of many, so I like to call what we do a “schmoozefest,” but really, it is networking, no matter what outfit we try to put on it.

While most everyone at HHH was really great (or at least above average) at networking, there were several folks who were just really, really bad at it. And as with most experiences in my life, I never live through them without thinking, “How can this help the readers of The Actors Voice? Where’s the lesson in all of this?” So, let’s first review some of the finer points in my archived column on “How to Work the Room.”

Choose the right scene. Make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure by showing up at a place that is too cool for you (or an event that’s not cool enough for you). The mismatch will be what we see and feel in you and it’ll be what you remember about the event. Know your speed and go there. That doesn’t mean, “Get trapped in a comfort zone,” but it does mean, “Don’t go to a velvet rope party if you’d rather hang out at a place with peanut shells on the floor.”

Do your homework. If there’s anything you can figure out about the people you’re meeting before you meet them, do so. This is the point the person who most pissed me off at HHH violated (yes, really). You know I’m going to be there. I’m co-creator of the networking group itself, and it’s due to my promo blasts that you even know this thing is happening. So, dude, Google me. Don’t come up, shake my hand, and ask, “So how do I get in on projects you’re casting?” No. No, no, no, no, no. I’ve — many times — posted info online about exactly how that process happens. Why waste your facetime with me asking about something you could’ve learned before we met?

Build your networking skills. Actually, the whole section, “Build Your Networking Skills,” at that archived column on “How to Work the Room” is pretty dang awesome. Go back and read that. Seriously. Tactics for building (or faking) confidence, choosing safe but interesting topics, alleviating stress, getting over the “fake” issue, dealing with compliments, remembering names, developing talking points ahead of time, and all that good stuff exists in that archived column.

Use a wingman. I love this tactic. The buddy system worked for grade school field trips and it works for Hollywood networking. Have an ally and check in with each other. Do so for meeting folks you don’t already know, remembering names, taking the pressure off when you feel the need to carry a conversation, and for getting “tapped out” when you drink too much. We had a couple of HHHers who way overindulged. It’s not pretty when I have to say to a producer, “I’d love to introduce you to that awesome actor over there, but she’s falling down drunk, so let’s do it another time.” A good wingman keeps that from getting so ugly.

Play host. Introduce folks who don’t know one another. Again, this takes the pressure off you as the one doing all of the meeting, and gives you the comfort of a familiar face standing next to you as you muster up the courage to meet someone you’ve been targeting. Don’t play host the whole night, just long enough to loosen up about what may have you filled with anxiety: Meeting that next new person of your own. You’ll see — by introducing others — it’s no big deal.

Okay, so what were some of the examples of bad networking — other than those I’ve already touched on above — that we saw at last week’s HHH event? (Keep in mind, most of the folks were excellent or at least above average at networking. So, some of these are expert-level refinements required for less-skilled networkers to not stick out like a sore thumb, basically.)

Being too vague. Now, of course there are projects you might be working on that have elements not yet open to the public. Got it. But when you say too little about anything, we wonder if it’s actually “for real” or if it’s fictional action going on. It’s like mentioning a boyfriend no one ever meets. At least give the guy a name.

Being cliché. Just like no one wants to read in your bio that you began acting “at the tender age of five” or that “Hollywood was calling,” no one wants to hear you speaking in Hollywood clichés. Come up with actual, meaningful, not-overused words and phrases that help cement your brand and let us get to know you. Yada, yada, yada.

Being all about the business cards. I’m sure somewhere, some well-meaning career coach thought it would be brilliant to tell actors, “never leave an encounter without that person’s business card.” Bullshit. If you’re obsessed with getting or giving out business cards, you’re missing the whole point of an in-person networking event. It’s to get one another. It’s to connect as people.

Complaining. Dude. No one comes to a party to listen to you grouse about how much the economy sucks, or how crappy your little apartment is, or how much you hate Los Angeles, or how you’re dropping your “useless agent,” or anything else you need to go to therapy about. Chronic complainers are like that Peanuts character Pig Pen. The cloud of ick stays around far too long. Don’t be that guy.

Dressing poorly. Now, I have to be careful on this one, as I am absolutely never going to be accused of being a fashion plate. I have one or two things I like to wear and that’s what I wear all the time. But when I see an actor show up at a networking event in gym-wear, I’m just kind of shocked. This isn’t yoga class. Put on a bra for cryin’ out loud! And please, run a comb through your hair and swish some mouthwash around. Finally, for the love of all that is holy, do not bathe in cologne. *shudder* Thank you.

Ingratiating yourself into conversations. I get that this one is a tougher balance, especially if you’re not so good at reading signals from others. (Oh, dear God, you’re an actor. Get good at reading people! Please!) But when you pop over to say goodbye — interrupting the conversation to do so — make it quick and then go. Don’t turn it into an opportunity to launch into a story that no one wants to hear, now that you have the attention of someone. Sure, hang out near people who are talking and nod along with their chat, but unless you’re given the physical or verbal signal to join in, be careful. And whatever you do, don’t join in and then make it all about you.

So, I’ve already covered some strategies for successful networking, above. Here are a few more that came to me after brainstorming with some folks who were also in attendance at Hollywood Happy Hour last week.

Arm yourself for success. This encompasses everything I covered in “How to Work the Room” and everything mentioned above. If you’re mentally prepared to succeed, you will. Know (and stick to) your limit on drinks, have a wingman, know the scene and the people who will be there ahead of time, feel good about yourself and be prepared to chat but not to come on too strongly. Go in with a gameplan and be good at reading the room! This is key.

Find balance. Devote some time to your existing friends, of course, but don’t let them dominate your time to the exclusion of meeting new people. Meeting new people is the whole point of being there, right? You need to connect with folks and broaden your circle, find connections you never knew existed. Be ready to grow your business with like-minded people. Have fun while doing business.

Read the room. Read people. Yes, I’ve already said this, but it’s so vitally important. Feel when the conversation has reached its natural end and excuse yourself to return to the bar, say hello to another colleague, or — when all else fails — hit the restroom. Be good at engaging and knowing when to disengage too.

Don’t be needy. Needy throbs like a toothache. Find a way to turn that stuff off. Don’t think about how among these people could be your next agent or someone who could cast you in something or anyone who may “change your life” in any way. That’s like going on a first date thinking up baby names. Just don’t do it. We all feel it. Relax and enjoy getting to know people. Take the pressure off yourself and off us!

Be ready. Be ready for the tough questions (“How long have you been in town?” “What are you working on?”) and the easy ones (“How do you know so-and-so?” “Where are you from?”) but try not to ask the tough ones of anyone. You know it feels like crap to be asked what you’re working on when the answer is, “Nothing.” And you know it’s tough to spin that you’re “new in town” when asked, directly, how long you’ve been here. So don’t put others through that, unless they offer a bit up.

For example, some of my favorite people to meet at HHH were actors new to town. They volunteered that information, saying, “I just got here and figured I should jump in and meet people!” Then I could follow up with asking where they’re from or how long they’ve been here, without putting someone who’s been here a decade and who has yet to build any sort of career traction in an uncomfortable spot. We could chat about what they had learned about LA thus far and what still confused them (usually the freeways) and then could talk about “must do” things or “must see” places. Easy stuff. No pressure. All personality.

One of my producer colleagues said he got really tired of being asked what he was working on. It’s not because he’s not working on anything, it’s that he felt like just grabbing a mic at some point and announcing the list to the entire venue, once and for all, because he was having to repeat it all so much. Sure, we’re often defined by others through what it is that we do, but shouldn’t we — the most creative people on the planet — find a way to have a little more fun with this topic? I attended a networking function with a group of non-industry-related folks and a creative non-industry colleague and I talked about different ways to answer the, “What do you do?” question.

We came up with, “I pursue happiness,” and, “I have fun,” and, “I make sure all of the best people I know know one another,” and, “I avoid answering that question,” and, “I do something different every day,” and many other creative and not-so-creative options. Even better, we decided we’d no longer ask that question of others, at networking events. She pledged to ask, “What are you good at?” and I pledged to ask, “What makes your heart sing?”

Trust me, the answers to those questions are far more interesting, revealing, and fun to listen to!

So, why get good at networking? Well, you don’t have to, of course, but it sure does help! Considering the fact that those of us in the business of filtering talent to buyers will use any excuse to remove someone from a list, that you were bad at networking when we last encountered you could be enough to keep you from advancing on a project or staying on a list at an agency. The numbers are huge, and we’ll use whatever help we can to thin them sometimes. So, increase your odds that it’s not your “bad networking” that got you uninvited from the room.

Let yourself off the hook when it doesn’t go well. You’re building a muscle and that takes time. Practice shaking hands, schmoozing, and entering and leaving ongoing conversations with a safe group of friends and colleagues ’til you get more confident. Don’t strive for perfection, just “better than last time” each time. And remember my ultimate bottom line on all issues related to relationships: People don’t remember you. They remember how they feel when they’re around you.

Let that always be a positive thing.

Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!

Rock ON!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

(Visited 667 times, 1 visits today)

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.