We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
You’ve finally made it to that big party/event/social and you desperately need to/want to talk to people for any number of reasons. It may be to get yourself noticed, spread an idea of yours, talk up a new accomplishment, gather opinions or simply make friends. It’s a difficult thing, and as easy as it looks in the world of television, it can be really hard to turn your brain thoughts into mouth words.
I am by no means a conversation expert– I certainly have stuffed my foot into my mouth on a handful of occasions. I have also been on the awkward end of a terribly sentence when the whole room shuts up at once and suddenly everyone importantÂ hears the Alphagetti Vs. Zoodles debate you were slightly drunkenly having with your neighbour. It’s okay. It happens.
But I can say that, on just as many (if not more) occasions, my conversation has gotten me business cards, interviews, coffee meetings, important contactsÂ and yes, even jobs. So take this with a grain of salt, but below are my tips and tricks of how to hold a conversation with a near stranger, how to engage them, and, most important, how to get the heck out of there when it’s not going well.
PHASE ONE: Open Your Mouth
This is the hardest phase. Even for an extrovert, sometimes you open your mouth and stupid thingsÂ come out and panic ensues and you suddenly find yourself running into the valley to nervous-puke into your own handbag. Relax. You’ll be fine. Probably.
At crowded Parties
- Sidle up to a group of people who you’d like to speak to, stand to the side of them and listen to what they are saying. Notice who is dominating conversation, or if they are all having half-conversations with each other. Wait for a catching note– meaning a topic that you either a) have an opinion one b) want to learn more about. Consider the following,
- ” Oh sorry, where you talking about (Insert topic) I just heard about that onÂ (Insert place, newspaper, radio). What have you heard?”
- “I’ve seen that (insert movie/show/play/ and (insert how you felt about it)”Â OR ” I’ve heard (good/bad/mixed) reviews on that, how did you find it? Did it have a good plot”
Now, ice breaker over, move into deeper things.
- “That’s a fascinating point, what do you think makes the best writing/photography/technical design/plot twist.Â I’ve always thought (insert brief opinion)
- “Well I don’t know much about that issue, however I always assumed (Insert general opinion on topic you may not be totally informed it. If that is the case, be honest, but acknowledge that you are unread in this area and are open to learning about it) “
Phew. At this point you’ve engaged one or more people in some kind of conversation. Congrats!
PHASE TWO: Develop Context With Your Mouth Words
You’re succeeding in talking to a person or people. You’ve connected with them on a personal basis. Great! Surprisingly, it is NOW that you ask the get-to-know-you questions. If you ask them first time youÂ open your mouth, you risk jarring the natural flow of the conversation. Insert them casually, and after communication is already underway.
- So you work in /at/ worked on (insert industry event, social event name, wrap party production name). Awesome, how long have you been doing that?”
- *My personal favorite* “How did you get into that line of work? There are so many positions in this industry I love hearing how peopleÂ fall into which areas”
- “I’m (Insert name) by the way!”
Big thing here is ASK QUESTIONS. It generates interest in the other person, engages them and opens up context for you. If you’re here solely to network (Which I personally don’t recommend) then you can fast track to see if this person is someone you would like to establish a business relationship with, or not.
PHASE THREE: Share
At some point, the person will likely ask about you. BE HONEST. Suuuuuper important here, do not lie, do not let your “mouth overload your ass” so to speak. That being said, if you are currently in between jobs or it’s off season and you’re a barista at starbucks and you don’t want them to know that, then say the most recent industry job you had.
- “Me? I just finished up/finishing up my last contract on (Insert show)
- “Oh, I work in (Area of the industry) mostly, I worked on (Insert last show)”
- “I freelance, so I’m really doing anything in the industry I can get my hands on, I haven’t found a job I don’t like yet!”
- “I enjoy production work/office work/ post-production work and my main focus is”
- “I work at (insert company) and (insert title) “
PHASE FOUR: Continuing and Closing (or brain thoughts meet mouth words)
The basics are covered now. You’ve made introductions, established common ground and are in a conversation. Keep it up by using the following tips.
– Go into every meeting looking to make a FRIEND. Don’t network with anyone you wouldn’t honestly want to have a drink with. Why? Because it’s a business based on friendships. Having a high profile industry contact is well and good, but people call crew into work when they A) know them, B) Like them, C) like their attitude. Being friendly is the best way to get a feel for that. Be a genuine person, with a genuine curiosity about others, and let the pieces fall where they may.
-Be honest. Talk about your strengths, but don’t lie and say you are more skilled and better trained than you actually are.
– Humble bragging is great. But use it sparingly. If you don’t talk about the things you do, people may not know, but once you’ve said it once or twice, let your accomplishments speak for themselves.
– Wherever possible, and when the moment feels genuine, offer to help others. Ask them to link you to their website, youtube channel, twitter feed and offer to like, share or retweet them. Do this for people who share similar interests to yourself and people you’d like to support professionally. It can be worth it’s weight in gold to support the people you believe in.
-TALK ABOUT STUFF THAT’S NOT WORK. I know it’s hard. If you actively work in the industry, then sometimes it is difficult to have non-work related things. But talk about hobbies, interests or topical issues. Allow the other person to see you are not a robot, and you have lots of opinions, thoughts and ideas about the world around you, that you engage in the world around you and that you have a LIFE outside of work!
When you’re about to leave or exit the conversation and you would like to grab the person’s information, be careful. If the person is someone you consider to be VERY high profile, or someone with little connection to you, it may be best to simply shake their hand, thank them for their time and wish them success in future, or comment on working/seeing them around again. That’s it. Then leave. If you see and speak to them on several more occasions in a fairly short time, then maybe you can dabble with adding them to Facebook, it is very context based. Don’t rush anything.
If it is someone less higher-profile, then a good thing to do is offer them your card, or another form of contact.
– ” I’m heading out soon, but it was so nice to meet you. Will I see you again at the next (insert event)
– “I’ve got to go say hi to a friend, but it was lovely bumping into you, if I don’t see you again, I’d love to grab your (insert card, Facebook, etc. **warning— some people only use Facebook for personal reasons, and don’t add people they just met. Be prepared to offer alternate forms of contact)”
– “I’m grabbing another drink but if I don’t see you again we should exchange contact information. It’s always good to know a (insert their occupation)”
IF ITS GOING TERRIBLY WRONG
If they are a stranger you have never met before and they’re mean, rude, not talking, not making eye contact, giving you a weird vibe, making you otherwise uncomfortable, best bet is to get a way out. Try the following – “I’ve just seen a friend I promised I’d say hi to, enjoy the party!”
– “Will you just excuse me for a moment, I’m grabbing a drink/need to take a phone call/ have to leave”
-“Hope you’re evening turns around, I really have to get going.”
Happy mingling, my partygoers!! NEXT INSTALLMENT: Following Up with Your Contacts and How To Work That Room!