Networking as a concept is already hard enough, but now we’re expected to do it virtually??
We can wallow in how frustrating 2020 has been to navigate careers in the arts, or we can learn to adapt as best we can. With every industry starting to realize how meaningless geography is in determining talent, perhaps they’ll be useful even beyond the pandemic.
[Editor's Note: if you're reading this in the future, and the industry has not in fact realized "how meaningless geography is in determining talent," remind them they're wrong.]
When video chatting … make your backdrop an icebreaker.
Don't just point your webcam at a blank wall. Consider what people see outside of your face, which (no offense) is definitely gonna get boring after a while. Frame a poster of your favorite project, include a surprising/eye-catching prop so people ask after it (my current version of this is the puppet of me we had made for a web series), and use that to subliminally lead the conversation in the direction most beneficial to you.
When networking via text/email … update your bios and pinned posts!
When you network with people online with just words, the first thing they do (sometimes mid-conversation!) is to look you up. What do they find? Is that what you want them to know first? Does the tone match the tone of the work you want to make? Are your links up to date, your pronouns included, all your recent projects tagged? And for the places this is relevant: what's your pinned post? I like to make a thread of work be my pinned post, which I can update as I have new things to share without needing to change out the main post.
When video chatting … remember: you’re an artist, and production value matters.
You don't have to go full glam and set up three-point-lighting, but no one should have to squint to see your finer details. Best practices if you don't know what you're doing? Place yourself facing a window, not backlit by one, or bounce a bright light off a nearby white surface to reflect on you without creating harsh shadows.
And if we can talk about angles for a moment, from below is rarely a flattering frame even for the most beautiful people. If your chair is too high or table too low, try propping up your laptop with board games (Settlers of Catan is both a great game and a sturdy laptop base).
Plus, your networking partner shouldn't be looking up towards you—from a body language perspective, that can be read as intimidating (and unless that's what you're going for, it's not a great first impression).
When networking on social media … have a real conversation!
Just because you're online doesn't mean all conversational etiquette goes out the window. When you used to walk into a party/event, did you bring a regency trumpeter to announce your presence and qualifications? No? Then why are you entering online conversations resume/link/job thirst first? To put it differently, don't take the "social" out of "social media."
If you’re searching for a less thirsty icebreaker, I suggest:
- What have you watched recently?
- What do you do outside of work?
- What was your first project?
- What's something you wish you'd known on your first project?
- Tell me about your frequent collaborators!
- What’s your pipe-dream project? The pie-in-the-sky, most unrealistic, dream project?
- What are your creative goals for the year?
- What do you wish people asked you more?
Speaking of icebreakers … you should have answers to anything you plan to ask!
Specifically, have answers that serve your networking goals. Trying to land a job? Prepare answers that prove your skill set/expertise. Trying to court a collaborator? Prepare answers that align with your upcoming project and establish your interests.
Don't discount a pleasant conversation that veers from professional topics. Just be memorable and interesting, which can often be more productive than spamming the conversation with your Staff Me Up profile.
No matter where you’re networking … know who’s “in the room.”
Whether you're attending a virtual panel, a networking event for a community you're a member of, chatting with fellow film festival attendees, or anything in between, do your research! Watch as many people's work as you can if you think you may virtually run into them. It's flattering and gives you valuable insight into who's making work you'd maybe like to help out with in the future.
*Feature Photo: Bri Castellini with puppet of ... Bri Castellini