Networking. The word alone makes me cringe and shrink back into whatever curtains or bushes are closest behind me. In my past life, my career depended on it. And you know what? No matter how often I “networked,” it never got easier for me. It was always awkward, forced, and for lack of a better buzzword, inauthentic. I can’t speak for all of us, but I’d bet there are a lot of writers in this same boat.

It wasn’t until I heard similar advice to the sentiment filmmaker Leon Chambers shares below that I felt the pressure start to ease in networking situations. I learned that I didn’t need to sell myself; I only needed to be myself. That alone would be useful to someone, or would create organic conversation, or would make others open up to me. Don’t get me wrong – I still don’t go out of my way to go to networking events. But, my definition of networking has changed. Networking is friend-finding. And now and then, a friend might open a door for you, or maybe, you’ll open a door for someone else.  

You’d think Chambers, who’s currently on the film festival circuit with his movie ‘Above the Clouds,’ had this networking thing all figured out. He has nine director credits to his name, seven producer credits, six writer credits, and several festival selections. But even he admits it’s a struggle.

“Making connections with people is tricky,” he said. “I find it really hard, and I think it’s because I’m British.” Joking, Chambers said a friend once told him he needed to be “less British,” stop apologizing for what he’s done, ask others about what films they’re working on, and just be himself. “I think what you don’t want to do is be totally in someone’s face saying, “I want this,” he added.

“The best bit of advice I ever got for making films and trying to get someone to help you is never ask for what you want. Ask for advice. And if you go to someone and say, “Look, I’m trying to do this, have you got any advice?” If it’s the right person and you put it in the right way, then they’ll give you that advice, then by the end of it they’ll say “why don’t I just help you,” which is what you wanted in the first place,” he explained. “But if you actually ask for it, they’re very likely just to shut you down and say no.”

And if I heard a “no,” I was very likely to leave the room humiliated, and vow to never go back to a networking event again! But if you don’t make those direct asks, and instead come from a place of genuine interest, you’re less likely to encounter those ego-blowing conversations. Being well-networked doesn’t happen overnight, just like making friends doesn’t either.

Let’s be friends,

Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach