Ahead of this week’s virtual Screen Forever, Emmy and AACTA Award winning producer turned screen sector executive coach Ellenor Cox summarises her key tips and strategies for connecting, networking and pitching in an online environment.
Once upon a time, you might have been reading this article during the session breaks at Screen Forever, or after a busy day of face-to-face networking and pitching.
However, the reality of virtual conferences and online engagement has required us to adapt and become more creative with how we stay in touch and forge new relationships and work opportunities.
While the urge may be there to wait this tough period out, those who are adapting to this new forced experiment and continuing to widen their circles online, will statistically have a much greater chance of landing on their feet when social distancing regulations relax.
This pandemic has forced us to appreciate the value of social capital and our ability to interact with one another. Here are some ways to do this:
Determine your goals
- Before you make a new connection, make sure you are clear on your purpose. Are you trying to strengthen your relationships with your colleagues? Make more connections in your field? Find new work opportunities?
- Consider what you want from connecting with someone. What advice can they offer or who could they put you in touch with?
- Give your networking intention, otherwise you’re aimlessly contacting people with no goal in mind and wasting both theirs and your time.
What do you bring?
- The first principle of networking – whether virtually or in person – is to understand that networking is not synonymous with selling. The second is to ask yourself what you bring to the relationship. Networking is a two-way street and in order to build a strong network, you have to give back. If you have time on your hands right now, then make it your mission to stay up to date on all industry news. Share your expertise and industry knowledge, forward relevant articles, make efforts to comment on other’s online contributions and offer to make connections for others that you may be able to facilitate.
- Ask yourself what can you offer your community. You’ll be more successful in making connections if you are providing valuable content for them. Can you start writing blogs, industry commentary or reviews, for example? The more you become confident and comfortable about talking about areas that you’re passionate about, the better chance you’ll have of a new lead business call or interview going successfully.
What to say?
- It’s important during this time to think about tone when reaching out, acknowledging changed COVID-related circumstances. Are they working from home right now? Is this an okay time to email or talk?
- Be specific in email subject lines and explain why you want to connect.
- If possible, demonstrate that you have something to offer that will make it worth their time to respond and connect,
- Do your research first so that you can be tailored and specific. If you’re asking them for pointed advice that draws from their experience, then this specificity and effort shows deference on your part and also creates the basis for follow-up conversations.
- If you are job hunting, don’t come out and ask your contacts for a job – instead, ask them who you can connect with. Most people want to help, but they might feel uncomfortable if you are too direct. So instead of “Are you hiring right now?”, try: “Would you be willing to share some ideas or names of people I can reach out to help me secure XYZ opportunity?”
Grow, nurture and leverage your connections
- In order for someone to find you, you have to have connections. You’re connected to more people than you think! Rekindle relationships with people you’ve previously worked or studied with. Finding out what they have been up to sets the stage for you to share what you have been working on. So many productive things can come from these ad hoc, casual conversations. Those contacts might very well suggest a person who would find your work interesting. But you have to talk with them to reap these benefits.
- Be systematic with how you’re databasing these connections. This is the time to learn a proper CRM Database (Notion is great and very affordable) or just tidy up your contacts lists or Excel spreadsheets.
- Be consistent and dedicated to the time that you’re putting into this on a daily and weekly basis. The more contacts you have, the more knowledgeable you become about different industries, business techniques, and other valuable information that can create an avenue for new opportunities.
Optimise your online presence
- Dedicate time daily to using social media as a tool to enhance your networking opportunities (as opposed to endless scrolling, only pressing ‘like’ or aimlessly going down rabbit holes of links).
- Ensure a modest to active professional presence across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
- If you’re not already subscribing to IF, Screen Australia and your relevant guild and state agency newsletters and Facebook groups then now’s the time.
- Make efforts to post comments with thoughtful feedback, suggestions or links.
Make the most out of virtual networking events
- Do your research ahead of time on who will be attending. It is typical for events to allow access to their program and apps in advance so attendees can connect. Make a list of potential networking targets and plan for pre and post-event outreach via social media, email, or phone.
- Share your thoughts and insights in the comments section on the event platform. Actively participate during Q&As.
- Schedule time and commit to following up and connect with the people you have met via their preferred online platforms or email.
- Not being able to meet in person means that you need to amp up your delivery if you’re pitching a project, as you’ll need to work harder to keep someone’s attention. This doesn’t mean waving your arms around and talking loudly. Rather, this is about using your facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact (look right at the camera), and words to inject energy and emotion into your pitch.
- Can you articulate the pitch differently? This could mean shifting some emphasis on key points from your current pitch, using tighter sentences, or adding memorable stories.
- Just as you’d stand when pitching in person, stand when pitching online. Set up your computer so that it’s level to you. Standing up will allow you to breathe better as you speak and engage your body, which will add to the energy you put forward.
- Use online technology to its best advantage and ideally set up to see a video of you side-by-side with the pitch deck slides. Explain ahead of time how to use functions like ‘raise hands’ or the chat box to ask questions.
- Practise practise practise! It’s even harder to pitch successfully online than in the room as you don’t have as much opportunity to read subtle body language. More the reason to know your script down pat, in order to create as much eye contact as possible.
An extended version of this article will appear in IF Magazine February-March #199.