(This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post)
Last month, I mentioned in a blog that the famously self-confident film director Michael Winner has said on more than one occasion that, when he went to parties on his own, he was sometimes almost too shy to go into a room full of strangers.
This came to mind yesterday, when I went to a seminar (I guess that’s what it was) at Equity in London where members – mostly actors – were being told about and swapping tips on networking
Top tip seemed to me to be that, when presented with some networking opportunity you should always take it and never turn it down. Sounds obvious, but there is the Michael Winner factor of wanting to hide in a hole in the ground.
Almost all performers – actors, comedians, whatever – are extrovert show-offs who want a bit of attention and are Me-Me-Me…
But they also tend to be overly-endowed with insecurity and self-doubt.
Shall I go to that party/schmoozathon and sell myself to important people and further my career or shall I hide under the duvet in my bedroom?
Best advice is probably to think not What might I gain from going? but What opportunities might I miss by not going?
Networking is a bit like dogging. You will get nowhere by staying alone at home in your bedroom.
It was also suggested that selling yourself succinctly involves having a variety of pre-prepared ‘elevator pitches’.
Hollywood wisdom is that you should have an elevator pitch for your movie project in case you accidentally meet a studio chief in a lift in a building and he is only going up one floor. You have to encapsulate your 120-minute movie in one sentence…
- Romeo & Juliet in the West Side of New York
- Robin Hood in gangland Chicago
- Love Story crossed with The Wild Bunch
Some pitches are more effective than others.
When networking yourself rather than your project, you have to encapsulate your entire professional life in two sentences but – as you are selling different versions of yourself to different prospective employers or financiers – you need perhaps five different versions of your pitch prepared for five different circumstances.
This is something I have always spectacularly failed to do.
When asked at a party, “What do you do?” I have a tendency to look blankly at the person and say, “I have no idea. Never have. Still don’t.”
Someone once told me: “John, your career appears to be unfocussed”. It was intended as a criticism.
I took it as a good thing – variety being the spice of life and all that.
Most bizarre insight of yesterday, though, came when the problem of working at home cropped up.
When I was a student, I lived in a house of bedsits in Hampstead. Surprisingly cheap. The landlord was an altruistic Christian and merely covering his costs.
One of the other rooms was rented by a woman who lived in a big house in the next street. She was a novelist. Every morning, she would walk out of her own front door, come round to our house, go into her bedsit, write until 5.00pm, then go back to her own home.
I used to think this was eccentric until I found difficulty working from home myself (despite the fact my third bedroom is kitted-out as an office) and found working in the local library – or in an Apple Store – was easier.
This was taken one step further yesterday when someone said that, when about to do work at home, she changed into ‘office clothes’ – she put on a dark business suit… When she had finished her work at home, she changed back into her casual homely clothes.
This sounds bonkers at first, but is logically eminently sensible.
Someone else said that her boyfriend did the same thing – except he just changed into a bow tie.
I think I may buy a bow tie.