In this month’s Well-being column, former BBC Studios exec and corporate wellness coach Tracy Forsyth looks ahead to this week’s Edinburgh International TV Festival with her top tips on working an industry event and owning the room.
I have a confession. I’m an introvert masquerading as an extrovert for professional purposes. I can work a room full of people chatting, making connections and having fun, but I’d probably rather be at home in front of a box set. Rather than staying up late in bars with scads of people, I’m much happier having dinner with a small group and getting home in time for an 11pm bedtime.
But often in our working lives we need to attend conferences, network a room of industry professionals and leave a lasting impression in order to broaden our network or get that next job. If you find the thought of walking into a room full of strangers daunting, here are the things I’ve learned that have made working a room more enjoyable.
Before you go, have a look at the speaker or delegate list and reach out in advance. Drop them a short email asking if they can meet you for a coffee or if you can grab them during a break or drinks to say hello. You don’t need a complicated reason. I often introduce myself briefly in an email and explain that I just want to be on their radar and say hi. If you don’t get a reply, try their PA. Be tenacious. When you see them, head on up to them and say you’re the person who emailed them in advance – it makes it easier and show you cared enough about meeting them to arrange it in advance.
Before you go, practice your personal elevator pitch. A personal elevator pitch is a summary of who you are, what you are working on, what you are interested in working on and why it’s of interest to them. Again, in advance, write it out, get it into a language you like and practice saying it out loud. It should trip off the tongue so that when you meet someone you want to impress, it comes out naturally with passion and energy.
Set yourself a challenge on how many new people you will network with. If the drinks are an hour long, making three new contacts is a great number. It works out to 20 minutes per person, which is plenty of time.
Go prepared with something to talk about other than yourself. In TV, it’s easy – we can talk about the latest shows, broadcasters, what’s coming up or what you are excited about. Make sure you are up to date on industry news and goings-on so you don’t feel clueless. Have some conversation starters up your sleeve that lead you into an area you are passionate about and can talk about. This way, you keep the conversation flowing if it ever gets stilted.
If you are achievement-focused, set yourself a challenge on how many new people you will network with. So, if the drinks are an hour long, making three new contacts is a great number. It works out to 20 minutes per person, which is plenty of time. Having a challenge like this keeps you driven to keep going but also, once you’ve done it, gives you that feeling of “mission accomplished”.
It’s important to remember that even industry leaders, experts and panellists get nervous or feel awkward sometimes. I remember standing around between sessions at Edinburgh one year when I was a commissioner, not having anyone to talk to, and an agent eventually came up to speak to me, saying how awkward she felt not having anyone to speak to, either. We are all the same. We all think everyone else is having a much better time, and often it’s not true. So, no matter how important someone is, they will always appreciate you approaching them, complimenting them on their work, wanting to talk to them and finding them interesting.
It’s great to attend conferences and networking events with people you know but the danger is that you spend the whole time talking to them rather than other people. If you are going to go with a friend, then make a pact that you will divide and conquer the room together. Split up for a bit, target someone to network with and then either meet up again once the conversation is over or, even better, introduce each other to whomever you were talking to.
We all know the trait of people looking over your shoulder to see if there is someone more important in the room they should be talking to. Well, in a networking environment, it happens. Time is short and there are people to meet. So, if it happens to you, acknowledge it in a friendly way by saying, “I won’t keep you. I’m sure there are loads of people you need to see, so let’s follow up soon.” Then move on.
Tracy is a creative mentor for the Channel 4 Indie Growth Fund, the producer of the WFTV mentoring scheme and a professional executive coach. Follow her at walterwootze.com.