How to Hustle: Tips and Tricks for Networking

Collaborative art forms are all about finding the right people to work with, which is bad news if you're an introvert allergic to mingling.
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Going global, Australians give up their traditional idea of an effective hustle. Image: Heath Ledger in Ned Kelly. 

Bad news if you’re an introvert allergic to mingling. If you want to participate in the screen industry, you’re going to have to get over it. These are collaborative art forms and it’s all about finding the right people to work with. The good news is that networking skills can be learnt and practised and will make every event less terrifying and more fun.

In a canny move, this year’s Screen Forever conference, held at  Crown in Melbourne this week, began the three-day frenzy of programs, panels, meetings and drinks with a single hour-long session offering practical advice on how to pitch, get connected and yes, in that horrible dehumanising terminology, ‘build your personal brand’.

Hosting the session were Ellenor Cox, an Emmy and AACTA Award winning film producer turned Executive Coach, and Karen Eck, PR powerhouse and publicist to the stars, and managing director of the eckfactor Australian publicity agent.

In a warm and supportive session, complete with ‘turn to your neighbour’ exercises, Eck and Cox gave us all permission to use the next three days of the conference to connect, make friends and share our work. It was a license to hustle, in the nicest possible way.

Words like authenticity, trust and vulnerability were mentioned a lot, thus dispelling any ideas about networking being akin to streetwalking or telemarketing. 

Some quick takeaways

  • Be Prepared – Google the people you’re interested in meeting. Look them up on Linked In. Get over the idea that this is stalking. It’s respectful and smart, and it’s expected. Do your homework.
  • Introduce yourself. Use your full name and remember you’re not just promoting your project, but yourself.
  • Remember that much less than half of communication is actually about the words said, so keep an eye on expression, tone, eye contact. (Nobody actually said it in the session, but the actual smell of anxiety was in the room, so remember a good anti-perspirant and mouthwash!)
  • Be Positive. Emit rays of light and positivity about yourself and your project. Don’t start with a sob story or a whine about all the funding agencies who’ve rejected you. 
  • Share your passion. This is an industry that doesn’t do beige. Why should anyone want to work with you if you’re boring?
  • Focus on shared experiences. Even if it’s just a conference session you’ve both attended, this can start conversations.
  • Put your phone away. Have courage and confidence. Push yourself a little. Don’t be afraid to walk up and introduce yourself at the right moment. 
  • Be present. Enjoy yourself. Have a laugh.
  • Notice when something’s working, and pull back when it’s not. Match and mirror the other person’s communication style.
  • Listen to questions. Read the situation.
  • Don’t be afraid to move on when an interaction is finished. Graciously excuse yourself when you want to talk to someone else. Have your glass half full so you can always go to refill it.
  • Develop a Teflon coating. Persistence is key. Focus on results not on problems. Let rejections or rebuffs slide off you as you move on to the next challenge.
  • Practise your quick pitch.This involves introducing yourself and your project. Don’t forget to mention the genre, format (TV drama, doco, feature), title and very succinctly what it’s about. Rehearse and refine. Like an actor, you can perfect this so it’s smooth and effortless. Don’t go on and on about the plot.
  • Pretend you have a TV if you’re talking to TV people. Ideally you watch the kinds of work you’re hoping to make. 
  • Write on the back of business cards and follow up.
  • Once you have a project in development, invite PR to the table right at the beginning. The publicist will be invested in the project and will identify angles and assets needed to sell and promote the work.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a journalist for Screenhub. She is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram