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Once you've made contact with an industry pro, it's time to start building a relationship.
The best relationships happen naturally. It's the difference between a blind date where the partners are comparing each other against a list of criteria, and a more relaxed evening out with someone whose company you truly enjoy. The first is a forced and artificial situation. Each partner is only focused on what they think they want and need from the other person, and that only causes stress. The second is more natural. The partners are open to learning about each other. This allows space for a true relationship to develop.
A friend of mine is one of the smoothest networkers I know. Her secret? She's truly interested in other people. When she asks about someone's projects or interests, people sense her sincerity and enjoy talking to her. She's also a confident professional, and she speaks charmingly and passionately about her own projects. She approaches everyone in the spirit of exchange, and she's never pushy or aggressive. As a result, she's very well-connected and well-respected.
Most of us don't have her natural ability for flawlessly balancing business and pleasure. We end up coming across as too shy, too aggressive, or too desperate. Find a person whose people skills you admire. Go with her to a couple of events and see if you can pick up any pointers. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you started:
Nobody likes to be bombarded, especially in a social situation. Let a relationship develop and the business will follow naturally. "Don't overwhelm producers with your scripts and ideas. Stay calm," says screenwriter Andrew Bennett. "Wait for them to ask what you're working on. That's your cue to segue into your pitch."
Show interest in others. Ask them about their projects—and pay attention when they talk! Never make someone feel like there are more interesting people in the room to talk to. Even if there are.
Invite a pro to lunch. Keep it friendly. Tell them you respect their expertise, and you'd like to learn more about the business. Approach people the right way, and you'll find they're quite willing to share their experience with you—especially if you're picking up the tab.
Whenever you make a good contact, stay in touch. Send a congratulatory note when their newest movie opens or an update with your latest contest win. Be judicious, however. Don't spam people on a regular basis.
Let people get to know the real you. After all, it's your unique point of view you're trying to sell, isn't it?