Convention Networking: A Practical Guide

NCA Networking

By William “Bill” Murray, President & CEO, NCA

This post was originally published on LinkedIn

For over twenty years, I worked for the motion picture industry. Networking has always been the lifeblood of Hollywood – even while it was maddeningly difficult.

Take film industry conventions.

Hollywood has a couple of typical industry conferences, but most gatherings revolve around film festivals – often in glamorous, expensive places. There’s seldom a big exhibit hall with vendors – instead, filmmakers show clips of their work in private rooms, writers “pitch” scripts in one-on-one meetings, and deals are made at unadvertised parties.

There’s a secretive, fluid mystery to everything that’s happening, and always the sense that you are missing something. That uncertainty is complemented by the chaos of autograph seekers, paparazzi, and publicists all jockeying for attention. Unless you know how to “work” a film festival, you might as well stay home.

While networking at film festivals and association conventions may seem to have little in common, there is one key aspect in which they are similar: if you plan to network at either, you’ll need to have a strategy and go prepared.

For association conventions, here’s what’s key:

Networking at NCA

Set strategic goals in advance.

Are you looking for a job? Which companies, recruiters, or acquaintances are most likely to help? Are you seeking vendor recommendations? Which colleagues can walk you through their experience?

While there is some value to randomly networking – like randomly buying lottery tickets – it is best to have a goal.

Plan tactically.

Turn your strategy into a plan. Know who you want to meet with, and reach out to them in advance. Arrange a meeting location that is practical, and let them know in advance how to reach you and why you want to get together. Convention apps are great for this purpose, as is Linkedin.

Be flexible.

Speaking of plans, the nature of conventions is that people’s plans will change. Attendees will arrange spontaneous meetings, get caught in presentations that run late, run into an old friend, or get lost in the convention center. Leave some time in your schedule, and be ready to adjust on the fly.

Check out the exhibits.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t in the market for a service. Walking the exhibit floor can give you ideas and – most importantly – you will meet people who know other people. Every salesperson I know has an incredible list of contacts.

Go to the party.

Large loud parties can be problematic. Go prepared with a few simple, stock questions you can ask strangers – about their work, their role, their hometown – and don’t be afraid to break off conversations – with a simple “nice to meet you, I’m going to say hello to some more folks.”

Bring the right tools.

Don’t forget the business cards! And, if you are pitching a project or seeking a vendor, have access to the collateral you need – an RFP, a resume, a requirements list – via email, a jump drive, or on paper.

Follow up.

Be sure to collect those cards and add interesting folks to your network. A short note (“Very nice to meet you”) will make sure they remember you too.

Whether you are a baby boomer who struggles with technology and apps, or a millennial who struggles to come out from behind the screen, a balanced approach to tackling networking at industry events is the best approach to steadily growing a robust network which, over time, will help you – and your career – in unexpected ways.

As far as those film festivals? They were always good for a story – like the time I was at the Cannes Film Festival, and an aspiring French actress came to my hotel room with a headshot and a script, demanding to see Bill Murray – with whom she wanted to costar in her movie. I don’t think that movie ever did get made, but the conversation I had with her was a true comedy of errors as she kept insisting I was not Bill Murray!


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