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Having Conversations with the Pros

When you’re first breaking into the music, film, or other creative industries, forging connections with people in positions of power is your number one goal. Whether you succeed or not and the kind of impression you make is all up to you. Do you shrink from opportunity and hide your head in the sand or to you come off too “in-your-face” sending said “pro” to another side of the room? Love it or hate it, every single aspiring creative professional needs to make connections and do so appropriately. There are no hard and fast rules for doing just that. Rather, it’s part intuition, part gauging the pro’s responses and acting accordingly.

When meeting industry types it’s good to have a bonding conversation that’s not about personal accomplishments. The last thing you want is to be someone who looks like they’re too eager or like they’re sitting in a job interview. Meeting someone in a position of power and displaying your knowledge is a far better route. Share funny, little-known anecdotes about famous movies, talk music history, or forge a connection over a common interest like cooking, eating, or travel. Are you both deeply knowledgeable about Atlanta hip hop or are you both fans of Darren Aronofsky’s work? Do you both have polarizing opinions on Yung Lean or Keith Ape? Are you both confused by everyone’s obsession over Chvrches? Roll with that. Build on that. Explore it with the other person.

After you’ve developed an interpersonal connection based on opinion, then it’s ok to open it up a little. Ask questions that are a bit more technical like what was the most difficult part of their last production or record? Or ask them what they’re most satisfying moment was while making “x” film. These are the questions that will eventually allow you to work things around to yourself and gradually clue them into the fact that you’re aspiring to work in their field. Now is it difficult to make this transition without seeming vulgar or gauche? Yes. But putting yourself out there and connecting the right way says a lot to the pro you’re talking to. Feel a little weird about giving them your card? Express as much or tell them, “I know you probably have a million people knocking down your door but I’d really like to work with you so I’m going out on a limb and giving you my card. I hope that’s okay.” Who could say no to that?

During these conversations you want to show, albeit casually, that you’re in the know, got skills, are easy to get along with, and are a hard worker. But more than any of those things, you want to listen. If a pro is talking, they’re giving you direct insight into what they’re about so it pays to listen. And did you know that effective listening can endear you to a person far more than trying to dazzle them with how great you are? Rule of thumb is that you should aim on listening at least twice as much as speaking. Of course, if they’re genuinely interested and want to know more about you, speak! Maintain a cool confidence while showing respect and if you have a sense of humor or a great smile, show your assets so they can see what’s different about you.

It’s fine to have one or two anecdotal stories that showcase your abilities. The goal here is to show the pro that you’re good under pressure, you have a well-honed sense of social skills, and you’re able to do the work. While it sounds crass to pre-plan these stories it can be smart to have them stored away in your head, ready to go. Quality communication and making a good first impression is the goal here and if that requires a little preparation, well then, so be it.

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