“How are you?” “Fine. You?” “Fine.” End of conversation. Oh, yeah, there’s the babble about the weather and the latest sports scores, but the conversation often dies right after the last “fine”.
Networking is about talking. Talking about what you are doing. Without talking about what you’re doing, no one knows what you’re doing. How do you get past the “fines” to actually sharing what you are really doing?
Getting Past the Fines
First of all, throw away the “fines”. Or keep them but don’t stop there. People really don’t want to know how you are “feeling”. They want to know how you are “doing”. Feelings are tough to talk about and activities are much more interesting, though manners obligate us to ask about feelings instead. So skip the feelings and get to the activities and make everyone much more comfortable.
“How are you?”
“Great! We’ve just booked 20 towns on our North American speaking tour for next year. Exciting isn’t it?”
“Wow, that’s great!”
“What have you been working on?”
“I picked up an editorial assignment for National Geographic.”
This is networking. I tell you what I do, you tell me what you do, and together, maybe we can discover more information to help us both do what we do and do more of it.
Continuing with our show, imagine Speaker One walking over to Speaker Three and Four at the same social function.
“Hey, did you hear about Speaker Two? She’s picked up an assignment with National Geographic!”
“That’s great. I was just telling Speaker Four here about my gallery exhibition.”
“That’s wonderful! What an honor. We enjoy working with galleries. We’ve taught our photography programs at galleries and enjoy working with them.”
“They are great to work with. I bet this gallery would love one of your programs. The owner of the gallery Fred Smith. Why don’t I call him for you and tell him about you?”
Bingo, networking pays off. By sharing the excitement of what you and others are doing, people want to share back. Through that process, we pick up leads and information that can bring us business.
I don’t know what to say
Conversation is often seen as something “hard.” It doesn’t have to be. First, plan what to tell people before you arrive. Practice it. Make sure it is concise and understandable, and make sure you have all the facts. If you want to talk about a specific event, have all the dates, times, and location information at the forefront of your mind. Tell people about the exciting things you are doing so word will spread, and make yourself interesting so people will want to get to know you and be around you. The more people are interested in you, the more they are likely to want to do business with you or send business your way.
Ask questions. Make a statement and then ask another question. In the first example, the statement was followed by the question, “Exciting, isn’t it?” Responses create dialog. Keep people talking about themselves. As interesting as you may be, people will find you more interesting if you let them talk about themselves. This process is called “active listening.”
“How are you?”
“Great! We have a new gallery exhibition coming up.”
“Xations Gallery in downtown Seattle.”
“An exhibition. Great exposure, isn’t it?”
“It is, and a lot of hard work.”
“An exhibition takes a lot of work to put together, doesn’t it?”
“It sure does. We have to get all the work matted and framed.”
“How are you getting the work framed?”
“I really like working with Framer and Sons. I’ve been with them for 15 years.”
“Sounds like they are really good. We have some photographic work on rare trees in the Olympic National Park that I’d like to get framed for an exhibition. Can you recommend this company?”
“Sure, they’re great. What kind of trees do you photograph?”
Active listening means really listening and repeating back what the person said, in a way that shows your interest, but also keeps them talking. By echoing back their comments in the form of questions, you “guide” the dialog, eliminating dead air space. Unconsciously, people believe in equal time, so the more time you “listen”, the more likely they will be interested in hearing about you, once they finish going on and on. By “guiding” the conversation, you can bring the topic around to you, and what you are doing.
It’s a very small world out there and they say that you are six people away from knowing anyone on the planet. Therefore, the more people you know who know what you are doing, the more business you have the potential to attract. Get out there and stop the “fines” and just talk it up.
Ten Words or Less
“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a photographer.”
“Oh, that’s nice. What do you take pictures of?”
“Well, a little of this and that. I like animals.”
“Animals, hmmm? Oh, excuse me, I need to see Mr. Muirinteresting.”
Sound familiar? This is how most of us meet people. It’s time to change that. People really want to know what you do, not how you are or how you feel. People hunt everyday to find connections in society. Knowing how to introduce yourself and your abilities helps them make the connections they need, and the ones you are desperately seeking.
In a social situation, you don’t have time to list your resume, and being vague, as we’ve seen, certainly doesn’t encourage people to investigate your possibilities. You have to be concise and entertaining in the way you present “who” and “what” you are and do in ten words or less.
“So, Alice, what do you do?”
“Well, I do a little bit of this and that. Nothing special, mind you, but I like taking pictures. Of nothing in particular, but I do like animals. Fuzzy ones, but then I will photograph birds sometimes, you know, just to keep my hand in. And I like traveling so I take a lot of pictures when I travel, but I don’t often travel to nature places so I don’t do animal pictures when I travel, I usually do travel pictures…
Why ten words?
People in social situations are anxious to meet a lot of people and not get locked in a corner with one person. By keeping your introduction short, and establishing your credentials quickly, you invite the other person to do the same. From there, you can get on with the business of finding out who can use who. By keeping it to ten words or less, you’ve presented yourself in a clear, concise, and professional manner.
In business, a mission statement is a sentence or paragraph a business creates to describe what they do. It is used to get bank loans, put on stationery, and post on the wall. It is a tool that introduces the company and its business standards to the customer. Your introduction is like a mission statement. It tells your listener who you are and what you do.
More importantly, it keeps you on track. In photography it is easy to get distracted with the latest new camera or gimmick. Sure, you can diversify your business, but you still need to keep your focus on your goals. By knowing who you are and what you do, you create a filter through which to run your business efforts. Ask yourself “is this part of my mission statement?” or “Is this part of my purpose in photography?” If your photography business is important to you, staying focused and on track with your business is crucial to making it a success.
The concept of “ten words or less” doesn’t mean that the counting starts with word one. It usually starts after, “Hello! My name is Fred Smith and I…” That’s when the counting starts. Sure, some people will have 8 words, some 13, we’re just offering a round number to help you streamline your introduction.
The Ten Words or Less Form
Grab a pen and print out the 10 words or less form to do the following exercises. This form will help you establish your mission statement or “10 words or less” presentation. Though it will take about 20 minutes, take your time and go through the process thoroughly. Be as specific as you can. Use brainstorming techniques, and even involve friends and family if you would like. This must be “your” personal statement about your photography and the business angle you have chosen.
- What do you do?
- List what you do. Be specific. If you photograph only animals, what kind of animals? Wild ones? Animals in captivity? Domestic animals? Only furry animals? Only ones larger or smaller than a dog? Or do you say you photograph animals when you really spend most of your time photographing butterflies? If you photograph people, then what “kind” of people do you photograph? How do you photograph them? Portraiture? Street scenes? Weddings? Write everything down that describes what you do.
- Whom do you want to sell your work to?
- We often think about the process of photography and not the end result. A widget factory makes widgets for SOMEONE, right? Whom are you making your photographs for? If it is just for you, then you don’t need to know about the business side of things. If you want to make some money, exhibit your work, or have some goal which involves presenting your work to others, who is your audience? What kind of galleries would show your work? Fine Art? Modern? Will you only sell to magazines or the stationery market? Do you only do fine print work for people to put on their walls? Who will look at it? Children? Old people? Business and professional people? Cultured art critics? Or just normal everyday people? Write down everyone who will see your work and describe them if necessary.
- What reasons do you have for wanting to do this?
- You’ve examined what you do and who will see your work, but what are the real reasons behind your photography? Is it for the money? For the fame? Or is there a deeper reason? For personal fulfillment or artistic release? Is it because the camera calls to you and demands your attention? Is there some connection between you and the final images or is the process of making the pictures more important? Define the reasons you are doing this.
- Explain in one sentence what you do, whom you sell to and why you are doing it
- This is the time to let go and write it all down. Take everything you’ve written so far and turn it into a sentence. Play with it. Write it all out then edit it a bit, just get it into sentence form based on your conclusions so far.
- Edit the above sentence to the most important elements in order of importance.
- Write down the ten (more or less) words that jump out at you, make you feel whole and complete inside. Refine the long sentence to the things that connect within yourself:
- Is this what I really do?
- If you find yourself listing things you don’t really do or don’t want to do, give that some thought. Are you really doing things you don’t enjoy? Are you hoping that someday you’ll get around to photographing butterflies while you spend all your time photographing dogs? If so, look at the reality of your situation. If you have stacks of dog pictures and only two butterfly images, what are you really doing?
- Is this what I want to do for a long time?
- Remember that whatever you say you do, the odds are you may be doing this for the rest of your life.
- Can I do this?
- Can you really keep your word and do this kind of work and photography? Can you meet the customer’s demands and needs? Will it keep you interested and enthused or will it bore you after a few months?
- Who will buy?
- To sell something you must have a buyer. What kind of people want your work? Need your work? Where are they located?
- Why will they buy?
- Think about the reasons someone would want to spent their hard earned money on your work. What needs will you fill by providing your photography to them? What makes your work special or unique?
- Am I repeating myself?
- Watch for redundancies. Sometimes we get so caught up in the “words” we forget that we are saying the same thing but in different ways. “I’m an architectural photographer specialized in photographing buildings.” or “I’m an artistic photographer who creates fine art photos for the art market.” Clean up the repetition to state clearly what you do.
- In “ten words or less” answer the question: What do you do?
- Take your condensed list and put it together in a sentence of about 10 words or less explaining to the listener what you do:
- What do you do
- Who will buy it
- Why you do it
Once you have your ten words or less sentence, try it out on friends and family. Maybe they have no idea what you really do. Ask them if they understand what you do and feel that this really explains it clearly to them. If not, go back to the form and refine it further, making adjustments where needed. A mission statement or statement of purpose is not a stagnant piece of work. It’s alive and growing as you grow and change. Find what works for you. Then go out and give it a try professionally and watch the response!
Let us know how this worked for you by commenting below. And if you would like to share your ten words, please do.
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