By Hans Obma
Recently, a friend invited me to the screening of a television show and a reception with the show's actors and producers. My friend -- let's call him "David" just for purposes of this article -- exudes confidence in a way that has always impressed me. I accepted the invitation but shared that events like this intimidate me: how do I talk to people I don’t know without being introduced? He gave me some advice I have found very helpful.
"First of all," he said, "you need to understand what your goal is here. If you meet someone for the first time at a public event, the two of you are unlikely to become best friends just then. Rather, aim to have a first interaction he will remember positively the next time you meet."
This made sense to me. I also thought about how I would feel if someone I did not know approached me. Would a brief, pleasant conversation bother me? No, not at all. On the other hand, I would not love it if someone started acting all buddy-buddy when we had no background whatsoever.
David also shared some pointers on how to create and sustain a conversation.
"If you have any connection to the person at all, bring that up when you introduce yourself. Once you've mentioned it, though, move on and ask him questions about himself. The thing is, in all likelihood, the two of you do not know the mutual contact all that well, and he may not even be able to place the contact mentally."
This made sense to me, too. I thought about what would happen if a friend were to reference me as a mutual connection. Let’s say a friend of mine approached a casting director for whom I have auditioned. Some casting directors know me well enough to discuss me with some depth. On the other hand, others would remember me only vaguely. A vague remembrance would hardly support a full conversation, but it might be enough to begin a conversation.
"Also, research the person before you meet him," David suggested. "You can talk with him about his projects, and you may have something in common."
I wavered on this bit of advice because I thought it might be disingenuous to research someone just so we could have a conversation. However, I again put myself in the shoes of the person being approached. Would it bother me if someone enjoyed and researched my work? On the contrary, it would make me feel good. Or let’s say the person discovered we were from the same part of the world or enjoyed the same sport. As long as this person did not assume a commonality meant we were best friends, I would be pleased to have a pleasant conversation about something that interested me.
The next week, I attended a different screening, this time of a television show I really want to work on. I decided that, do or die, I was going to talk to the show’s producer during the reception that followed.
Because most people were more interested in the actors than the producers, I stood by for just five minutes while he conversed comfortably with a couple of guests at the reception. Once they had finished, I took my chance.
"Hi Jack. My name is Hans Obma. One of my good friends, Jeff White, went to Dartmouth and always speaks very highly of you. I heard you have a film that just got distribution. How is that going?"
The producer looked confused for just a moment but moved on and talked about his film. After a few minutes, I ended the conversation with, "Good to meet you, Jack. Again, I am Hans Obma. I'd love to work together in the future." I shook hands with him and then moved on.
David's advice had worked: I, a professional actor, had approached an established producer whom I did not know but with whom I would like to work. Incidentally, I also learned that an honest mistake on my part does not mean all is lost: my Dartmouth friend later told me he did not know the producer from college at all, but from an audition several years earlier. The producer must have concluded that I myself knew the friend through Dartmouth because we skimmed past this and moved onto other topics of conversation.
One final point — was my job done? I would say “no.” It is not realistic to think a producer will remember one short, albeit pleasant, conversation considering all the people he meets week in and week out. Therefore, the next day I mailed him a mini head shot and a note saying where we met and to please consider me for future roles. I now send him something once a month and am on the lookout for other events where he will be speaking.
Hans Obma is an actor who is originally from Wisconsin. He enjoys accents and languages, and he speaks English, Spanish, French, Russian and German to varying degrees.
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