Agora Talks: “Mastering the Fine Art of Networking”




Agora Talks: “Mastering the Fine Art of Networking”


Bonnie Williams (Pitch & Public Speaking Coach) delivered a talk titled “Mastering the Fine Art of Festival Networking”, carried out on Tuesday March 15th, at Warehouse C, as part of the Agora of the 24th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, revolving around the skills for successful and easy networking.


“It is hard to meet new people at a festival… so I want us to play a game!” With this unconventional approach, Bonnie Williams kicked off her speech, and asked initially for the Greeks in the room to stand up. Then, she asked those who came by plane: people from Poland, Bosnia, Serbia, Moldova, Germany, Bulgaria stood up, in a get-to-know-each-other game among festival lovers. “We are like the United Nations!”, she enthusiastically said.


At Warehouse C, there were producers, directors, actors, sales agents, programmers, podcasters and all the professional categories from the broader field of cinema. “We are in a diverse space, we get to know people from different paths and experiences”, she commented. “Why are you all here? This is not an existential question. What are you trying to achieve?”, Ms. Williams asked the audience. Directors, programmers, sales agents responded that they wished to meet new people, distributors and other professionals from the field. “So, all of you are trying to build new relationships or to nurture existing ones. How do you experience festival networking? And most importantly: what are the obstacles you face during this procedure?”, Ms. Williams asked the audience.


“It is never easy to approach someone and talk to them. Especially when so much is at stake. When you can benefit from this relationship, it is so much harder, the pressure of the first impression is too much!”, she added. “I want to share some thoughts from my experience in film festivals: the information you have on the catalogue is like your Tinder profile. And your first meeting is your first date. How could you then set up a first date and what exactly are you going to talk about when you get there? The question you should ask yourselves is: how do I want others to perceive me? You have control over how you present yourself to other people. How do I want others to respond to what I am saying, on both a professional and a personal level? Relationships on a festival level are not far from real relationships and this is how they should be treated!”, she highlighted.


Afterwards, she talked about the three key features of persuasion:


  1. Ethos, your moral values, which make people trust you – a subconscious process, that needs milliseconds to take place.
  2. Pathos, your emotional aspect, your psyche, and the extent to which it can relate with the psyches of other people.
  3. Speech, your arguments, your words and the extent to which others make meaning of them.


“The question is whether or not someone connects with you based on the three pre-mentioned aspects”, she underscored. Then, the talk turned interactive, and the participants took part in a series of introductions with the fellow members of the Agora. In the first cycle of introductions, the participants met a random member of the Agora in one-minute time. Then followed the second cycle, in which the participants presented themselves briefly, in a fast and summarized manner, in one minute, answering the following questions: Who are you? What is your project? What do you do? Why do you do it? Why are you at the Festival?


“What your fellow speaker said is the “speech”. How they said it, is the “pathos”. The interesting and charming elements of their personality, are the “ethos”, she noted. The audience claimed that the one-minute time duration is too short, and Mrs. Williams agreed. “Networking requires preparation. You should prepare a short introduction of your work. The meeting can happen anywhere: even in line for coffee. I want to eliminate all the fears you may carry when it comes to meeting new people”, she added. At this point, she moved on to the third cycle of introductions, where the participants introduced their fellow speaker to a third party. “This is a very crucial part of networking: it is not only about the present moment. It is about future events that are yet to take place. If you meet someone with whom you cannot collaborate at present, you may introduce them to someone else”, she said relatively.


After the third cycle of introductions, Ms. Williams moved on to certain determining conclusions: “Apparently, we are a lot more than what we do professionally. Do not identify yourself with your project. You have to overcome the communication obstacles and start conversations in an organic manner”.


She then offered some advice about how to make a good first impression:


  1. The other person is the center of the conversation
  2. Stick to the present, comment on something that is happening currently
  3. Create an open atmosphere, by making a compliment to your fellow speaker
  4. Listen attentively and show you care
  5. Introduce people to third parties – you will be compensated in the long run
  6. Enjoy the moment – our time here is limited!


Finally, she offered some advice about the first meeting:


  1. Research the people you are about to meet
  2. Always speak with a purpose in mind: what are you trying to achieve from this meeting?
  3. Memorize well the short presentation you have prepared for yourself
  4. Really connect with your fellow speaker: stay present and active in the conversation
  5. Even if they are not interested in your project, they may be interested in you as a person
  6. Arrange a follow-up meeting.