10 Ways to Work a Room (and Get More Work)

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An essential part of the “business” of show is networking. Whether it’s a high-profile premiere or impromptu party, mixing it up with industry players can definitely enhance your chance to advance. But for an aspiring actor, navigating a room can be a treacherous trek. How do you shine without crossing the line between endearing and desperate? Here are 10 things you should know before you go:

1. Be a stage manager. You’re auditioning the moment you leave home. The world is your stage. Anyone could be watching (or listening) as you go up an elevator, park your car, or argue with your spouse. Be cheerful, positive, and friendly to everyone. Think of it this way: The person you cut off in traffic (and flip the bird) could be the director you’re going to be shaking hands with in 20 minutes.

2. Dress the part. To be taken seriously, you need to fit in, but also stand out. Follow the dress code (usually Hollywood cocktail) but make sure your outfit pops with a striking silhouette, an interesting neckline, a well-tailored jacket, or a bold accent color.

3. Don’t eat or drink too much, and be wary. An industry shindig is an interview disguised as a social gathering. Eat before you arrive so you’re free to shake hands, your breath doesn’t smell like garlic dip, and you don’t spend the night with parsley in your teeth. Don’t drink. It’s tempting to loosen up with liquid courage, but this is your office, not a frat party. However, you don’t have to look like a stiff, just fake it with fizzy water and a lime.

4. Have a wingman (or woman). Have you ever gone on vacation with a friend and found out you are terrible travel companions on the first day? It can make for a very uncomfortable trip. Make sure your guest vibes with you and the scene. And if they can boast about you to others, even better.

5. Check your tech. When uncomfortable or around strangers, a lot of us will find refuge in our phones. Time to shut off the tech and turn on your charm. Be approachable and alive in the moment. It’s hard to spot opportunities when your face is in your phone.

6. Go fishing. Let’s be honest, small talk with a big shot can be hard. So, when lost for words, ask a question. People love to talk about themselves and humans are hardwired to go into “answer mode” when queried.

7. Don’t run for office. Avoid talking politics. Your opinion on hot button issues could leave your new friends cold. Why risk it? You’re an actor and no one expects you to have a policy statement. Save the campaigning for award season.

8. Major in history. Nothing is more annoying than aspiring actors who proclaim, “I don’t watch TV.” It’s pretentious and more than a little insulting to the people who make it. You want to impress people? Be able to talk about a film and TV with breadth and depth. Suzette Valle, author of “101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up” says there are must-see films for every serious actor. Her top picks are “The Godfather” (I and II), “Raging Bull,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Graduate,” “Sophie’s Choice,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I would add to that list: “The Last Picture Show,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “On the Waterfront.”

9. Be cool. Meeting someone you admire can be exhilarating, and you may be tempted to corner that person and make him/her love you. But keep cool. Don’t gush or rush them (don’t crowd their personal space). And please don’t ask for a selfie. You’re not a fangirl. Above all, do not ignore their guest (e.g., a spouse, friend, child, or parent). They care about this person and trampling their beloved grandmother in your zeal to meet them isn’t impressive.

10. Get a callback. Be sure people can find you later. Mention a project or even your representation. If you can get a card, follow up, but don’t stalk them. If there is genuine interest, he/she will make that known.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Steve Rohr
Steve Rohr is a nationally recognized communication expert, author, publicist, and educator. As a personal publicist, he represented actors and recording artists for over a dozen years and is currently the show publicist for the Oscars®. Additionally, Rohr has taught public relations and communication on several Southern California campuses.
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