By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial
When Brian Grazer accounts for his success as an Emmy-winning movie producer, he boils it down to one trait: rigorous networking. Only he doesn’t use the word networking, which can get a bad rap as contrived and self-serving; he refers to it as “curiosity conversations,” which he has conducted twice a month for the past three decades.
The informal interviews enable Grazer to step inside someone else’s head for an hour, to probe their thinking and glimpse their vantage point. He’s had “curiosity conversations” with a wide array of people, from CIA directors to athletes to rappers. Each one has informed and inspired his movies, either directly – like his sit-down with Eminem, which led to “8 Mile” – or more subtly by simply filling up his knowledge reserve.
The conversations have had such a vital impact on his work that he has made them a priority, even hiring someone to manage them. Grazer details the power of his approach in his new book “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.” It illustrates the broader purpose of networking – not just to snag a business card or score a new client, but to expand your world.
“We are all trapped in our own way of thinking, trapped in our own way of relating to people,” writes Grazer, 63, who produced “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Da Vinci Code,” among others. “We get so used to seeing the world our way that we come to think that the world is the way we see it.”
The Los Angeles native isn’t a raging extrovert, he admits, but he is driven by a desire to understand others. “I’m not particularly outgoing, but I have to act outgoing all the time.” His secret to handling strangers: “I ask questions, of course. I let them do the talking.”
Grazer networked his way right into his most fruitful professional partnership: a 30-year collaboration with director Ron Howard, whom Grazer calls his best friend. The two co-founded Imagine Entertainment and made 17 movies together – all because Grazer spotted Howard in a parking lot one day and promptly called him up.
“I think we have similar goals,” Grazer told Howard. “Let’s meet and talk about it.”
Howard was trying to make the leap into directing at the time, and Grazer started pitching movie ideas, including “Splash” and “Night Shift.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
The best networking comes from a genuine interest in other people, which Grazer’s book ably demonstrates. I help my clients prepare an elevator speech that boosts their confidence in networking and maximizes even the briefest exchanges. It feels good giving an interesting summary of your work. That’s the satisfaction of being able to “speak as well as you think,” my trademark slogan.
When you’re prepared for networking, it frees you to focus on the person in front of you. Direct that focus into three simple goals: learn their name, identify the nature of their work and follow up.
Remembering someone’s name can be tricky, so give yourself a few advantages: get it right the first time and don’t fake it (“Was that Joanne or Joanna?” “How do you spell that?”); use their name right away; and ask for a business card to see it in print and help seal it in your memory. You can also try a memory-linking technique to help associate a person’s face and name with an image. For instance, if you meet Jill Hamlette, who’s a basketball player, imagine her fighting with Jack over an enormous piece of ham while wearing a basketball uniform.
Learning what someone does is a key to effective networking. People are flattered when you care enough to press beyond their generic job description. Ask what their position entails. What makes it rewarding? What makes it challenging?
Then take the time to follow up in a brief, timely fashion. A short-and-sweet, no-strings-attached “nice to meet you” email makes for a refreshing arrival in the inbox. You never know when you may come to mind later and they’ll have your contact information right at their fingertips. That’s why it’s wise to include a few keywords or reference points for a later search, such as, “Hey, this is Dave Volante from Heartland. It was great meeting you at the ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday.” I also like to share something of value, like a relevant link.
Seize the networking opportunities that summer brings – new vistas, new faces, new ideas, a change of scenery and a change of mind.
Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit www.dardisinc.com.