3 Rules and 13 Tips to Kill It at a (Big) Festival
So you got into -or are attending- Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Tribeca, AFI, TIFF, Berlin etc., now what?
It might feel that you’ve done the hardest part, but making the most out of a festival is no small feat, especially high profile ones where it can be hard to chose between parties, panels, screenings, find the right thing to do -or not to do, and the right person to talk to.
Tim Ferriss attended SXSW for the very first time in 2007 and, as per usual with Ferriss, followed protocols and rules to maximize his chances to connect with people in a meaningful way instead of ‘networking’ so that he would never have to do it again, and it worked.
Eight years later, going full circle, he did a presentation at SXSW breaking down the do’s and don’ts he learned and applied, and answering some of the most pressing questions people keep asking him.
Having been to a few festivals by now from all scales, I can say that these tips are gold and can be applied to any public events. I learned a ton, wished I had discovered some of those tips sooner, and hope you will feel the same way.
This is a great complement and kind of the sequel to Mark Duplass’ Keynote Speech on how attending festivals is the way to take your career to the next level. It only is if you know how to behave, and below is how you can do the latter:
Three Rules and Thirteen Tips to Kill It at a (Big) Festival
There is a right and a wrong way to network and in fact, I think the best way to build a world class network is to spend very little time networking per se, collecting business cards and whatnot. – Tim Ferriss.
Rule #1 – Don’t dismiss people
You should behave like everyone you interact with has the potential to get you a cover story in the NY Times. (listen to the talk for examples)
Rule #2 – Don’t be a dick
Self-explanatory and not limited to men.
Rule #3 – Don’t rush
This is the most important rule because it turns otherwise good, reasonable, wonderful people into the aforementioned. Don’t rush, play the long game.
Tip #1 – How to play the long game
Realize that at SXSW [replace name of event by Sundance or else], there are hundreds of people who could change your life completely, who could satisfy all of your wildest dreams, financially, reputionally, phantasmagorically, they could really make magic happen for you, and your job should be to have a deep human connection with one of those people before you leave. That’s it. It makes SXSW very, very manageable.
If you play the short game, you have to do this very time consuming, energy consuming and likely to offend transactional stuff every year for the rest of your life.
Tip #2 – How do you chose among all the sessions?
Read bios, not the sessions.
The session titles may not tell you the whole story, look for interesting people, not title of sessions.
Don’t just look at the people on the panel, look at the moderator. I would go up to the moderators at the end of a sessions, many of whom are equally impressive in their own rights, who is usually not nearly as mobbed, and I would tell them:
“Hey, that’s my first time at SXSW, I don’t know anyone, I’m kind of lost, just finished my first book, it’s about A, B and C, personally I’m interested in This and This, is there anyone here you think I should talk to? I’m pretty good at this and this.”
And they would recommend a few people. And I repeated this line over and over and that’s how I met many of the people who lead to the tipping for the book.
Tip #3 – Don’t make an impression, leave a memento
Your job at SXSW is to not make a bad impression.
Because if all you’re doing is to try sell someone, there are many different ways of doing it besides coming to SXSW.
What I’d recommend, in an instance where you’re trying to reach let’s say an A-Lister, somebody who is getting mobbed and pitched all day, don’t try to give the pitch in person.
Give them a folded up piece of paper with a page you’ve painstakingly crafted that is the perfect pitch, include your phone number, you’d be surprised how many VIP folks like to call folks via Skype to have a conversation as opposed to sending you their personal email for instance, don’t make an impression, leave a memento.
Just say ‘Hey, I realize you’re super busy, you’ve got this long line of people, you’re under a lot of pressure, I thought about this, I think this would be of great interest to you’ and just give them a teaser.
“Here you go, I hope you have a great SXSW, read it when you’re on the toilet or have an extra five minutes on the plane. Thank you so much.”
And you leave it to that. That also shows that you know how to play the game, you know how busy they are, you know the stress they are dealing with and immediately that will separate you from everyone else, as opposed to getting up and micro-machining through a pitch they won’t remember, even if they have spectacular memory.
Tip #4 – How do you get into a group conversation, how do you interrupt people?
If it’s two people who are deep in conversation, don’t interrupt. Remember don’t rush, play the long game.
If it’s more people, you can do what I did which is say “Hey guys, do you mind if I eavesdrop, it’s my first time here, don’t know anybody, I’ll buy you guys a round of drinks.” Usually the free drinks make it works very easily and they’ll go “Yeah sure.”
The reason you just don’t want to come and eavesdrop is because even though they are not going to say “no”, at least you asked, so be polite.
Tip #5 – Ignorance is bliss, be the idiot
The key here, and this is mostly a problem with men, or boys, or guys in my experience, is we try to impress people.
Don’t do that. In fact you should do the opposite.[Once you are in a group -see point above] If someone said something I was genuinely interested in clarifying, I would say ‘Hey I’m sorry to interrupt, I’m deep in the ignorance pool here, why XXX’
That would oftentimes spark a debate in that group, and so every once in a while, you throw one of this question, again being the idiot, and eventually someone will say ‘Who the hell are you again? What’s your story?’ and then you give them the shortest answer possible. Do not rush into a really long pitch.
So I’d say “Well it’s my first time here, I just finished my first book and the publisher is basically controlling my first book except for digital so I’m here to try to figure it out.” Pause. Then you wait to see who asks, if they do, what’s it about. Great. Then you continue and you see who digs deeper. Let’s say out of six, one person is into it.
Then at the very end, I’d say “You know, zero pressure, I would never ask you to write about it or anything like that, but I have a bunch of promotional copy from the publisher, I could very easily tab the 15 to 20 pages I think you would find interesting, based on what we talked about, and I can email it to you and you could use it as a doorstop if you want.”
And because I already honed down to the point where I knew who was interested, I would say probably 90% of those folks said “yes”, and were enthusiastic about it and at least half of them ended up promoting it, because they loved it, not because I asked them to do it.
Tip #6 – Don’t be a traffic Bigot
If you have something to promote, you might be tempted to go straight to the person who has the biggest megaphone, the biggest site, the most twitter followers.
The problem with that is that you’ll be one of thousands of people who are trying to pitch them. 99% of the time it won’t work. You can try, it won’t hurt, but it usually won’t work.
In 2007 what I tried to figure out, and you can ask people right upfront, moderators are good people to ask as well, who do these people see as thought leaders. Who do they read? Who are the niche people that they read that are the thought leaders?
And then you approach the thought leaders and invite them for a drink. Be very candid.
And it’s amazing the miracles that can come out of that. If you can get covered by one of the thought leader in an interview, even though they have a small site and you can think “Oh who cares, 20,000 readers”, but guess who those 20,000 readers are? It’s like being in front of TED attendees.
Tip #7 – Don’t necessarily focus on the people who you perceive as the A-Listers or the VIPs now
Try to find the pre-VIPs, try to find the up and comers.
Ask those who’ve been here a few times who are the folks that are not very well-known but should be well-known.
Go meet those people.
The best up-and-comers know one another, the best VIPs and A-Listers know one another. It’s not industry specific.
Tip #8 – Ice-Breakers Questions for A-Listers
Rule #1: Ask if they have a second, don’t just run up and pitch, because the perfect pitch at a bad time is a bad pitch, it won’t work.
And if you make a bad impression, they won’t want to communicate with you later even if you correct things.
Mister XXX, may I bother you for 30 sec?
Mister XXX, is now an ok time for one question? (and if you say that, don’t ask three questions.)
Rule #2: Mister XXX, is now an ok time for one question? Who on your team can I email about XXXX?
They’re not gonna give you their personal email or phone number.
And it’s going to make them very uncomfortable to say no, so realize that and ask about their team, that will immediately put you in the pro category, as opposed to the amateur category.
Rule #3: Prove the messenger before the message.
Tip #9 – Get to Know the Entourage
If you see someone patiently waiting next to the A-Lister, get to know them. They are probably the gateway to communication with Mister XXX.
You don’t have to pitch directly.
Tip #10 – How to pick people out of a crowd?
Rule #1: don’t work a room
Rule #2: if you have to pick people out of a crowd, go for the most relaxed, unrushed looking person.
Not necessarily the A-Lister surrounded by people, unless you just want to listen.
Look for the most relaxed persons in the room, they either have very little going on or, they kind of already made it and they don’t feel rush.
Tip #11 – Ice Breakers in General
The small talk is the big talk: if you’re just going to pitch people, you can probably do it in a more effective way by staying home, not coming to Austin, and just sending out cold pitches, working on your email skills.
Here in person, you have an opportunity to dig deeper and talk about other things, that is how you become memorable, that is how you have that one deep human connection.
– Instead of asking what do you do? ask:
- Where are you from? From NYC
- Are you from NYC originally? No, I’m from XXX.
- So how do you get from XXX to NYC?
You’re going to get all the information you can possibly need for context. Boom.
If you don’t want to do that or want to expand a little bit later on, you can ask:
- What sessions [films] are you the most excited about?
- What’s been your favorite sessions [films] so far?
- What’ are you the most excited about these days?
It’s not that you can’t talk about work, but you can do that anywhere, in person is a unique opportunity so optimize it.
Tip #12 – How to Escape/Pause conversations
You could try to pull the bathroom maneuver. The danger of doing that is that if you don’t come back, you kind of look like a dick, so it violates the don’t be a dick rule. [see above]
The easiest way to do it is just to say:
“Hey XXX, you’re gonna be here for the rest of SXSW? Yeah I’m gonna be here for the next few days. Cool, do you have a card or something, I’d love to connect but I just want to wander around, take a little breather, have a cup of coffee but I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
You’re done, that’s it. You’re polite, you’re honest.
Tip #13 – How to Follow Up
Rule 1: Don’t do anything just to keep in touch, it will just make you enemies. You don’t need to ping busy people just to say ‘Hey how is it going?’
Rule 2: follow-up is a dish best served cold. Most people are going to walk out of SXSW pockets full with cards, big ideas, people to follow up. Wait two weeks. If you do it now it’s going to get lost. If you do it right after SXSW it will be even worse. Let people time to catch up with the stuff they neglected during SXSW, wait two weeks, and then in terms of time, I would do it on a Wednesday afternoon, Friday afternoon or Sunday night their time. For max response rate and read rate.
What do you think of those tips? Any additional ones you use? Would love to hear from you, let me know below.
You can watch the full presentation below, or listen to its podcast version here.
More Wisdom thanks to Tim Ferriss
- 30 Piece of Advice from Robert Rodriguez to Lead a Creative Life
- How to Reach Out to Powerful People and Develop a lasting Relationship : 7 Tips