How I Survived CAA’s Young Nashville Party — And My Advice For Your Next Networking Event

By: Orlando Watson

I walk in uncharacteristically undressed for the occasion. Since I’m already at a disadvantage tonight, I might as well hit the door and chalk this up as a loss, but that $50.00 admission ticket and the open bar convince me otherwise. I’m at the Creative Artists Agency’s (CAA) Young Nashville Party,  a networking gold mine for those in the realm of sports and entertainment. CAA boasts a list of clients that seems almost unreal: Kanye, Beyoncé, Andra Day, Gabriel Iglesias, Peyton Manning, Dwayne Wade and Julio Jones, just to name a few. It’s a powerhouse, undoubtedly one of the most dominant and influential talent agencies in the world. And here I am, underdressed, earlier than most and standing with a gin and ginger ale in hand, but there’s a room full of opportunities and I didn’t come to hug the wall.

I came to the event with one goal in mind, to meet one person who can bring value to my journey in this highly competitive industry. Anything beyond that is a bonus point for me tonight. Honestly, my goal isn’t too hard to obtain, purposely so, but regardless I have an ace up my sleeve. I did not come to this event alone. I came with Rico. Rico is a dot connector and mouth piece extraordinaire. A strong compliment to my own skill set. Individually, either of us could work the room in our own way and make great connections. I’ll admit he’ll probably fair better than I, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in all my endeavors it is that you must know your strengths and weaknesses.

I cannot stress that point enough. A weakness of mine is opening up a conversation. I am a bit reserved and sometimes I can just be extremely awkward. It happens. So, while I am not afraid of starting a conversation with a complete stranger, there are times when I have a thought in my brain and I begin to articulate said thought and what comes out of my mouth is so wrong, so awkward, so unnatural that it kills the conversation before it ever started. Enter Rico. If necessary, his gift of gab can provide me a piggyback into any conversation. Notice those first two words, “if necessary.” Knowing your weakness is no excuse to run from it or use others as a crutch. I do not hang at Rico’s side all night waiting for bits of conversation like a dog begging for scraps. I work the room the best I can often opening with a compliment. It’s an easy way to start a conversation. Tell a guy you like his jacket and watch that proud glow come across his face. He’s disarmed and open to talk about anything, likely his clothing or himself since you’re already on the subject. The point being, know your weaknesses and know how to maneuver so as not to let them limit your experience.

As the night progresses I reach and surpass my goal with ease. I’m feeling pretty good about myself. Maybe that second drink is helping. I notice that I’m not actually overdressed. The room has filled and it looks like a happy hour at any bar. I’m engaging anyone I can and every encounter reinforces one notion, do not judge anyone based on appearance. If I were to guess what any of the people I met did for a living before they informed me I’m 100% sure I would be wrong. Tailored suit and clean cut haircut usually equal an unemployed student. V-neck, man bun and distressed jeans equal an entertainment attorney. Those wearing an Adidas shirt, jogging pants and sunglasses — yes, they were actually wearing them inside the venue —  are usually creative directors, entrepreneurs or consultants.  The artist's managers were usually wearing a curly fro, letterman or mini dress. I say this to express how important it is to talk to everyone. The woman dressed like a hipster may operate several tech startups, the guy dressed like a bum probably is a millionaire and the guy in the tailored suit with monk strapped boots may just be looking for his way to break into the industry. Talk to everyone because the connection you’ve been looking for could be standing beside you at any moment. The more people you talk to, the more you are seen talking, the more people are interested in finding out why everyone seems to be talking to you. 

The night has been a huge success in my eyes. I have business cards, phone numbers, Facebook requests, Instagram requests and LinkedIn connections. Most importantly, I've had a good night. I smiled the entire time and I had fun. These two things are just as important as any tip you’ll ever receive on making the most of a networking event. There is power in a smile — a natural one that is. The right smile is inviting and encourages interaction. You want people to feel at ease by your presence and comfortable enough to let loose a little and have some fun. At the end of the day, people want to do business with and hire people they enjoy being around. Yes, they want you to bring value, but they also want to drink with you after late nights on projects, dance with you to celebrate accomplishments and laugh with you to get through the days. 

As I reflect on the night, there is only one thing that I’ve failed to mention. Reconnect. No matter how successful your night seems it will all be for nothing if you do not stay in touch with the connections made. You were not the only fun and charismatic person in attendance and you can be forgotten. You did the hard work of making those connections. Reconnecting makes those connections real. It shows that you were not all talk. Reach out to those connections while the memory of you is fresh in their minds and see what value you can bring to each other.

Here are my four takeaways from my experience:

  1. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Do not judge anyone based on appearances.
  3. Smile and Have Fun.
  4. Connect and Reconnect.

How have your networking experiences been? Need any extra advice?
Ask away in the comments below!

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