You Want a Seat at the Table? Here are 3 Ways to Earn it!
Once upon a time in a land not so far away (and, well, every second on social media), someone decided it would be a good idea to ask for something that served him and only him.
He decided that in order to succeed in life, he needed to collect all of the “things” that he needed to shine.
But he was mistaken.
See, this particular individual is misunderstanding the purpose of the ask: The value you bring to a person is based on their needs, not yours.
Go back and read that sentence again. Better yet, let me say it again:
The value you bring to a person is based on their needs, not yours.
In other words, if you want something, you have to definitively and decidedly earn the right to ask for it, and to earn that right, you mustbring value to the person you’re asking first, foremost and repeatedly. Here’s what I mean in boldface headers….
1) Build Meaningful Relationships
One of my favorite stories about relationship building comes directly from my book Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd and speaks to the importance of building genuine, meaningful relationships. (I tell the story in this blog post as well.)
In a nutshell, an aspiring writer we’ll call Gary approaches a multi-nominated and Academy Award winning writer/director at a screenwriting conference. He is one of about 20 writers waiting for an audience with this particular creative. Without so much as an introduction and/or handshake, he dives right in on his (self-proclaimed) genius and his brilliant script. For what seems like an eternity, he drones on and on, not letting the writer/director get a word in edgewise or noticing his increasing disinterest. At no point does he even acknowledge the writer/director’s success or direct any of the conversation toward his body of work or accomplishments.
This was a fail of massive proportions. Why?
Clearly, our brilliant writer brought nothing of value to the table. All he brought was ego and hubris. Worse, he didn’t value his target’s time or the time of the 20 or so writers who were waiting for an audience with our famous writer/director. I encourage you to read the rest of this story in the blog post (referenced above) or in my book, but here’s a spoiler, it didn’t end well for Mr. Brilliant. He left with his tail tucked firmly between his leg. And deservedly so. You get what you earn.
Next up, walked a woman we’ll call Grace. She greeted the writer/director with a warm smile, a gentle handshake and by introducing herself. Then she asked him a question about a creative decision in one of his films — a film which happened to be his biggest failure, but one that he was still enormously proud of.
Our writer/director perked up. Not only was he touched by the fact that she had seen such a deep cut in his filmography, he was impressed by her question and her observation. They immediately fell into a lengthy, comfortable conversation as if they had known each other for years.
This was a winning strategy. Why?
By showing a genuine, deep rooted interest in the writer/director, his first impression of her was that she was selfless and not self-serving. She also recognized that even though this was a man of huge stature and success, she had something of value to bring to him. She recognized his art. She wanted to know about his artistic choices. She wanted to show appreciation for his talents. She understood that the higher you climb, the more people want from you. And her choice, in that moment, was to give.
Again, I encourage you to read the rest of this tale on the blog or in the book, but here’s another spoiler: The story ends with our two newly minted friends forging a happily ever after connection.
Our writer/director took an interest in her writing and her career. He helped her land her representation. He bounces ideas off of her, which if you knew who I was talking about would make you extremely jealous.
Mr. Brilliant? Last I heard of him, he’s still proclaiming his brilliance and blaming the world for his inability to move forward.
2) Offer Value
Let’s clear up this word “value” and what it means for you.
Before you ask someone to read your script, put you in their film, pay for your Uber, or whatever else you plan on asking them for, you best be damn sure you earned the right to ask for it.
People are busy. They have their own goals. They have jobs, agendas, quotas to meet. They have wants, needs and desires.
As important, and as it should be for you, their time is their most valuable commodity.
Further, it is likely that people you are targeting to watch your reel, read your script, invest in your film, production company or business, give you a job or just about anything else you’re planning to ask for are in the position to do these things for you because they earned the right to be. And if they are in this position of power, you can be rest assured that you are likely one of dozens (if not more) asking them for a favor.
This is where value comes in. The question you should be asking first and foremost is: What can I do for them? Not: What can he/she do for me?
I’m not talking about selling your soul or kissing ass — I’m not talking about muting your hunger, drive and desire. I’m talking about entering from a place of selflessness, humility, and authenticity. That’s what Grace did. She had zero expectations when she was talking to the writer/director. And look what happened. She gave value and she got value in return. She earned her right to ask for things over time. Which brings me to…
3) There Are No Shortcuts
Almost every single day through DM’s on Stage 32,Twitteror IG, I’m asked to provide advice on shortcuts either in the film business or as an entrepreneur. Everyone wants to know how to get views, auditions, reads, financing, introductions to venture capitalists, and so on.
My responses are always the same:
Relationships are everything.
Relationship building takes time.
You need to treat relationship building as a job.
Champions of you and your work are more valuable than gold.
You won’t win champions through ego, hubris and selfishness.
In short: There are no shortcuts.
To some, this advice falls flat. Surely your talent is going to win the day. Someone will notice you. Someone will recognize your greatness. But talent without relationships or champions is a tree falling in the forest with no one around. Does it make a sound? Does anyone know? Does anyone care?
To others, this advice seems daunting. If it feels that way to you, I would ask you to dig deep and be honest with yourself how bad you truly want to succeed in your chosen path. The journey to success is filled with hard work, obstacles, walls, knockdowns and dust-offs. You have to decide if your passionate enough to proceed.
To the rest, everything I’ve outlined here will likely been viewed as a challenge you’re ready to meet head on. Something to conquer. Something that can be measured in the day to day by activity, opportunity and access that will be realized as a direct result of your efforts. Better still, you recognize this: Your mindset has given you a distinct competitive advantage.
Remember, you’re trying to earn a seat at the table with people you admire and respect. Part of the reason you admire and respect them is you admire and respect the work and effort they put in to get to their lofty position. Emulate that. Earn your way.
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