Photography is a business largely built on referrals, word of mouth and reputation. How you present yourself to others and take advantage of chance opportunities can make or break your career. Are you presenting the best possible version of yourself to clients and fellow photographers?
1. Focus Your Attention Externally
When meeting a potential client or another photographer, we often feel an automatic need to impress, to demonstrate our aptitudes, our portfolios, our creative abilities. This leads to an internal focus that is actually detrimental. When you are more concerned with demonstrating your own attributes than with understanding the person in front of you, you are not present in the moment. This is something people will unconsciously pick up on and it will leave them feeling unfulfilled by their interaction with you. Instead, focus on understanding the person in front of you. Curiosity is reciprocated; when you show interest in them as a person, they will respond with similar interest.
2. Remember Conversational Manners
Pay careful attention to how you conduct yourself in dialogue with someone. Do you cut people off, even inadvertently or out of excitement? Are you making appropriate eye contact? Are you following their arc of the conversation, or just waiting to inject your own topical material? All these things matter. The best networkers and salespeople are those who are brilliant conversationalists; they know how to make someone feel heard and understood.
3. Remember All Your Manners
Do you stand when being introduced? Do you chew with your mouth closed? Are you dressed appropriately for the occasion? Manners are the means by which we show others an awareness and appreciation of their presence and a sensitivity to their personal being. When in doubt, err on the side of the conservative. Defer to the behaviors of those around you if you’re unsure.
4. Body Language and Physical Presence
Be aware of how you are physically presenting yourself. You’ve probably heard that “93% of communication is nonverbal” and while the exact quantity is debatable, there’s no arguing that a large portion of communication is indeed between the words. Do you slouch? Do you shake hands or high five? Don’t point. In particular, we live in a society that is increasingly gesticulative. Be careful if you tend to speak with your hands; you can quickly (even if inadvertently) impinge on someone’s personal space with your gestures. Always be aware of your physical vicinity to others and err on the side of caution when closing that distance.
5. Watch Your Language
You should always be friendly when networking or meeting a potential client, but that doesn’t mean you should speak to them like a friend. Remember that the beliefs, hot button topics, topics that offend and thresholds of offense are incredibly varied. We all occasionally inadvertently offend even our friends; so, remember how easily you can offend someone if you don’t know what they’re sensitive to. Keep your language, your jokes and your stories clean until you’ve been given requisite social cues that you can begin to slowly increase the depth of your personality. This doesn’t mean you need to be boring. It just means that you should be aware of your own preferences for humor and your own thresholds of offense so you can empathize and understand how those might vary in others. Don’t take anything for granted.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Sometimes, we forget a piece of relevant information, or even a person’s name in the course of a conversation. No one is perfect. People will have so much more respect for you if you show humility and get over your embarrassment. Simply make a light joke of it, apologize and move on. A show of humility illuminates mutual humanity. It's much better to endure mild embarrassment now than a loss of respect down the road.
7. Don’t Step on Others to Get a Leg Up
There are few things more ubiquitously offputting than using unsolicited putdowns to increase one’s reception, particularly in the absence of the person who is the object of said putdowns. Few things set off people’s “b.s. radar” more quickly. I’ve even seen photographers’ websites that blatantly dismiss and ridicule the work of other local photographers. Let your work speak for itself. Don’t give people a reason to (rightfully) question your motives and don't make the decision for them. It's offputting and offensive.
8. Don’t Just Focus on the Sale
When we focus merely on the end goal of networking or a sales call, the conversation often becomes overly mechanized, stilted and transactional. This in turn feels artificial and undermines the desire of the other person to commit. After all, that’s what we’re asking people to do: to commit to hiring us, to trusting us with important moments, to investing often large amounts of money in our expertise. Commitment is bred by familiarity and security. Conversations that focus merely on the end objective beget neither of these. There is, of course, a balance, however. Don’t pry. Do, however, show a natural curiosity about the human experience. That curiosity is what builds the trust and familiarity so vital to a business so heavily dependent on personal relations.
9. Follow Up
Be ruthlessly disciplined in having a strong, engaged and timely routine of following up with people. Don’t spam them and don’t just pitch yourself again, but rather, show them your thoughtfulness and awareness of their needs and your remembrance of your previous interaction by rehashing and expanding upon your previous conversation in a thoughtful and productive manner. Be relevant, concise and considerate. It keeps you on their mind and furthers the dialogue and development of the relationship.
10. For the Love of Ansel Adams, Put Away Your Phone
No matter who you’re talking to and in what capacity, a conversation is about devoting your attention to the other person and being present in the moment with that person. When you’re on your phone, you’re doing neither. It shows in both your verbal and physical behavior. It seems to have become a behavior that we’ve grown to accept if nothing more than out of a learned helplessness of its inevitability, but when you break that habit and stay fully engaged with a person, you will notice a drastically positive difference in the way they reciprocate your engagement.
In a field where your career very often depends on your ability to relate to others, you should never stop honing your interpersonal skills. A good impression is often the difference between a lucrative gig and no work at all.