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Careers Clinic: How do I network at an awards party?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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Growing up, I was the tomboy and my sister was the arty one, but it was me who ended up at drama school. She went into IT and is now an executive at a multinational firm.

Meanwhile, I’m a working (most of the time) actress but not quite at awards level yet. At least, I thought not. My sister’s firm is sponsoring one of the biggest awards parties of the season and she has VIP tickets.

Her partner, who has no interest in showbusiness, suggested she take me as her plus-one instead. The list of nominees includes so many heroes of mine, I got the shakes just reading it, so I didn’t think twice.

Unlike my sister, I don’t normally do glam, but this is definitely an event I’ll be dressing up for, even though it’s another big leap for me. Big Sis is already on my case about how I should use this networking opportunity. She’s right, but as a nervous newbie to the awards world, what are your suggestions for doing that?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE There is a ‘sweet spot’ between being far too extrovert and being totally paralysed by nerves that most of us want to aim for when attending a big, glitzy event.

Having been involved at quite a few of these events in various capacities through the years, I know the struggle to hit that balance is often just as real for big names as for the rest of us, no matter how glamorous and composed they look in press photographs.

As with any other public performance, preparation and research go a long way to making sure you have the best experience, but it’s up to you to decide what that looks like.

While an awards event can be a great opportunity to network, try to avoid fixating on a particular outcome or meeting a particular person. If that doesn’t happen, you risk turning what should be a happy event in your career into a frustrating one.

Let’s start with the ‘what to wear’ element. Check if there is a dress code or a cause being highlighted. That narrows down your choices and, if it’s a cause you believe in, by all means represent it. If not, search photos of previous events to decide what works and what doesn’t.

There is too much judgement in this industry already, so let me be clear that this simply means what works for you. I’m assuming you are not quite at the stage where designers are offering you their creations to wear for nothing.

Even if they were, it is not hard to work out from previous awards photos who is wearing what somebody told them would be a good choice and who is wearing what actually makes them feel good. You mentioned that you don’t usually do glam, so treat the outfit you choose like a stage costume and practise walking the red carpet in your gear beforehand.

Once you are at the event, if you are nervous or excited, it is probably best to limit alcohol intake, at least at the beginning. In common with any filmed event, there may well be a lot of stopping, starting and hanging around that doesn’t make it to the final edit. That’s often the danger zone for knocking back too much, too quickly.

Finally, I hope you meet some of your heroes. When you do, remember that if they spend the whole year acting, the last thing they may want to talk about at their ‘works do’ is more acting, whether yours or theirs. Small talk on a completely unrelated subject that interests you both often leads to a much more human and memorable interaction. Have fun – and don’t forget to send us photos.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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