When you hear the word “networking” you probably think of a high-pressure gathering in a tiny room where you’re handing out business cards to people you’ll probably never hear from again, trying to make yourself seem really interesting, and all the while feeling like you’re failing miserably. Sound about right?
I used to be terrified of networking. I’d purposefully stand in the corners of events I’d gone to just because I was so nervous to approach anyone, and when I did end up talking to someone, I’d nervously fumble around eventually excusing myself just to get out of the situation.
Believe it or not, networking is now one of my favorite parts of this industry, and definitely one of my favorite things to teach. You see, when I learned how to turn it into something a little less scary and a lot more beneficial, it started to feel, well, natural.
If you’re thinking “there’s no way this could ever be anything but torture” then just know that I’ve been where you were—in fact I’m a proud introvert and spent most of my life up until about 25 years old painfully shy. But once I started doing the things I’m going to teach you today, it all started to change.
Stop thinking of it as “networking”
The first thing I want you to do is swap out the term “networking” for “relationship building.” Networking sounds so arduous and dated, and it conjures up those hectic business card swaps we were talking about. That is not what I want for you and it’s not the process I’m outlining today.
What I’m talking about is building relationships, pure and simple. This isn’t about “what can you do for me” it’s about finding people who you have a genuine interest in and vice versa, who you believe can help your journey and likewise, whose journeys you want to be a part of and help with. This isn’t about exchanging services and calling it a day—this is about finding people to grow with.
Use the buddy system
Everything is easier when you know you have your bestie by your side. (Or at least, someone who is a little more of a natural at working the room)
If you can, either bring a more extroverted friend to help make things a little less awkward (it’s always more comfortable wandering around with a friend than breaking into an existing conversation solo, isn’t it?) or, if you know even one person who will be there, make sure you’re going in at the same time as them and see if you can hang out with them for a bit. If they’re already pretty familiar with most of the people there, this will make for a great way to get to know those around you without having to just walk up and say “Hi, I’m ___, what do you do?”
But if you do have to do that….
Go in with a plan
If you’re going solo, don’t despair! In a way, this is even better because although you might be a basket of nerves at first, you’re going to get through the discomfort faster and be on to networking like a pro in no time.
Now, if you’re an anxious introvert like me then the scariest part of almost anything is not knowing. If you walk into an event having no idea who you’re going to talk to or what you’re going to talk about, you’re going to be a nervous wreck. But, if you go in with a couple topics and questions prepared, you’re going to feel a lot more confident introducing yourself to someone or keeping a conversation going until you’re able to really break the ice.
A couple pretty easy icebreakers when introducing yourself or prompting conversation:
“What do you do/are you a musician too?”
‘What brought you to (city)?”
“How did you get involved with (group that’s throwing networking event)”
“What do you have coming up that you’re excited about?”
Are these incredibly personalized? No of course not. That’s the point. These are fairly generic conversation starters to get you going. From there, you’ll want to listen to their answers and create new questions based on what they say, and what you connect with.
Talk about anything other than music
Of course music is going to come up, especially in the beginning of the conversation, because it’s what you connect over most. But at some point you want to try to move it to other common interests, as this is where most of the genuine bonding will happen.
Think about it, when you’re talking about your music, sure you’re excited and happy to do it, but are you as excited about it as when someone asks about your dog or you get to talk about the really great taco you had? We get so excited when we connect with other people about the things in our life that we love, be it our food, our pets, our travel adventures, whatever it is, the more you can connect over those very (seemingly mundane but very universal) things, the stronger bond you’ll create.
Give yourself some freedom
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the idea of going to a networking event for the next 4 hours, but know how important it is, then don’t go for 4 hours. Go after it’s already started, and pop in for 45 minutes and then leave. You don’t have to do anything. Remember you’re there because you want to grow your career and meet others and build your circle, but you don’t have to stay or 4 hours just because it’s 4 hours. Give yourself some room to grow. Maybe this time it’s 30 min and the next time it’s 45 and in a month it’s an hour and a half. Just give yourself an out, and then do your best.
Relationship building can be one of the most rewarding pieces of the industry and if I’m being honest, it can truly be one of the most enjoyable. It’s where you get to truly connect with others who are in the same position as you, and who want to make a difference, build a community, and create a movement, just like you do. Networking events might seem daunting at first, but if you can learn to make them work for you and always give yourself space to be you, you just might find they can be pretty amazing experiences, and that you end up meeting some of your best friends.
We’re just getting started—if you’re looking for more tips and examples to build your community and start seeing massive growth and engagement, join me for my free Masterclass ‘How to gain your next 1,000 fans. 3 simple steps that lead to higher engagement, sold-out shows, and life-changing opportunities’ on September 18th at 6pm EST. Register here and I’ll see you there! 🙂
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and more, as well as the Director of Community and Events for Music Launch Co. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.