Read This Before You Go To Your Next Networking Event

One of the great modern mysteries for emerging artists is understanding how to network.

Networking is only difficult if you treat it as a separate activity from simply living your life and being curious about others.

Here are five tips to help you get in the right headspace for networking.

  1. Networking is simply having a conversation. Networking is more than just meeting someone to get your next gig. It involves engaging in meaningful conversations with others to build relationships first and then discussing possible opportunities to collaborate. Sometimes the collaboration conversation happens on day one, sometimes it happens on day 3,214. Be patient. 

    Tip: Think about your networking conversations like a game of tennis. You should be volleying the conversation back and forth, not trying to ace your opponent or be aced. The most important part of this analogy is to let your opponent return serve.

  2. The elevator pitch is dead. The idea that in a one-minute conversation—about the time it takes to ride with someone else to the lobby in an elevator—you will convey such a compelling idea that a person will want to hire you on the spot is absolutely bonkers. Elevator pitches are formulaic and don’t allow for authentic, organic conversations. They are also focused on selling yourself rather than building a genuine connection with the person you’ve just met. 

    Tip: Take a breath, networking is a long-game endeavor. When you meet someone you know you’d like to work with. Use that initial conversation as an opportunity to get to know them on a personal level. At the end of the conversation, if the connection feels right, you can ask if there’s another time to connect to see if there is a possible collaboration.

  3. Listen louder than you speak. One time, I met someone at an event and, I kid you not, I said less than ten words in the three-minute conversation. Later in the evening, I reconnected with the same person in a larger group and they kindly introduced me to their friends. They said, “Hey, I want to introduce you to this great guy, Nate.” I was absolutely floored because I didn’t even really say anything to the person, but they made the conclusion that I was a nice human because I simply listened to what they had to say. 

    Tip: Building a network is not about you. Listen, ask good questions, and be interested in what the other person is saying.

  4. Ask for advice. One effective way to expand your network is by reaching out to people in your field and asking for their advice or insights. This not only shows that you value their expertise, but it also helps you build a relationship and potentially opens up new networking and performance opportunities. 

    Tip: I’ve spoken a lot about this in my newsletter, Tips For The Unrelenting Creative, but I love the 50 cups of coffee method. Find 50 people in your field doing interesting work and ask them out for a cup of coffee. BTW, most people will say yes to this offer!

  5. You are building your network right now. Your current peers are likely your future professional network. Several of my favorite collaborators are people I met at the beginning of my career and people I continue to work with today, 25 years later. 

    Tip: Collaborate on a project, perform together, commission your friends to write a piece of music for you, and build a tight-knit group when you are still in school or early in your career and reap the rewards as you all build your careers together.

How to work a room. One of the biggest questions I get when it comes to networking is how to work a room at a networking event.

Here are some things to think about when you go to your next networking event.

  1. Most people feel the way you do. If you’re uneasy about being in a room full of people you don’t know, you are not alone. Break the ice by identifying another person who seems to be by themselves, walk over to them, and introduce yourself. You will be amazed by how empowering that act is for you, and how relieving it is for the other person who is probably anxious about how to engage with others as well.

  2. Non-verbal communication is more important than what you say. I always worry that what I say (or don’t say) in a networking event is going to make or break my chances of connecting in a deeper way with someone down the line. Research shows that as little as 7% of someone’s impression is based on verbal communication. That means 93% is about things like how you carry yourself, how you listen to others and the intonation of your voice.

  3. The Handshake. First impressions mean a lot, and having a good handshake goes a long way to making a good first impression. Your handshake should be firm but not too tight and your palm should be up or open, which is inviting, not down, which implies dominance. The next time you shake hands with someone, notice how they shake. Time after time, I’ve noticed that people who want to control the conversation start with a palm-down handshake.

  4. Have a plan for what you would like to convey about yourself. This takes about five minutes before you go into a networking event. This can include anything from something upcoming like a performance to conveying your long-term goals. Just make sure you have the details ready in your head and a way to share your plans with the person you’re speaking with if it comes up in conversation. A little planning goes a long way.

  5. Know if you want to go broad or deep when you work a room. I am an introvert so I prefer to speak with a few people over the course of an hour and get to know them a bit instead of meeting many people in order to maximize whom I know. Neither tactic is wrong, you just have to have a game plan before going into an event.

  6. Know the rule of two. If you see two people in conversation, don’t bother them. They might be doing business or deep in personal conversation. Hang back and wait until they start to break up their conversation or move on to speak with someone else.

  7. Have a wing person. Your secret weapon in any networking event is to go through the event with someone else. Having a wing person makes conversations easier, there is less pressure on you to be on the entire time, and you can tag-team the conversation.

  8. Know how to exit a conversation. We have all gotten stuck with that person who can’t read the room and just continues to talk endlessly about themselves. First and foremost, don’t be that person, ha! But also, when I’ve encountered someone like that they usually don’t even realize they’re doing it. If they go on for too long without a break, I usually just interrupt (they don’t even realize I’m interrupting) and say “I’m trying to connect with as many people as possible tonight so I’m going to move on to the next conversation, it was nice meeting you.” Shake their hand and walk away. Sometimes you have to be that abrupt.

  9. You are in control. So often in events like this, I feel like a guest. One helpful thing I do is think of myself as the host when I walk into the room. You will be amazed by how empowering that simple mindset shift can be.

Thanks for reading and if you found it useful, please share it with people in your network (see what I did there) who are also trying to gain a little clarity on how to network with others.

Photo Credit: Product School

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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