Clammy hands. Racing heart. Nerves completely haywire. All of these are commonplace among a packed room of networkers. Believe it or not, if you’re one of the many who break out in a sweat at the idea of walking into a room full of strangers and making yourself known, you’re not alone. In fact, I’d say you’re in the majority.
But if this introvert (that’s me!) can not only conquer but dare I say, get pretty good at networking, then so can you. Because believe me, I used to be the person who got so close to the wall that I practically was blending in (that was the idea) and now I walk up to strangers, strike up a conversation, and don’t think twice. The butterflies, the nervous nellies, all of that, poof! Gone.
But, as common as nerves around networking are, we also know enough to understand the incredible importance of mastering it. After all, how many times have you heard that it isn’t what you know, but rather who you know? And friend, it’s the truth. Who you know is everything.
Trust me, it can be done. So here are some tips on how to network like a boss:
Have a plan
Everything good starts with a plan. If networking makes you nervous, then knowing what to expect will help you feel in control. And feeling in control means more confidence, which is only going to help your chances of success.
When I say have a plan, I mean it in a few different ways. First, know when you’re getting there and when you want to leave. I think it helps to have a really clear idea of expectations going in. If you know you only “have” to be there for an hour, or two hours, or whatever you’re comfortable with, then you don’t feel that ridiculous pressure of staying for the full 4-hour event. Know your comfort level on this, push it just a tiny bit to include some room for growth, and then settle on a timeframe.
Likewise, you want to have a plan of who you’ll talk to and ideally, what you’ll talk about. Sure, you may not know everyone that’s going to be there. Yet, if you know a few people who will and that you want to talk to, brainstorm a few topics. When you’re able to get in front of them, you won’t be fumbling around for what to say.
You can also do this with strangers. Have a few go-to topics to start with or to pull out if the conversation falls into a natural lull (but you still want to get to know them) and you’ll feel a sense of clarity going into it.
“How do you know/did you get involved with (whatever the networking event is)”
“What brought you to (city)”
Or one that has nothing to do with anything but is a good ice breaker like:
“I’ve been dying for tacos lately but I’m kind of new to town and I can’t find any! Do you have any favorite spots I should check out?”
Seriously. The key to networking, believe it or not, is to not just obsessively talk about your music and what you do. It’s to create a memorable relationship and if tacos don’t do that, I don’t know what does.
Your music doesn’t matter
I mean it. Your music does not matter in networking and it has no place at networking events. Everyone there is a musician or in the music industry. We can assume that everyone there wants something out of everyone else and has probably had music shoved at them enough to last a lifetime. Don’t do it.
While it’s totally normal to talk about what kind of music you play or what inspired you to start playing, especially during the introduction period, you don’t want to get hung up there. Find out what the other person does, and then move on.
Think about it—if someone asks you about your 9-5, how much do you really want to talk about it? We may love what we do, but we get SO used to saying the same speil over and over that we kind of go into autopilot on it. It also means, because we’re talking work and business, our guard, or as I call it “professional mode” automatically turns on, and it’s tough to really connect like that.
Meanwhile, if you get me on the subject of the best taco I’ve ever had, or ask me about my dog, or compliment my necklace, I’m instantly a regular person again, and snapped out of that work mode. This is why people who are successful at networking know that this is truly the #1 thing that leads to success: they know how to talk to people about their lives, their interests, and their passions, and create dynamic conversation around it. It’s about connecting on a human to human level—not a “what can you do for me” level.
Don’t be afraid to walk away
Not every connection is a fit and you’re under no obligation to stand there talking to someone for 20 minutes who you know you are clearly not a fit to work with ever. Just be sure that you’re not letting nerves get the best of you, or overlooking a potential collaboration, and definitely never be rude just because you think you’ll never see them again.
But sometimes, you can tell pretty quickly that someone isn’t going to be a key part of your story, and that’s ok. Make the connection anyway, and then move on.
Bonus tip: Practice really does make perfect. Networking is the kind of thing that requires ongoing maintenance and the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Trust that the nerves you feel in the beginning will begin to disappear, as will the awkward conversation starts and uncertain outcomes. It’s all just practice. You’re gonna be great.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR and the THRIVE Mentorship program—an online community that provides indie artists with affordable year-round mentoring from music industry experts, and much more. Join her for her free training “How to Grow Your Audience Without Spending a Dime.”