Networking! Why does this word sometimes strike fear and dread into our hearts? What makes us want to run the other way and find anything else to do with our time and energy? No matter how good we seem to be with people, when we find ourselves in a “networking” situation, we feel awkward and at a loss for words. What is it really, and how does one do it successfully?

Networking is really nothing more than using the opportunity when people get together to exchange information and ideas. The social setting could be casual or by design, either one-on-one or in a group. It’s about feeling comfortable with explaining who you are, what you do and where you want to go to someone else. You give them a quick, concise overview of yourself in 15-30 seconds. It’s getting good at asking others questions to get them to talk about themselves; and as you know, everyone loves to talk about themselves. Your main job then is to simply listen without making comments in your head, or wandering off into your own thoughts. When you feel yourself being drawn into your emotions by something others have said, you need to learn to take a step back and become disassociated from your emotion so you can clearly look at and hear what is really being said. It’s staying attentive to the other person speaking. By doing this, you may learn that they have a connection or skill you are looking for that will move your career forward or perhaps you have a skill or ability that might be used as barter in obtaining their help. Be well read and up on current events so you can carry on an intelligent and interesting conversation. Represent and present your own authentic and distinct Personal Brand at all times. Networking can be easy and fun if you can get your head around making the conversation more about others than worrying about yourself. You get to exchange information (career or otherwise) and use the opportunity to build important and lasting relationships.

There is no “right or wrong” way to network. And whether you know it or not, each of you has developed a method of networking based on your own personality and what you feel comfortable with and have been doing it for years. Here is an example: Think about going out with friends. Perhaps one of you runs into a new or old friend or acquaintance that everyone else doesn’t know. They get introduced to the group and networking starts. Conversation is a mix of asking questions and responding, “Where are you from? Where do you work? How did you meet? Wasn’t it serendipitous that you ran into your friend on the street? What kind of music do you like? I just read an article about—, etc. We do it each time we go to a chat room on our computers. So, simply put, Networking is an exchange of information and resources; it is creating, maintaining and utilizing relationships, our interpersonal connections. It’s conversation. It’s schmoozing. If you don’t know how to network effectively and efficiently, you may have a hard time surviving and prospering in today’s “super-connected” world. So just remember it’s an activity you engage in all the time; you just don’t call it networking.

“Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.”
~ William Shakespeare

If you still feel awkward and uncomfortable about Networking, here are some tips for getting and staying good at it.

  • Create a 15 -30 second intro for yourself. Teaching a Bootcamp on “Life Skills for Singers”, I have heard hundreds of times that knowing how to introduce ones self is the most difficult part of getting a conversation started with any kind of confidence. Because so many younger singers are not yet making a living at it, they don’t know how to define themselves to others and feel awkward about saying they are a singer. The 15-30 second intro or ad for yourself is one tried and true method of creating an ice breaker and taught in most Business Seminars. Here is how to create one for you. Start by writing down a list of the interesting things about you, what you like and what you are great at besides performing. From this list start putting together a short sentence or two that you feel gets to the essence of what is different and interesting about you and who you are. You are creating a really short ad for yourself. How would an ad about you look, sound, and feel? This is not however, a resume but rather an “ice breaker” which helps you feel comfortable about schmoozing and 15-30 seconds is all you need. It should be something you can use in any circumstance, from meeting one person on an elevator to circulating through out a large room filled with people.
  • Knowing what you are going to say about yourself gives you confidence and makes you appear more professional. You also don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel each time you meet someone, or hem and haw around because you don’t know how to say you are a singer when you don’t yet have any jobs. For the most part, that is the toughest ingredient in getting the conversational ball rolling, especially when you are with others you might not know. When you have your “ad” you are never caught off guard when introducing yourself and it creates an interesting opener for any conversation. “Hi, my name is Sam Smith and I am an aspiring artist, a singer to be exact and believe it or not, the youngest of 12 children. I learned at an early age to “sing for my supper”. From that point on, I knew what career I wanted.” At first, you may feel self-conscious when using your ad because it feels, sounds and looks stiff to you, but as you start to notice you are getting the results you want and feeling less stressed about networking, you will be very happy to have this great tool. Practice makes perfect.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”
~ Mark Twain

Don’t assume that you are the only one feeling ill at ease when networking. Give others an opportunity to get comfortable with you too. You are here to share information and build relationships. There is no “them vs. me”, making them into adversaries. You don’t have to defend yourself. Often times when we meet others we tend to keep them out of our personal space. If you want to feel more comfortable and make others feel comfortable too, you need to extend your personal space to include them. For those of you who don’t know what this is, stretch your arms out straight to your side and make a circle. According to many Heart Doctors and Scientists, this space is filled with an electro-magnetic field that is particular to each individual and can actually be measured by a machine. It is how we either include or keep others out. You are very aware of how you feel when someone else invades your space without your permission; or you may wonder what it is when you instantly feel comfortable with a stranger. We talk about it all the time, just not in scientific terms. So if you simply stretch that space beyond the person with whom you are having a conversation, even if they initiated it, you have invited them into your electro-magnetic field making both of you feel more comfortable. Once you know this secret you can always make yourself and others feel at ease.

If you know someone whom you admire and respect act “as if” you were them when networking. Play the part and see how it makes you feel. Make the same kind of conversation patterns and use the same body poses and gestures.

Make sure your web site is up and running filled with the most current performances, sound bites and information. If there is real interest shown in you and your career, you can always steer others to your web site for more detailed information.

When you enter a networking situation, planned or otherwise, always have your business cards available. After you introduce yourself to others, give them a card and ask for one of theirs. Have a pen ready to jot down any pertinent information they may give you that might help move your career forward or if there is something you will need to follow-up on, on the back of their card. After the event, send them a short email saying how much you enjoyed meeting them and would like to stay in touch. Once you have received their OK on staying in touch, do it. You don’t have to write an epistle, but you can drop them a short email letting them know what’s coming up on your performance schedule and any great reviews you have received, or how their advice worked for you. Buy a Business Card Folder and add your new acquaintances card to it. Also add them to your professional mailing list.

“I like to define networking as cultivating mutually beneficial, give-and-take, win-win relationships. The end result may be to develop a large and diverse group of people who will gladly and continually refer a lot of business to us, while we do the same for them.”
~ Bob Burg, from “Endless Referrals”

Having an agenda when you enter a networking situation is important. What do you want accomplished for your time spent here? Do you want to create a broader name and brand recognition for yourself? Are you interested in finding a patron? Would you like to find someone who can create a new web site for you that is of a more professional quality? Do you need to brainstorm with someone who is higher up the career ladder than you are right now? Are you looking for someone who you can use as a referral for a specific audition? Do you need a regular job or maybe a church job? Maybe you just need some specific business advice.

Listening is the most important part of any conversation in which you will be engaged. Become a great listener. This shows interest and respect. Hear what others have to say. When you take the time to listen to others speak, you will not only get better and more complete information for yourself, but it will allow you to respond in a more natural manner. Ask pertinent questions. This shows others you are genuinely interested in what they have to say and will leave a warm and lasting impression.

“The successful networkers I know, the ones receiving tons of referrals and feeling truly happy about themselves, continually put the other person’s needs ahead of their own.”
~ Bob Burg

· You always want to been seen and treated as a professional. Make sure you represent and present your Personal Brand at all times. That means you not only look good and are dressed for the occasion, but are well prepared by knowing who might be coming to this event. You have taken the time to look them up on the internet so you can speak to them about what they are passionate about. You have also double checked the time, date and venue so you do not show up late, too early or not able to find a parking space. First impressions are always important.

A couple of DON’TS:

Never approach a twosome talking. This is usually a personal conversation. Try someone who appears to be alone or a group of three or more. Don’t sit down unless you really need to. For most people this is a signal that you don’t want to be bothered. Stay up and keep moving.
There are two subjects that should never be discussed in a social setting – religion & politics. These subjects are too personal and often engage our emotions in a negative and defensive way.
Sometimes the words we use conjure up emotional blocks for us. When one can notice this and change the word it often totally changes our feelings about a thought or even an activity. So if the word “Networking” is not allowing you to be as good as you could be at it, let’s replace that word. How about “Schmoozing” – “Creating Friends” – “Getting to Know You” – “Information Exchange” – or “Operation Swap”? Play with this until you find a word or several that put a smile on your face and feel unthreatening. Then start using it to describe what we are talking about in this Newsletter.
“If we did all the things that we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
~ Thomas Edison

The most important part of Networking comes after the event. It’s called the follow-up. Even if you felt secure with how you handled yourself at the event, when you get home it’s possible that you can lose your confidence in your ability to follow-up. The ball is now in your court. Know that if you made a great impression but they haven’t heard from you in a timely manner or worse yet you haven’t taken the time to follow up with them at all, you have lost all credibility. You have no idea who they might know in your industry that would be influential and important to your career. Take the time to get organized with how you want to follow-through. For me it is taking the business cards I received, making a list of names, email addresses, phone numbers, etc. and recording the conversation as best I can remember it. If I have jotted notes down on their card I add this as well. This is a pretty obvious and really quite simple part of the networking equation. This is also part of the Business Process. Then I put them in order of importance for answering. This allows you to refer to your original conversation, restating any key points and reaffirming any agreements that were made or intimated when you contact them. If there seems to be mutual next step in this process, make sure there is an agreement on what the arrangement will be to continue your conversation or plans. In other words, make sure you never leave the table without an invitation to reoccupy your seat at a later date. However, if they show no interest in you or your career what-so-ever, simply move on to the next project.

If there is follow-up information from you that requires regularity or needs to be sent over time, do it without becoming a stalker. Give the information needed, but don’t cross over the line from assertiveness to pest. Keep it clean and business like.

If you can be of benefit to the other person with your skills or talent, by all means do so. Maybe there could be a trade of services involved, a private concert for a dinner party for money or help of some kind. On the other side of the coin, don’t let yourself become exploited.

“The way of the world is meeting people through other people.”
~ Robert Kerrigan

Now that you have been introduced to some suggestions for getting comfortable and feeling confident with “Networking” or whatever you choose to call it, start using them. As you know, practice makes perfect. Also, don’t be afraid to change, embellish or find your own process for networking. It has to make sense and be natural for you. Remember the heart of any business is the human connection; the relationships one creates and maintains. Networking can and often does happen anytime, anywhere. It could happen on the subway, in an elevator, out walking your dog, or perhaps while waiting in line at the grocery store. It’s something you already do all the time every day, so start paying attention to how you do what you do and see if you want to incorporate some of that experience into Networking. Keep your old and new relationships updated when there is career news to share with them. Once the door has been opened, keep it open through clear communication.

Discuss this topic in The Forums »