Networking as a musician – an introvert's guide
I’ve recently had a trip back to Birmingham Conservatoire (my old home) to be on a panel at their careers conference. One theme that came up time and time again was the importance of networking. Towards the end of the session, was probably the most interesting question…
“Networking is such an important skill and sounds vital to
being successful. It is so much easier if you’re an extrovert.
How do you do it if you are an introvert?”
Amazing question! Straight away identifying that not all of us are natural networkers. However, the answer that was given was shocking...
“If you want to be successful, you need to change who you are.
You need to become an extrovert. If want it enough, you’ll change,
and if you don’t change, then you don’t want it enough”
I couldn’t work out if I was furious, shocked or appalled by this answer which is both horrific and detrimental. I definitely nearly swore on stage and sadly I didn’t get chance to input on the subject or to catch the musician at the end.
And so, I dedicate the rest of this blog to the wonderful introverted musician who was brave enough to ask such an incredible question and didn't get the answer they deserved.
Yes I have just been speaking on a panel at a university. Yes I have been networking with the other speakers, business people who are huge names, with what looks like ease. Yes I have spoken in front of over 1000 people before…
However, I am an introvert. I am shy. I get cripplingly nervous in social situations. And I have found ways to make being an introvert work for me… so here are some tips!
Most people find networking hard
The more I talk to people about networking, the more I’m amazed that no one really likes it. Like, they get it’s important, but every will admit it’s a struggle and will have been fretting about it before.
Be reassured that everyone is in the same boat. They will also probably be nervous speaking to you. They will probably stumble over their words. They will probably have eaten less at lunch because they have butterflies.
Find a practise dummy
Ok, this one is a total confession that I will probably regret. The first person I talk to at a networking event is a practise dummy. Let me explain…
Even though I have explained who I am and what I do hundreds of times, I still cock it up. I turn up to events nervous, a bit stuttery and in need of reassurance. So what I do is practise talking to someone who is of no importance to my networking that day and do a dry run pitch on them.
This helps me in a few ways. Usually I’m worried that my voice won’t work as it’s early in the day, and the fact I’m talking usually helps calm this, or it gets my coughs out.
Also, the lack of pressure makes it all a little easier. So what if I mess this one up? It’s not like it’s my big pitch of the day where I’m wanting to really impress.
Another thing I’ve found is that it helps you learn how to listen and how to make a conversation flow. If this is someone unrelated that you weren’t wanting to talk to originally, you’re probably going to struggle to make a conversation work – if you can get a chat going here, it’s going to feel really easy later.
(Bizarrely, my practise dummy is usually the worst I will be all day… I tend to get better as the day goes on)
Get there early
I’m not the biggest fan of crowds. I do better once I’ve settled in to things, but walking into a packed room of people already talking can feel like hell.
What has really helped me is getting there early to ease myself into it. It’s so much quieter, you don’t have to raise your voice and you probably won’t have to fight for time too. It’s a much more relaxed environment and by the time things get busier later, you’ll be feeling more comfortable.
I also find 1 on 1 networking a lot less tiring than doing it in groups. When it is early there are more chances to do this.
Ask for help
Seems weird and I’ve only come across this by accident. Event organisers REALLY want you to have a good time and do well at these things. If you’re turning up to an event knowing no one, go and find an organiser, tell them what you do and the sort of people you’re looking to meet, and ask if they know anyone they could introduce you too. I’m very certain they will say yes (if they say no, it’s not because you’re weird, it’s because they have 9999 lanyards to give out or a stage to organise)
I found this by… well not by asking for help, but for help being given. My first big conference was a disaster, but the organisers noticed I was on my own and spent the next 3 days introducing me to people or talking to me when I was on my own. (Mega thanks to the Association of British Orchestras team).
Be yourself – extroverts can be annoying
Let’s face it. Those flamboyant extroverts can sometimes be dicks. By staying true to your own personality, you’re not going to be in someone’s face and being insanely annoying.
This totally works in your favour and being a bit quieter and not as forward can sometimes get you bigger rewards, as people will really appreciate the fact you listen
Being an introvert can be an asset.
Make contact first on Twitter
My latest tip is making some form of contact with someone I want to connect with on Twitter. Whether it’s a retweet or a like of their post, or if you’re sharing the stage with someone tagging them in a post or photo. This means you’ve broken the ice before either of you arrive and they probably know who you are. I did this at an event in February and the other person started doing exactly the same in return on the journey to the event… by the time we arrived we practically knew each other and there was no awkwardness.
(Disclaimer, if they don’t know who you are don’t sweat it. It just means that they haven’t had the time to follow things up, not that they don’t want to know you)
Let people talk
If you find talking tricky the answer is easy… ask questions and let people talk. Most people love talking about themselves and being asked questions about it makes them feel important (and who doesn't love to feel important?). In reality you can probably have a whole conversation where you say 4 sentences.
Take time out
I have massive adrenaline swings. From trying to know more about myself and learning from past experiences I’ve found how I need to manage these. Sometimes time out and a coffee is really important to make sure you don’t burn out later, both in terms of energy and keeping on top of those negative thoughts.
I also know that I now have an adrenaline crash after networking, so have a banana or chocolate ready for the way home as a pick me up… and I’ve now learnt not to beat myself up when I do feel low afterwards. The day wasn’t a failure, I’m not a failure… I’m just tired.
There are LOADS of resources and you’re not alone
Googling the 2 words “networking introverts” comes up with 414,000 results, and articles including The Guardian, Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review and Forbes Magazine. By no means are you the only one, and not only us introverts asking for help, we’re also giving it to each other. Cheeky bit of research and you can find lots of support and a community.
A final note
I’m not quite sure how to end this blog. But I thought I would end it with some reassurance and putting all this stuff in context:
NETWORKING IS A SKILL
Just like playing your instrument, it’s a skill you’re going to have to practise. And just like playing your instrument, you’re not going to be the world’s best at the very beginning. But, like your instrument, you will get better, little by little, as time goes on.
By thinking of networking as a skill you can refine it and that it is something that you can and will get better at in your own special and unique way.
And so, here is my final message to that musician who asked the question about networking as an introvert...
YOU ARE AN INTROVERT
YOU ARE AN AWESOME PERSON
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CHANGE TO SUCCEED
YOU WILL SUCCEED
PS – This is by far the most rambling and least structured blog I’ve ever done and has gone on far too long. However, it’s been 2 days since the event and I’m still utterly fucking furious at the horrific and detrimental advice so I thought that being honest and unpolished might be of most use.