Where there’s networking, there’s conversation. And where there’s conversation, there’s us, the introverts of the world, wanting to melt into Jell-O and escape the room by dribbling through the cracks in the floorboards. But we all know that knowledge is power, so here are some helpful tips and tricks to empower you to navigate all kinds of networking situations with confidence.
1. Play to Your Strengths
Some introverts prefer to meet with people one-on-one; it isn’t hard to be heard when you’re the only person your prospective new friend is listening to. Others feel more confident in larger groups, where they feel they can emerge from the background to offer their perspective, then recede back to listening quietly when their turn to speak is over. Every introvert is different. A good first step would be to identify which conversational landscape you can traverse with the most ease. Then, seek out networking opportunities where you are more likely to encounter those types of interactions. For instance, at Shoreline Music Society’s Classical Bash on October 12, there will be plenty of time after the concert to interact one-on-one with the musicians in our orchestra, or join crowds of music-lovers to share your excitement over the amazing music you just heard!
2. Rallentando! (Slow Down)
It is easy to lose track of the pace of your voice when you’re nervous. You get caught up in wanting to be heard and getting the words out of your face, while battling the fear of interrupting or being “too large” of a presence in a conversation where you might feel, deep down, that you don’t belong. Therefore, we stutter, we rush, we slur our words and later regret ever trying to say anything. But the thing to remember is, you do belong. You’re here because you have ideas and talent and kindness to offer. So, when you enter a conversation or social situation that makes you nervous, pay attention to your breath. Interject in the conversation when you feel confident that you aren’t interrupting anyone, and once you have everyone’s attention, speak mindfully and with intention.
3. Consider Accompaniment
Networking is a little bit like dating, isn’t it? Beyond establishing the fact that you’re a friendly and pleasant person to be around, you are also trying to convince the good folks in your industry that a relationship with you would be mutually beneficial. For this purpose, it wouldn’t be a horrible idea to bring a friend along – preferably a friend who works in the same industry, or a similar one. It’s always good to have someone who can vouch for you in the moments when it matters, and, frankly, having a friend at your side makes networking events more fun. Make sure not to lean on them too much, though; for example, unless your friend has a connection at whatever event you’re visiting together, don’t ask them to introduce you to people. Introduce yourself. Your friend is there for moral support and to vouch for your skills and accomplishments in conversation, not to hold your hand.
4. Read Others
We introverts tend to develop a hyper-focus on ourselves. Oftentimes, we enter a conversation and spend the whole time worrying. “Do I look interested enough in what this person is saying?” “Do I have food on my face?” “Do they think I’m funny?” “Do I want them to think I’m funny?” Obsessive self-deprecation is still a form of self-centeredness, and, with a little effort, we can be more engaged. When you begin an interaction with someone new, take all of that focus and place it onto the other person. Consider what they’re saying carefully, in real time. What are they talking about? Do they seem excited to be talking about it? Are they sharing facts or stories with you that you didn’t already know? Additionally, any time a thought about yourself crosses your mind – such as “Can they tell that I’m nervous?” – redirect that thought toward them. Ask yourself instead, “Do they seem nervous?” This practice will humanize the other person. Where they may have appeared in your mind to be a formidable force that you must confront and win over, they will instead appear to you more realistically. They are not a monster to defeat, but a human with their own anxieties and insecurities, not so different from yourself. Focusing on this truth, and on this person as they speak, will allow you the mental space to be genuinely interested in them.
5. Be Harmonious
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the goal of networking is not to receive favors or benefits; it’s to cultivate a relationship. The most powerful tool in your toolbelt as a musician is your network of meaningful, supportive relationships with fellow musicians, composers, conductors, musical directors and other artists. Keep this in mind when meeting someone new; it’s poor form to ask for favors from someone you’ve just met, regardless of how relevant the favor is to your conversation, or how fit the other person is to perform that favor. If you ask for things right away, the other person will get the impression that you’re only talking to them because you want something. No one likes feeling used. So, be professional, talk about business – but also, be interested. Be kind. Get to know the other person, and let them get to know you, before asking for anything. Any support you could receive from someone in your industry will be much more powerful and useful to you if it comes from someone who is genuinely invested in your success; and the truth is, people generally don’t feel inclined to help folks who only appear interested in what others can do for them.
There is no magic trick to overcoming social anxiety overnight. It’s entirely possible to do everything right at a networking event, and still leave feeling insecure and nervous. But, in those moments of doubt, remember that your nervousness is coming from a place of deep caring and passion. Whatever project you want to get off the ground, whatever concert/podcast/open mic series you’d like to start, whatever skill it is that you’d like to improve on and learn more about, you care about it enough to put yourself into social situations that may be, at first, uncomfortable. Regardless of what your worries tell you, this is indicative of incredible strength. And though these situations may seem daunting and insurmountable, they will get easier. Networking, like music, is a skill that you build as you practice it. There’s work to be done; get to practicing!