[Editors Note: This article was written by Angela Mastrogiacomo.]
Some people are born extroverts. They find comfort in large groups, talking to strangers, and showing the world who they are – without any fear of being disliked, made fun of, or forever thought of as in some way inadequate. As a born introvert, I envy those people.
For those of us who are introverts, it can feel not only daunting or stressful to think about all the effort involved in talking to someone new, putting our best foot forward, and making connections, but it can be downright draining, exhausting, and even cause actual physical response like headaches or stomach aches. We get ourselves all worked up about everything that can go wrong and in a word, it can be kind of terrifying.
As someone who spent her whole life up until five years ago avoiding phone calls because the lack of body language freaked her out, and standing in corners waiting for someone else to notice me and then start and carry a conversation with me, for fear that I’d bore them if I bothered to start my own or speak up, I really do get it.
But here’s the good news—I’m not the same person I was five years ago. I can take a business phone call with ease, I walk up to strangers at conferences all the time to start conversations, and I actually kind of really love relationship building now that I have a handle on it and see all the amazing things it can bring, (including genuine friendships).
So if you’re feeling nauseous at the idea of networking, whether it’s at the next big conference or simply after your show, I encourage you to check out these tips. The awesome thing about most of these is you don’t even have to wait until the next big event—you can start most of these this week!
1. Practice really does make perfect
I don’t want to sound like I’m taking the easy way out with this one, but it’s an important thing to note straight away that the only way to truly get comfortable networking, (or at anything else), is to practice over and over again.
Nothing will be easy the first time, or the second, or the fifth. It’s with consistent practice that you’ll get more comfortable. While it may not feel like it in those early days, try to think back to something else that used to give you stomach flips, (like playing on stage, speaking in front of your audience, talking to fans at your merch booth), and think about how far you’ve come.
When I decided I needed to be able to talk to potential clients on the phone without having a huge rush of anxiety every time someone asked for a call, I didn’t solve that issue by avoiding the phone—I did the opposite. I scheduled everything I could as a call and forced myself to fumble through until eventually, I got the hang of it and I stopped feeling anxious when someone asked for a phone call. Now, it’s second nature.
So when I say that you can make this work even if the thought of your biggest networking fear makes you an anxious mess right now, I really do believe that you can make this work.
Trust that you’ve got this.
2. Bring a friend—but don’t use them as a crutch
If you’re headed out to an industry event where you know you need to mingle and make small talk with strangers, bring a friend to ease the tension and stress you feel. Even better is if the friend is also in the industry and can help guide and transition conversation between you and the other guests there. But even if not, having a friend there to turn to when you get stressed, (and talk you down), but to also participate in some of the conversations will help take the pressure off, and it won’t feel so much like it’s all on you. (Quick tip: It’s never all on you. If you’re talking to someone who is barely contributing to the conversation or just not really responding to all your interesting chatter, find someone else to talk to.)
Just remember not to use your friend as a crutch.
It can be easy to just hang out with them all night and never venture out. Don’t do that. In fact, for good measure, I suggest going out at least once in that night, on your own, to talk to someone or a group of people without your friend join you. I did this in the very early days of my networking journey and it was a scary but important step. And guess what? It was a little messy. I struggled to introduce myself in a way that didn’t feel forced and the conversation was a little stagnant. But you know what, I felt insanely proud of myself after.
The initial steps might feel scary, but once you’re in there you’ll feel incredible for having done it and most importantly—you’ll know you’re capable of doing it again.
3. Prepare topics
Depending on the event, you might know who you’re going to run into or you might have no idea. Either way, you can prepare a few topics ahead of time to fall back on if the conversation starts to feel forced or you panic and think you have nothing to talk about.
For me personally, I’ve found that the more prepared I am, the calmer I am. If I walk into a situation feeling totally lost and out of control, I tend to get really anxious. However, if I feel like I have a firm grasp on things and a plan in place, (even and especially if things go sideways), I feel much calmer, simply knowing that I have that plan.
Networking is no different. It’s totally ok to prepare a few general topics ahead of time (or specific ones if you want to talk to a certain person) that you can turn to when you start getting butterflies. It can be as simple as asking them what they do in the music industry, where they’re from, how they got involved with the event, or it can be a little more personal like what made them first want to get into music.
4. Follow up on their answers
This is the magic trick to interesting, fulfilling conversation that’s likely to leave the other person feeling connected to you: People want to feel like they’re being listened to and that others care about them.
Part of how we show interest in people is asking them questions to get to know them, right? When someone feels like you’ve taken an interest in him or her, that tends to be the start of forming a bond.
Once you’re talking, listen to what they’re saying and then follow up on their answers with other questions or curiosities. For instance, say you ask them how they got into music and their story resonates with the same reason you did—share a brief anecdote about that, (remember, you don’t want to monopolize the conversation and make it all about you), and then follow up with another question based off something they’ve said in relation to that.
5. Keep in touch via social media
This is the ultimate introvert way to network. While I think there’s a ton of value in face-to-face interactions that simply can’t be replaced or replicated on the internet, there’s still a lot of power in those online interactions, especially with people you’ve just met.
Following someone you connected with at an event or in a group, and then taking the time to regularly comment on (not just “like”) their posts, is a great way to keep in touch while also keeping it casual and taking the pressure off. You’ll naturally be connecting over things you have in common, and getting to know one another better through those platforms. It’s the perfect way to ease into a new connection, and set yourself up for an even better meet up the next time you find yourself in person.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placement on Alternative Press, Substream, New Noise, and more. She’s also the owner of music blog Infectious Magazine.