We live in a golden age of communication. Email and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., have made instant conversation and sharing the norm, a possibility that just 15 years ago seemed to be so far away. But as we immerse ourselves in these social networks and internet messaging, many of us are beginning to notice a startling truth – these forms of communication lack something.

 

THEN AND NOW

I am the first to admit that I am not a strong networker. I naturally am a little introverted and I tend to have trouble communicating with other people unless I have known them for a really long time. I used to think that in order to network very well I had to make myself very likeable. So my solution was to become friends on Facebook and like everything my new colleagues posted, commenting when I thought of something very witty or interesting to say, in the hopes that we would become friendly enough to email and text, perhaps even talk on the phone.

After trying that, I realized there were two major problems to that approach: 

1.       In order to make myself more likeable I was not being myself, and I was also too slow in conversation, which made everything too rehearsed.

2.      Perhaps more importantly, my networking approach was built on the wrong foundation: it was about me. My strategies were concerned with topics such as:

a.      Am I likable?

b.     This person can help my career therefore I should only talk to them.

c.      I don’t how so-and-so could help my career so I should talk to someone else.

The second point illustrates an important distinction for networking today: Caring vs. Sharing. (I reference sharing in its social media form). It seems that in this younger generation of musicians, many of us are under the impression that activity on social media is equivalent to networking. There is certainly overlap, but it seems our digital upbringing has made us believe they are one and the same.

Caring, with a little sharing

As I have had more practice, I have come to think of networking as “Caring, with a little sharing.” This approach makes the majority of my approach focus on others. I now find conversations easier because I have talking points that I am also genuinely interested in, which allows me to be myself and makes meeting people more organic and meaningful. When these conversations show others that am I interested in who they are and what they think, they become interested in me as well. Some strategies that I employ include:

1.       Going to others’ performances to show support

2.      Talking with composers about genres that interest them

3.      Shoutouts on Facebook that highlight the successes of my colleagues

4.     Writing a blog to open myself to others and generate conversation (subtle, right?)

In her book “Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music” Angela Myles Beeching offers many valuable insights on networking. The book is a wonderful resource, especially for younger musicians just beginning their careers and I highly recommend picking it up. In the meantime, I will share two of the strategies included in the networking section. You can find out more about Angela at her website angelabeeching.com

Map Your Network

In order to figure out where you stand and where you’d like to go, make a list of the people you know and arrange them into the following categories:

Inner Circle: approximately five to ten people. These are your closest mentors, trusted colleagues, and friends; the people you turn to for career advice. This is your “personal advisory board.”
Intermediate Circle: Include your colleagues, former teachers, classmates, family friends, neighbors, and other individuals you come in to contact to on a semi-regular basis
Outermost Circle: these are more casual acquaintances, people who have “friended” you on social networking sites, those who may have attended your concerts, etc.

Once you have figured out your network, you will notice which category needs the most attention and you can go from there. It will help to have a strategy in place to make these contacts. Before you meet someone, plan as best you can to know their bio (that’s the info they want people to know and remember them for), where they teach, their interests, etc. Come to the conversation with a laundry list of questions and discussion points. The conversation needs to be organic, but you can still show up with a plan to put yourself in the best possible light.

Elevator Speech

It is likely that they will also ask you general questions about yourself and your interests. In this case you should have your “elevator speech” ready to go. Beeching suggests that you keep it to four sentences or less and be ready to go into greater detail if asked. For example my elevator speech would be this:

“I am interested in unaccompanied saxophone works because it has always struck me as a daring choice for both the composer and performer. I’m currently building a database of repertoire complete with audio and video recordings. I’d also like to do a series of concerts and lectures or even publish research on the subject when I’m ready!”

If the other person shows a lot of interest in the project I also have a follow up:

“It’s awesome to meet someone who is excited about this too! Can I send you some recordings and my rep list?”

This way we can continue to build the conversation and our professional relationship after we part ways, but mostly based on how interested they are in my work. The conversations we will have will be organic and thoughtful and lay the groundwork for mutual respect and potential collaboration. At this point, many of our conversations will begin to happen on social media and email.

Although social media can augment your networking and help you continue to foster the growth of your relationships, it should be based on face-to-face interactions that have to happen first. Use the few tips mentioned to help improve your networking and be sure that your attitude is about others – not yourself. Do you have a favorite strategy for networking? What is one time that you really knocked it out of the park? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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