I love teaching networking because it is such a valuable skill for musicians. And my recent networking class at Yale was such a treat because for the first time ever, I had a group where nearly half of the students enjoy networking! As a result, my “experienced” networkers were able to share their successes with their colleagues which both reinforced the importance of networking and showed other students what to do in order to incorporate networking into one’s arsenal of career-building tools.
The bottom line: networking involves both your head—being strategic—and your heart-being intuitive and sensitive to building quality relationships.
Let’s take a closer look at what worked.
Be Yourself and Enjoy Connecting with Others
Students who enjoyed networking felt at ease meeting new people, learning new things and being open to new experiences. Those who did not enjoy networking had a number of objections. The more introverted students felt uncomfortable putting themselves “out there”. There was an underlying feeling that they “had” to network in order to “get something” from other people. In addition, they did not want to come across as the dishonest person with a fake smile who wanted to meet everyone in the room.
My definition of networking is simple and straightforward:
Share + Connect + Remain Relevant
For students who were uncomfortable about networking, this concept felt a lot better than “selling oneself” and being “fake”. Indeed, it helped when we reframed networking as an opportunity to connect with other people, share and learn something new and expand one’s community by remaining relevant to people with whom you felt a personal connection. We emphasized the importance of being honest, authentic and comfortable when meeting and interacting with other people. In fact, this type of networking aligned with values such as authenticity, relationships, learning, and community–values which many of students hold dear.
Use Your Heart
A large part of the discussion centered on how to make a genuine connection. This involves listening to your intuition and applying some “emotional intelligence”, i.e., sensing what another person might be interested in talking about and feeling out the situation so that you can make that connection. The trick was to find what you have in common with the person with whom you are speaking.
Each person has a different level of comfort around approaching new people. In some cases, it involved talking about something other than music. In other cases, it helped to “tag along” someone you know who can introduce you to a lot of people. We emphasized the importance of saying something intelligent and meaningful, as opposed to “great performance”. If you are comfortable, you can pique someone’s interest by asking him or her about a difficult piece of music or a repertoire choice that you do not understand.
Students agreed that they have a lot to share and that for the most part, they felt comfortable talking to other musicians (other than perhaps the top 20 world-famous household names) since musicians tend to understand each other.
One other essential point: networking is about creating quality relationships. Spamming a room full of people with your business card is not effective!
Use Your Head
Preparing to network means thinking about the type of people you want to meet and where you might find them. This is where your brand can help because you have thought about who is your ideal audience and where you are likely to find these folks.
For those who felt uncomfortable with networking, having a goal of meeting 1 or 2 new people felt safe and doable. It is helpful to use your brand statement to say something unique about you and what you do. Often, what you do and what projects you have done and what experiences you have had is the best way to establish a connection with someone.
It also helps to think through the elements of an elevator speech to help you connect effectively and effortlessly:
1. Who am I and what do I do that is unique and distinctive?
2. What is my connection to the person with whom I am speaking?
3. What are my projects or career goals?
4. Who is my ideal audience member?
5. How does what I do benefit my ideal audience member?
6. What would I like from this networking encounter?
This template is useful to getting you started so that you can be prepared to engage in a conversation when meeting someone new. However, using a generic speech is not useful when it takes you out of the moment and prevents you from listening carefully to the other person to sense your genuine connection to that person.
The other reason to think through the elements of an elevator speech is to develop confidence in yourself so that your listener will want to learn more about you. This is where you can share your passion which is another way to project confidence, as well as forge a connection, because passion is infectious!
In order to deliver an elevator speech effectively, it helps to incorporate your brand since a brand statement is reflection of your best qualities. You do not need to tell other people about these qualities. However if you have them in mind, they can inspire you to be your best self and get into the flow in a networking situation.
So speaking to others in a networking context is much more powerful when you are confident and you put that confidence and passion on display.
Do you need an elevator speech?
The students who felt comfortable networking did not feel the need to have a template elevator speech because they were comfortable being in the moment and feeling out the situation. And their confidence enables them to convey the passion that comes from knowing your best self. For those who needed more help, having an elevator speech is a good place to start so that you have something to say when you are in situations where you need to introduce yourself.
An excellent and fun class!