Here is How to Work a Room for musicians:
So, if your social skills have gone rusty,
Or if, like me, you’re a confirmed introvert,
If you’re ever uncomfortable at post-concert receptions,
Or if networking just makes you want to hurl . . .
This one’s for you.
The good news is that even if you can’t stand the thought of striking up conversations with strangers, there are practical steps and habits you can build to make all this easier.
These are adapted from my book Beyond Talent (which has a whole chapter on networking.)
Just in time for your next socially awkward situation, here are my . . .
12 Tips for Working the Room
Imagine you’re attending a post-concert reception or a professional conference. Instead of hanging out in a corner with the one person you know, or just snagging a drink, a cookie, and then fleeing, here’s how to calm down and work the room with more ease.
Let’s take it one step at a time.
First, just get your bearings. Look around, is there anyone who looks familiar? Where is the food and drink? Are there other people who are by themselves? Take a moment to breathe and orient yourself.
2. Use positive self-talk
We each make our own reality. What we tell ourselves determines what we perceive and how we feel. If you’re nervous, you may be saying to yourself: “This looks awful,” “I wore the wrong thing,” “No one looks friendly,” or “I can’t wait to get out of here.”
Replace these negative messages with positive, realistic statements. “These are people I have something in common with; they’re all musicians or music lovers,” “Other people here feel just as awkward as I do,” or “This is an opportunity to make a new contact and have an interesting conversation.” Keep your self-talk positive: you deserve it!
3. Be approachable
Be open and friendly; stand up straight, smile, and make eye contact. You need to circulate: people will not approach you if you’re sitting. To avoid the soggy handshake syndrome, hold your drink in your left hand so you can shake with a dry right.
4. Strike up conversations
Try this with other individuals waiting in line for refreshments or at registration. Most people welcome a bit of friendly ice-breaking conversation. At a conference, you might ask the person if they’ve attended this before and what they think so far about their experience. Or if it’s a concert reception, you might ask someone if they’ve heard the artist/ensemble before and what stood out for them in the performance.
Of course, you can also make a pleasant or wry comment about the weather, your surroundings, or about the food and drink. You never know what may lead to a surprising and interesting conversation. For topics, play it safe: avoid politics, religion, and sex (until you know your conversation partner VERY well).
5. Use Conversation Openers
Ask open-ended questions, like “What did you think about the . . . (performance, speech, workshop)?” as opposed to yes or no questions. Show your interest in the other person’s perspective.
6. Approach groups of three or more
Do not interrupt a twosome—it may be a very personal conversation. On the other hand, groups of people wearing smiles and easy-going body language are good to approach.
As you approach a group, stand a little off to the side, smile and try making eye contact with one person. If they smile in return, then when there’s a pause in the conversation, ask, “May I join you?” and introduce yourself. If you don’t get the eye contact at the edge of a group, just move on and try elsewhere. The only way to get good at this is by doing it.
Of course, you can always approach other people who seem to be alone, too. They may be feeling shy and may welcome your conversation.
7. Reintroduce yourself
. . . as needed to people you’ve met before (help them out if they’re blanking on your name). “I’m Jane Smith. We met at a concert in Portland last year. It’s good to see you again!” And if you see a familiar face but can’t recall their name, simply say, “Hi, I know we’ve met before, I’m Jane Smith, [shake their hand] and you are . . . ?”
8. Get Unstuck
It happens, you find yourself talking to someone who latches on to you and you need to escape. There are tactful exit lines to use: “Sorry, I need to find . . . [the event organizer, ladies room, or the person my friend asked me to connect with] . . . it’s been so nice meeting you. Have a good evening!”
9. Watch your expectations
Meeting with someone new should be simply that—a first meeting. So don’t try to sell, impress, or push your agenda. Instead, be curious and interested in what they do. Ask good questions and listen. Focus on the other person (don’t do the “Me, Me, Me” thing).
Then when people ask about what you do, give a concise description of your latest project—what you’re most excited about.
Be realistic: at a 90 minute networking event, you might talk with 5-7 people and maybe have 1 or 2 substantive conversations. Networking is an investment in your future. It’s about cultivating relationships over time—it’s not about instant gratification.
10. Plan to reconnect
If you meet someone you’d like to follow up with after the event, say so. You can say something like:
“I’m so glad to meet you! I’d love to hear more about your work [or how you built your freelance career, or how you launched your own ensemble, or festival]. Could I get your card to contact you in a week or so after the conference? I’d love to hear more about your experience!”
What’s the worst thing that could happen? The person is too busy, right? If they are, maybe they can suggest another contact for you. But if you never dare to ask, it’s a lost opportunity. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
11. Exchange business cards
. . . when you have reason to. When you get someone else’s card, write a note on the back of the card to remind yourself where you met and what your intended follow up action will be.
Did you offer to send someone information? Did someone say it was fine to email them to arrange an appointment? Writing a note on the back of the person’s card will help you remember to do the right thing.
12. Follow through
If you say you’ll call, or send an article, or leave a message for someone, do so. Your promise and your word need to be good. It’s the mark of a professional.
Remember: real networking is about being open and genuinely interested in others. It’s about getting past our own egos and connecting with other humans, exchanging ideas, perspectives, and positive energy.
For in-depth individual help with to advance your career, check out my coaching offerings HERE.
Here’s to expanding your network,
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well