Updated: Feb 14, 2019
Networking at events is hard – we get it. Between the uncertainty of how to start a conversation and how to end it, there’s no denying that it’s just plain awkward.
Luckily, at the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium (EALS), we try to make meeting and connecting with speakers and other attendees easy (and, dare we say, fun!) by facilitating ice breaker activities and encouraging networking activities throughout the day. But we know connecting with industry professionals can still be intimidating, so here are 12 tips to help you feel confident and ready to take on the challenge.
Before You Go:
1. You Are Not Alone. If there is one thing you take away from this article, it should be this: EVERYONE feels awkward. Nobody likes networking. But, more importantly, everyone is nice. Everyone at EALS supports the arts! And everyone at EALS is expecting to network. There is only one difference between you and someone who feels comfortable networking: practice. So get out there!
2. Practice Makes Perfect. This may seem like a silly one, but there’s nothing worse than letting an opportunity to make a great connection slip by because you didn’t know what to say. Spend a few minutes practicing your introduction: who you are, why you are here and what you are trying to achieve. It’s your elevator pitch. You’ll feel more confident if you can articulately make an introduction.
3. Read Up. So you know how to introduce yourself; now what? Researching topics related to the symposium beforehand can help you make great conversation. This year’s EALS theme is Coming UP: Innovation, Evolution, and Progress in the Arts, so think about questions like what current events relate to this theme? And what makes you optimistic about the future of the arts? Also take a look at the program. Which panel are you most excited about? Which speakers are you most excited to meet?
4. Set Goals. Have a clear objective for the day. Is there a specific panelist you want to meet? Great! Set a goal to make it happen. Or perhaps you want to meet five people in your field? Or just five people, period? That’s great too!
5. Be Reachable. Now that you’re ready to make a connection at the symposium, take some time to make sure you have a way to keep that connection going. Are you bringing business cards or do you prefer to connect electronically? And make sure your contact information is up to date. Now is the time to update your LinkedIn!
Now that we’ve covered the prep work, here are a few pointers for the day-of:
1. Put Down the Phone. We know that break times between panels or during lunch can be awkward – everyone is just milling about, checking their phones and avoiding eye contact – but this is the best time to network! It can be tempting to immediately head to the restroom or to a corner of the room to “check important emails” to fill unscheduled minutes, but try to treasure down time. Embrace the awkwardness of standing next to someone you don’t know in the coffee line or sit next to a stranger at lunch. Remember Tip #1: EVERYONE feels awkward (but everyone is nice).
2. Keep. It. Simple. (Seriously). You’re ready to make a connection, but…how? Approaching someone and starting a conversation is the most intimidating part – we get it – but there’s no need to overthink it. Just say hi! Really. “Hi, I’m ____, nice to meet you! What’s your name?” An easy way to start a conversation is to ask them questions about the symposium: What panels have they enjoyed so far? What made them interested in attending? Have they been to the symposium before? Then, remember all the research you did in Tip #3? Use it! Expand on their responses by bringing up an article you read on board diversity that relates to the panel they just attended or tell them why you also loved Melissa Chiu’s keynote address!
3. Make it Official. Exchanging contact information can feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to. Simply asking “do you have a business card?” or “are you on LinkedIn?” will do the trick. They’ll understand why you’re asking – it’s part of networking. If you’re thinking about asking them for an informational interview or to read over your resume but it doesn’t feel like the appropriate time to ask, then don’t. It may feel more appropriate to make that ask in your follow up email after the event.
4. The Great Escape. Not every connection you make will be great and that’s ok; it’s just part of the process. If you are stuck in a conversation that just won’t end, politely excuse yourself to get another cup of coffee or invite another person into the conversation to take your place. Seriously, it’s ok to leave.
5. Use Social Media – This one may conflict with Tip #6 but let’s face it: we know you’ll feel the need to check your phone at least a couple times during the day, so why not make it useful to your networking? Another way to interact with the speakers and attendees is through social media. Tweet about how much you loved the panel on political art or post a photo of you and your new friends at the reception on Instagram, and make sure to tag us!
6. Jot Down Notes. You’ll be grateful later if you make a few notes in your program or on your phone about who you met and what you talked to them about. It makes the follow up process easier when you can remember more details from your conversations.
7. Follow Up is Mandatory. Sending an email to someone you met post-event can feel just as uncomfortable as meeting them did but this part is critical because it establishes your intent to make them part of your network. The follow up can be just as simple as the introduction was, just remember to include a sentence or two about why you enjoyed meeting them to remind them who you are! (Also, when connecting on LinkedIn, don’t skip out on including a message with your invitation.) If you are looking for a potential job opportunity, now is the time to ask if they would be willing to read your resume or meet for an informational interview. And don’t feel like you need to follow up immediately; it’s standard practice to wait a day or two (or even three) to send the follow up.
Congratulations – you made it through all 12 networking tips! You are now ready to start networking at EALS (and beyond). Go forth and connect!