“What do you write about?”
I smile and scour my brain before I open my mouth, because I don’t have a good answer ready.
Like most, I dislike the term networking, and I refuse to attend any party that’s a ‘networking event.’
But I’ve found good buddies at events in town. Here are my top tips for surviving at events (and getting the most out of them).
1. Don’t be jerky.
My long Saturday work ends like this: typing away at home, back from a party by the water, I suppress a burp.
It was a party for a Belgian chocolate company. My first blogger event, although I wasn’t invited as a blogger.
We’re allowed to try the company’s chocolates. When a small white dish appears on the table, peppered with precious chocolates, it stands untouched for the first 5 minutes; people crowd around, taking photos for their famous blogs.
Someone starts speaking to me; in 10 seconds, I’m holding his business card, supposed to follow him. He makes me repeat my blog twice, and turns to the next person. He is a networking jerk, shooting business cards like ninja stars.
Get to know people before revealing a card, so you don’t seem jerky, please.
Success in music and life is based on making smart choices; being jerky isn’t smart.
2. Find a friend.
Once I figured out that I was attending an exclusive blogger event, I remembered that I needed a writer friend to go on sushi dates with.
Gallup finds that having a friend at work increases your enjoyment by up to 50%, so you’re more likely to keep it up. Research finds that losing weight is easier when you’re doing it with a friend. Even Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps got tired of swimming; he started training again because he found a friend to swim with.
When you want to improve in a space, it’s important to find a friend there. Pianists don’t fit in orchestras, and collaborations aren’t common, so we need a pianist friend somewhere.
It’s best to meet people at non-networking events, because everyone is already looking for jobs at networking events.
My friend Kateryna arrives, wearing her pretty octopus earrings, and we move to the counter for drinks. The place is loud.
I order, and Kateryna interrupts, shouting. “What? You can’t get that.”
“She can’t drink wine,” Kateryna informs the hostess loudly. She turns towards me. “It’s bad for you.”
“Okay,” I say. “I’m getting hot chocolate.”
Belgian hot chocolates warming our hands, we move.
A guy wearing a light blue argyle vest approaches us. The dripping honey in his smile doesn’t conceal anything when he starts shooting questions. Who are you? What’s your blog? What do you write about?
“I’m nobody.” Kateryna says.
Studies show that people like talking about themselves, so it’s good to ask questions, but don’t interrogate. A rule of thumb is to ask three questions for every fact about yourself.
If you get into the mindset that you must come away with a million connections, you’ll sound sickeningly eager.
Stop thinking you need to connect with everyone; you’re not an octopus. Just tell yourself to make one friend, okay? Gaining one real buddy is more valuable than 15 business cards.
I reach for my bag but I don’t know why– I don’t have a blogging business card.
The first secret to networking is to stop networking.
3. Don’t be boring.
The photographer beckons to Kateryna and she heads outside for photos.
This is when I meet Dennis and May, husband and wife. Wineglasses in hand, mellow and non-pursuing.
After a few moments of chatter, I decide that my mad social skills are taking a break. Eating chocolates. “What do you write about?”
“Food and events,” Dennis says. “I haven’t been through culinary school, and I’m not qualified to critique. That’s why I mainly document.”
There are millions of blogger voices boasting about free stuff from big companies because they want more; no one cares about another company’s anniversary unless they’re related to it somehow.
It’s surprisingly easy to get free publicity from entertainment bloggers. Email an enticing invite (promise food & fun), kudos if friends are allowed. It took half an hour to get a fullhouse when I designed with a catering company.
People pay me to attend events and review products, and I still reject 95% of invitations. I think I’d rather dance in a ballet class than at a party.
But Dennis is not just a food blogger; he has an interesting story, which is why I remember him.
Humans remember stories best. Studies show that parts of the brain light up as if we were experiencing the events ourselves. I once taught myself an RCM music history course in 3 months by inventing absurd stories to memorize. A story can be as simple as cause and effect.
You win if people remember you, even for interviews.
Don’t be a pianist. You are a pianist who acts in provocative musicals, now trying concerts. Or a piano teacher who thinks the violin is really the best instrument– you won’t gain students, but your cheeky blog might get popular.
Just be yourself, make a friend, and don’t think about networking.
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