Too many of us leave conferences with a hazy memory of faces and a bunch of business cards of people we don’t remember. You swarm the big-name panelists along with 30 other eager hopefuls and confidently approach the hot-shot speakers, but maybe they won’t accept your card and act completely disinterested in what you’re saying. You meet countless participants, exchange cards and some casually random banter you hardly remember. After the conference, you follow up with every single person, but you receive little to no response. Life moves on. Why did you buy that multi-hundred-dollar ticket anyway?
Sound familiar? Picture this instead:
By the end of any conference, rather than leaving with social exhaustion and a stack of business cards of people you barely remember, you should ideally walk out of the building with 15 new friends laughing on your way to the bar. You know their hometowns, their opinions on the latest [insert hot artist] album, and you know this is just the beginning of a long, beautiful, and mutually beneficial relationship. (And you should still have the business cards of the people you remember in your bag.)
Perhaps this is pushing it, but hopefully you get the point. Too many people approach conferences from a sales perspective. Networking isn’t about force-selling yourself to strangers. It isn’t about finding people who can help you out. Networking is about building meaningful relationships with people. The relationships you build have a greater chance of translating into a label or publishing deal, a new business partner, etc. than the 100 business cards you collected.
1. Dress to impress and brand yourself
When you dress impeccably, you will feel like you own the room, which often translates into you actually owning the room. First impressions are everything. You may stumble upon a professional in the industry that really matters, and first impressions can make or break a situation.
Appearance is one thing, but also dressing up your business cards and marketing/promotional materials is absolutely essential. Invest in branded USB drives with your artist or band logo and name. There are several companies that exist to help with this. Make sure that within the content you include a PDF with a bio, a gracious and concise note, links, and information on how to get in touch with you. (And if you’re still on the CD train, just keep in mind that new Macs don’t come with CD drives.)
2. Don’t be afraid to approach strangers
Sounds harsh and/or cliché, but someday, we’re all going to die, and what you did at this conference won’t matter. What will matter is if you befriended the person who eventually introduced you to the person who got you a record deal which jumpstarted your prolific music career, which in turn inspired the world to give you a funeral of the likes of Michael Jackson. So don’t be afraid to approach people you don’t know. Even more importantly, don’t get starstruck by people you see as more “important” than you. We’re all human.
3. Be a friend, not a salesperson
Get to know people on a personal level before ever trying to sell something. Smile. Relax. Be genuinely interested in the individual and what he or she saying. Make sure your brain is wired to ingest a lot of information about all the people you’ll meet – name, where they’re based, what company they’re with, their profession, favorite band, and more. And for Pete’s sake, remember everything. If after a conversation you feel the need to write a quick brief on the individual, take a bathroom break and do it. You’ll thank yourself later.
4. Focus on the person
When introducing yourself, don’t begin with a sales pitch or a lengthy, wordy speech about yourself, your work, your life, you, you, you. Ask the other person questions. Focus on the person with whom you’re speaking. Really, truly listen. Make him or her feel important. Then let the individual ask you what you do.
Remember Tom Chiarella’s brief in Esquire on practicing graciousness: “When wandering the world, forget your business cards. Don’t look for more contacts. Instead, observe. Say hello to the people you see every day, but don’t make a fetish out of it. Stay interested in others. It bears repeating: Look around. Remember names. Remember where people were born.”
5. Call them by their first names – repeatedly
In the words of the wise Dale Carnegie, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Repeat it once in your conversation, and always bid goodbye by calling the individual by his or her name. Most importantly, don’t let yourself forget the name immediately, then ask the person, “What’s your name again? So many faces today!” This does not make him or her feel important. You will impress people if you’re the one who remembers.
6. Don’t immediately brush someone off
If you approach a person who doesn’t seem to be of much potential benefit to you now,don’t immediately brush him or her off. Evolution comes into play; you may be able to use his or her services in the future, or there may be someone close to you that might be interested in those services.
7. Know when to pursue
If you and a person are hitting it off, stay there and chat for a while. Don’t rush off to meet the next contact. If you already feel like BFFs, get the person’s number and invite him or her to meet you for coffee after the next panel. Foster a better relationship with the people you click with immediately.
8. Know your boundaries – be bold, but courteous
Conferences usually have mingling areas for networking, and meetings often happen in the same area. Be bold, but do not approach a clearly enclosed group of people. Observe setting, seating, and body language. If these indicate a set-up meeting between two or more people, do not approach. They will consider it rude. There is a distinct line between confidently approaching a group casually mingling in conversation and rudely interrupting a clearly private meeting.
9. Don’t put all your energy into stalking established hot-shots
Make friends with the people on your level – the startups, assistants, composer/songwriter peers, burgeoning bands, etc. As you progress together through your first jobs/promotions/record deals, you’ll work together, guide one another, and hook each other up. Eventually, one of you will be a VP/VIP. Then you all will be directors, VPs, VIPs – you get my drift – who can help each other out. So at any conference, don’t put all your energy into seeking out the established, big-name personnel. Divide your time wisely. Take time to foster personal connections with your peers and colleagues, because those will stay with you for a long time.
10. Master the art of the follow-up
It’s vital to make good use of the time and money you have spent attending this conference. Connect with people you meet on LinkedIn. If you consider yourself friends with any of the individuals you meet, especially around your age, don’t be afraid to friend them onFacebook. In your follow-up email, don’t contact someone unless you truly feel you could both be of mutual benefit to one another in some way, now or in the future. If you don’t ask something very specific in your email, the person will not know what to do with the email, especially if it was sent to his or her work email, and will probably delete it. Send him or her an email with purpose – perhaps with something to consume, such as a Dropbox link to three of your top tracks. And of course, don’t make your email a novel. Be concise and relevant. If you hit it off with the person, perhaps pick up the phone and call. This makes more of a statement.
Kaitlyn Raterman is the Managing Director of Licensing & Publishing at Symphonic Distribution.