Steps to Being a Better Networker
I always tell people, “you’re not a bad networker, you just haven’t had much practice doing it.” And that has never been more true than in the past two years where the idea of “meeting over a cup of coffee” has turned into “meeting in a Zoom room.” Everyone right now is out of practice in having those normal human interactions, whether for personal or professional reasons. So here are a few tips I discussed in a recent online chat sponsored by the Network of Arts Administrators of Color (NAACBoston), which can help you get back on track.
Change your attitude on what networking can be. So many of us hold the notion that networking is reserved for people who are looking to move jobs, climb the corporate ladder, raise money for a new venture. I say take the pressure off. Think of this as a meeting with another human…less the start of a transactional relationship and more about building a deeper relationship with people in your community. Networking can give you a chance simply to meet new people or learn about things and ideas you’re curious about.
Network the way you’re most comfortable. There are lots of ways to network, depending on your personal comfort meeting and talking to new people. As we all make our way back to reconnecting, it’s okay to start slow…if online meetings or chat rooms work for you, start there. If you’re not up for an onscreen face to face, or not ready to venture to a coffee shop for a meeting, suggest a phone meeting. The person you’re hoping to talk with will likely be happy to give their eyes a rest and enjoy a stress-less audio conversation.
Have your story ready. If you found yourself trapped in an elevator with a venture capitalist eager to fund new projects, and she said, “Tell me about yourself,” what would you say? Everyone should be ready at any moment to answer such a question – in a job interview, in meeting a new colleague, or in the aforementioned elevator. I suggest people starting out on this journey of storytelling start by drawing a map – a mind map – of where and who you are right now, and the person or place you want to be. Draw a circle around the first, and write specifically about your current strengths, your passions, your skills, and how you communicate. In the destination section, envision what you want to be doing. Then fill in the steps or milestones to get from the first to the second. On our recent call I heard someone say “your vision is the world that you expect to live in, but your mission needs to be what you can achieve right now.”
Create your brand. Think of how you’d describe your favorite beverage – fruity, tasty, sweet, bubbly. Can you find similarly descriptive words or phrases for yourself? Some NAAC colleagues recently used “effective,” “efficient,” “trustworthy,” “environmentally aware,” and more. By identifying who you are and your strengths, you can easily check yourself with projects and decisions to make sure they align with your personal mission, style and goals.
Find opportunities to practice. Like I said earlier, all networking doesn’t have to be formal and business-like. Practice being more talkative, or engaging with a group that shares your avocation versus your vocation. I’m a “rabbit mom” to two 10-pound white rabbits and I am in regular chats and streaming meetings with other rabbit owners – discussing best care practices, rabbit diseases across the nation, and more. Sure, I can Google that information, but there’s something powerful about seeing members of your community in person or on Zoom. Plus I take the opportunity to talk about my art-making with others in that group and they are always excited to hear what I’m doing.
As you think through what contributes to your mission and your goals, remember that the process can change and grow. Your mission today doesn’t have to be a mission for the rest of your life…just for the next part of, or specific goal for, your career. As humans we are curious creatures – always evolving and changing. People respond to other people who are authentic, who listen, and who have a sense of where they want to go. The more you network, the greater your chances of finding people you want to join your journey.
On January 19, 2022, NAACBoston presented the Networking: Leading with a Mission webinar facilitated by Jazzmin Bonner (She/Her/Hers), Senior Company Manager at Huntington Theatre Company | Interim Program Manager at StageSource as a part of its Mentorship & Sponsorship Program 2.0.
The Network for Arts Administrators of Color (NAAC Boston) is a program that enhances the visibility of professionals of color in Greater Boston’s arts and culture sector, as well as widen the leadership pipeline and highlight opportunities for professional and personal growth in the field. NAAC Boston offers participants the opportunity to connect, network, and share learnings with the intent to empower, elevate, and retain talented professionals of color in the sector. The creation of this network reflects the importance of visibility for professionals of color, and the value that diverse perspectives contribute to an enhanced workforce and culture.