Want to network but not sure how or where to go? Networking can feel quite daunting, especially for those of us who work alone, are shy or introverts, but it is fun — and what you’re really making are new friends. Here are some of the practical things I do when I’m meeting new people.
It’s ok to be shy
I’m quite shy. It’s something a lot of people don’t realise because I’ve developed methods to help me over the years. I also imagine that the person I’m meeting might feel shy too, or not know what to say, so I focus on their feelings and making them feel comfortable. Usually, I’ll have met them after a performance or at a workshop so this also provides a great opportunity to talk about what we’ve experienced together.
Actively listening is an undervalued skill, and something I’m always practising when I meet someone new.
Think about the person you’ve met first, really listen and pay attention, and not about what you’re going to say next. Ask questions about what they’ve shared with you, and delve a little deeper. I also don’t start the conversation by asking what someone does. In some settings, you might, but I’m more interested in getting to know the person first. I also think sometimes we might be in a period of flux, or we’re not sure what we’re doing or we’re working to finance our real ambition. By gently leading into it, these thoughts can be shared more openly.
If there’s someone I want to meet because I’ve been following their work, I share with them how much their work means to me, and how grateful I am for them and the work they’ve made. I try to keep my fan-girling brief but I think it’s really important to say thank you. I once saw Vivienne Westwood at the Tate Modern — she and her friends were sitting next to us — and I didn’t want her to feel awkward so I pretended, even though we spoke, I didn’t know who she was. I’ve regretted this ever since, especially now she’s died, not telling her how much her work and her activism meant to me. So now I tell everyone whose work resonates with me how meaningful it is to me.
Go to where you’re drawn to
Go to places and events that you’re interested in rather than where you think you should be. Lots of galleries do interesting, immersive workshops which are fun and great places to meet people. I think anything where you get to make or do something instantly puts people at ease, making them more open to making new connections. I love the NOW Gallery events — I recently went to the NOW Later: Draw In — and I’ve gone so frequently to their events I’ve been able to meet the curator Jemima Burrill and the team. I also met Poonam Duffer from YesM8 here too when I did her amazing Express Yourself workshops. Another place I’ve met lots of really interesting people is through Bold Tendencies. But never feel the need to fit in or change yourself in any way. If you feel weird somewhere, it’s not you, it’s because the environment — and the people it’s attracted — hasn’t been designed to make you feel comfortable. Go to places where you feel comfortable and happy! Your people will be there waiting for you.
Make friends first
I’m a firm believer that you attract the right people to you. I do a lot of networking but in my mind, I’m making friends! If I meet someone I like, I’ll also make sure I follow up with a DM or email to say how much I enjoyed our chat. Networking isn’t just about you either, it’s about connecting other people together. If I meet someone who I think should know someone else, I always connect with them — often through social media but sometimes with through email. For me, this is one of life’s great pleasures!
Being yourself, having your interests, ideas and way of speaking and being in the world is amazing. For me, it’s taken a lot of practise to be comfortable with who I am, and also how I sound. I grew up being constantly corrected for the way I spoke, which made me uncomfortable with my voice — and meant that I changed all my vowels when I went to university in another part of Australia because I wanted to fit in. And then again, when I moved to the UK from Australia I became aware of people judging me for my accent and where I was from (the class system is hard!). But now I realise my voice, my background and what I talk about is one of my great strengths.
Not everyone is going to like you — and it’s ok!
You’re not going to like everyone you meet either. It takes some resilience, and I’m not immune to feeling a bit hurt when someone I admire or would like to be friends with doesn’t connect with me, but it’s life. I also know there will be someone who does connect with me, that understands who I am, just around the corner.
Invite people to join you
I’ve made so many connections through social media. One thing I love to do is to invite people to come with me to events. If I think that someone I know would enjoy the experience, I let them know about it. This is how I finally met Yusuf from Yussico. It’s a really simple and nice way of getting to know someone better, and you can meet other people together.
Host events and interview people
I host a regular Community MeetUp at the end of every month, and we also do workshops. These are great ways to meet and connect people. Interviewing people you’re interested in is also a great way of building new relationships. I interview people I’m interested in and that the Common Exception Community would find inspiring. Both Coco Lom and Hanna Benihoud I didn’t know before I interviewed them, and now I often reach out to them to ask for advice.
I go out a lot, it’s true! And while I find it easier in some ways to connect in person, it’s also possible to do this online. Common Exception’s own Community is a testament to this, and gaming communities are another great example. However, you can connect with people, do it! And keep doing it! You will find your people.