How To Network When You're Shy
Chances are, if you’ve reached this page, you’re probably not into networking. The reality is, networking kinda sucks! But it’s not just about selling yourself or making fake friendships - networking is also about making a community for yourself, getting to know people whose work you admire, and finding collaborators who inspire you and who can fuel your work!
Networking can be overwhelming, and often you might feel like it’s something some people were naturally born to do, while others are not. But, just like public speaking or dancing salsa, these are things that you too can learn with some simple steps and a lot of practice.
Some things to consider:
Networking doesn’t have to be face to face!
Lots of folks begin their networking experience online. A nice website and an active twitter or Instagram presence can go a long way. It is also important to use the tools at your disposal to connect! Sending all of your amazing thoughts and images out into cyberspace is fantastic, but a nicely worded direct message (DM), a strategic retweet or a cheeky tag can get you followers, friends, and maybe some fantastic opportunities!
Networking can be done in your own style
Forget everything you think networking is supposed to be! Take a moment to think for yourself… what do you want out of a networking experience?
The bartering economy: This for that.
If you think about networking as things you need, you might begin to feel needy and self-conscious. It might be a good idea to think about things you can give. What are your strengths? What could you offer in return for that studio time or that wall space? Perhaps you’re good at cooking, or have mad website design skills! Think of networking as a way of offering your services in return for the services or products you are looking for.
Where the wild things are: Go to places where artists gather!
You don’t have to introduce yourself, or even speak! But making yourself a known face might prompt a collaboration later on. From pubs to cabaret nights to cafes, artists gather to discuss projects, share work in progress, and meet other artists. Take your notebook or laptop and sit, watch, and wait. And who knows, maybe you’ll have something to say!
Be ready for the tough questions
You might be dreading the usual, “so, what do you do?” and this might keep you from going out. This is totally fine and normal, especially if you don’t really feel like you do one thing in particular. It might be a good idea to prepare an elevator pitch, or a sort of business card, for yourself. Find a way of defining yourself and your work, something that works for you. It doesn’t always have to be “I am a painter” or “I am an actress” it can be more fluid stuff like “I am interested in representations of indigenous bodies in contemporary art, currently working on collages” this is a better way to start a conversation. Or perhaps you want to simply share one thing you are working on and feel good about “I just finished a photography series” or “Today I’m really working on this sketch” All you need is an offer, and soon you’ll be on to the more comfortable “and what about you?”
Make it a thing!
Don’t leave your new friends hanging
A key part of networking is following up. If you got someone’s email, social media details, or phone number, hit them up! A simple “It was so nice to meet you on….would love to chat a bit more about....I am showing that work I mentioned at….let me know if you want more help with...talk soon!” Will do. This shows that you felt the meeting was meaningful and you are eager to continue the relationship.
All in all, the key to networking, as it is with the work you do in your own practice, is to own it. Make networking work for you, at your own pace, in your own style. I’m sure you’ll smash it! 💪
Check out this great article by Format “The 5 Ws of networking for artists and creators”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Valentina is a Colombian artist based in London. She is currently finishing her MA in Performance Practice as Research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and is interested in issues of race, representation, and contemporary performance. Before coming to the UK, she completed her undergraduate degree at NYU Abu Dhabi.