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Networking Events: Using the Arts to Inspire Great Conversations

Networking Events: Using the Arts to Inspire Great Conversations

Start a degree program at American Public University.

By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, Religion and World Languages Programs, American Public University

Networking is often unfairly categorized as one of two types of experiences. For some people, networking is pleasant.

These people are typically naturals at networking events. They are extroverted and do an amazing job connecting with others without any apparent effort.

But for other people, networking is an arduous task that wrecks their nerves. It is uncomfortable and feels disingenuous.

The reality is that networking is what you make it. If you approach networking with honest intentions and are yourself, then you will generally have a positive experience.

Benefits of Networking

The benefits of networking are tangible. As an excellent Harvard Business Review article recently stated, “a mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority.”

The major challenge to networking is putting yourself out there. It does not matter if you are extroverted or not. According to Medium blog contributor and CEO Elle Kaplan, doing uncomfortable things such as networking forces you to take beneficial risks.

Overcoming the Awkwardness of Starting Conversations during Networking Events

When you are finally in a position to put yourself out there and network, what do you talk about? Standard conversation starters might include your job, generic business talk, management conversations, volunteerism or sports.

But the reality is that not everyone wants to talk about their job, Tom Brady’s legacy, why Chelsea did not make the Champion’s League or transformational leadership. Part of your conversational repertoire should be about the arts and culture.

Using the Arts during Networking Conversations

Having a comprehensive knowledge of all the arts is impossible. There are many different art fields and countless genres. You do not have to be a cultural phenomenon, but you should try to get a general understanding of the following:

  • Visual arts, including painting and sculpture
  • Architecture
  • Photography
  • Classical music, jazz, popular and world music
  • Ballet, jazz and hip-hop dance
  • Cinema and theater
  • Computer and video game art
  • Fashion and jewelry
  • Applied art

A good example of what you should know is that the New York Metropolitan Opera is one of the best opera companies in the world. A music lover with whom you’re chatting might also be interested in the fact that the Met live-streams performances to local movie theaters every month.

Similarly, you may not know the songs from “Lemonade,” but you should know why it is one of the seminal works of popular music in the last decade. You might not have seen “Moonlight” and “La La Land,” but you should know why “Moonlight” won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Networking takes practice. Just like talking about business concepts and sports, discussing the arts broadens your ability to authentically communicate at networking events.

When your big opportunity finally comes and you are talking with a VP, a director of a leading company or an influential client, that person may start talking about Misty Copeland instead of the Golden State Warriors. If you have developed your artistic knowledge, you’ll have a great networking conversation with that person about one of the best ballet dancers in the world and know enough to ask knowledgeable follow-up questions.

Start a degree program at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management, and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.



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