How to Network—and Why It's Essential

At The 2020 NAMM Show, Melissa Ceo of C.A. House Music led a panel discussion about networking. Ceo was joined by NAMM Young Professionals (YP) members and their mentors: Jeremy McQueary and Mark Goff of Paige’s Music and Jeremy Payne and Tom Tedesco of The Music People. Ceo pointed out that networking is really about basic human interaction and kindness. The panelists echoed that perspective as they answered key questions.

Why is networking important?
Payne: Your network is going to largely influence your success model, especially from a mentorship or coaching perspective. People you meet can help you get through difficult circumstances and challenges. Building a team of people around me that I can bounce ideas off of has been huge in my career. The NAMM YP has been the largest core of my networking activity since I’ve been in the industry.

McQueary: The people we network with live in the same world we do, so we can call them for help when we have an issue. Some of the people I’ve met are becoming lifelong friends.

Why should managers and owners encourage networking in their businesses?
Goff: Networking is important for my staff for perspective. We get perspective of how things work and are different in other businesses within the industry, and we realize there are a lot of different ways to do what we do and how we might do things better.

Tedesco: I worked in sports before I came to the music industry for Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma. He said to me, “There’s two types of coaches: coaches that have great players and unemployed coaches.” This was a lesson to me that you want the people who work for you to be motivated and driven and want to grow.I was worried that my employee’s networking would take him away from our business, but it’s only grown our business and given us exposure in the industry. You want to embrace your staff’s networking rather than trying to impede it.

How do you identify a person who’s a helpful contact?
Payne: Everybody has value. Any time I’m at a networking event of any kind, I treat everyone with respect. Exchange information and ask if they know someone else they can introduce you to.

How do you go about making a real and meaningful connection with someone, especially in a business setting?
McQueary: When you’re talking to someone, make it about them and not about you. Ask questions about their business and how they came to be in the industry. Don’t just talk to the same people at networking events. Broaden your horizon, and talk to new people.

Ceo: You can also ask questions on a personal level if that connection seems to be there.

Introverts, how do you get started networking?
Goff: By nature, I’m typically introverted, so I won’t walk into a room and start working the room by chatting with people. I remember one of my first events at NASMD, where my wife and I didn’t know anyone. One couple made an attempt to get to know us, and I hold them in high regard 30 years later. I have to be very intentional in identifying who I want to connect with and maybe connect with them in advance of the event. To have a system or something on my calendar works well for me. I do that in my own company because it’s easy to overlook connecting with my team. Once a month, I do “lunch with the boss,” take them out, and it gives me the opportunity to get to know my staff better.

How do you transition the conversation to business?
Tedesco: I always struggle with small talk. I suggest trying to find common ground with someone, but don’t force it. If you can’t be genuine, it’s just a bad experience. If it’s not natural, don’t push it into a business sense. Networking shouldn’t be a one-time conversation. It’s multiple conversations over the course of years and lifetimes. If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t force it. Be authentic is what I’d suggest.

What is the most effective follow-up strategy for your networking?
Payne: If you meet with someone at a networking event or a customer appointment, it doesn’t end there. I recommend starting with an email or at least setting a reminder or Outlook calendar invite to follow up on those discussions. Set the meetings and time to follow up, or check in with each other regularly right then and there on your calendar. You can maybe write a small agenda. The other party knows it’s coming and you’re both committed to it. Scheduling it sets the expectation.

Tell us your most embarrassing network stories.
McQueary: I’m terrible with names. I could be talking with someone for several minutes, and if they took their badge off, I’d be dead in the water. I have to keep saying their name over and over in my head to remember it.

Goff: I’m the same way. You go to an event and you see someone several times and you know who they are, but you blank on their name.

Payne: I’ve introduced someone to another person using the wrong name. He held out his hand saying his real name. I’m embarrassed to this day.

Ceo: Just be honest and tell them you know their face, but need to be reminded of their name.

What is the best connection you’ve made while networking—one that changed the trajectory of your career?
Tedesco: In college, I went to a networking event and met one of the players from the women’s basketball team. We stayed in touch, and I became a manager for their team. The women’s team practiced against the men’s team, and one day, I substituted in for an injured player on the men’s team. From a chance meeting at a networking event, which I almost blew off, I played on the No. 1 men’s college team, went on to work with the U.S.A. Olympic team and the NBA and got a full scholarship for three years in college.

McQueary: I’ve made many great connections through networking in the music industry. I’ve spent time on vacation with some of these people I call friends and care about.

Payne: I echo the same comments as Jeremy and certainly wouldn’t be vice president of the NAMM YP if I didn’t connect with some of the same people and others.

Goff: Ditto.