You’ve made it. You are standing in a gallery, people mingling around you. Maybe you’re clutching a glass of wine or lingering by the hors d’oeuvres table. You know it’s your job to get out there, start chatting, but there’s just one problem…you don’t know anyone here. You braved the night and showed up alone so you don’t even have a friend along to talk to. What’s a lone artist to do? The answer is obvious of course, start chatting. But how?
Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Truer words have hardly ever been spoken. Approaching a conversation with the intention of relaying your full biography over the course of a few minutes is a sure way to fall flat on your face. Instead, ask others for their story. We all love to talk about ourselves and to feel that someone is genuinely interested in who we are. Use this approach to get to know the others in the room.
There are loads of conversational openings available at an event like this. You can always talk about the art at hand, it’s the obvious choice. Approach people and discuss the work you are now both looking at. Find out who you’re standing next to, what brought them here, how this art relates to their life and work. It doesn’t hurt to take a little time before you go to think of a few questions that might be useful when discussing the work. Do a little research about the artist, have some information handy to use as you approach.
Does this mean that you will be meeting people, learning about them, and never breathing a word about who you are? Well of course not. Approaching people with the aim of getting to know them doesn’t mean that you will solely discuss their interests, their lives, their pursuits. It simply means that rather than walking up and presenting a monologue about who you are, you will start from the angle of asking about who you’re talking to. They may, in turn, ask about you. Do offer information, but also be mindful not to let yourself get carried away. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of dominating the conversation. Remember to breathe.
Let’s get back to that glass of wine you were holding in the first paragraph. This, too, is an important consideration when at an opening and hoping to meet people in the room. Often openings will be catered with some drinks service. As in every social situation, it is in your best interest to moderate. You are here, in some sense, on official business. Making a good impression means avoiding overindulgence and keeping a clear head.
If these approaches all sound rather scripted and rigid, don’t be intimidated. This is merely meant to serve as a foundation for how to approach conversation at events like this. It is important to remember that this is part of your livelihood. Of course a gallery opening is a fun social event but as a working freelance artist, this is also a business venture of sorts. Every person in the room holds the potential to become a rung in your networking ladder.
By working the room, approaching everyone for at least a minute or two, you begin to build a rapport within the arts community. It is entirely possible you will discover mutual acquaintances or perhaps even know someone there already. If this is the case, by all means ask this person to introduce you around.
If you have business cards, bring them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having your information handy to give to people you meet at an opening. While you’re at it, ask for theirs. On the topic of business cards, they are always a good idea. You are a professional and a self-represented one at that. Maintaining a stock of cards allows you a quick and easy way to make sure all your information is in the right hands. There are loads of websites that offer inexpensive customized business cards. Vistaprint is one such site. They offer dozens and dozens of templates or the ability to upload your own design. As an artist, a business card is a great way to showcase your work in a small way. Include images of your art on the front or back of your card for a well-rounded glimpse at who you are in a matter of seconds.
There is no reason you can’t conquer a gallery opening with absolute confidence. Even if you don’t know a soul in the room, you are now armed with some practical ways in which you can work a room, get to know the people in it, and be sure they have a way to reaching out to you after the night is over, and that you have a way of reaching them.