It’s fair to say that in the year and a half that I’ve been a part of the podcasting world, I’ve had the privilege of attending many - and I mean many - podcasting events.
If there’s a podcasting conference or festival taking place in London, there’s an 80% chance you’ll see me there curled up in one of the seats at the back and typing away on my phone or laptop, writing up all the insights from the sessions. This way, anyone who wasn’t able to attend in person can come here to get the highlights and key takeaways later.
A couple weeks ago, I attended the annual IAB UK Podcast Upfronts; a half-day event with sessions and Q&As from speakers across multiple podcast companies including Wondery, Global, Sony Music Entertainment, and more. It’s a podcast news gold-mine - and yet, my highlight of the event was the networking that took place around the sessions.
Working as a reporter means that I’ve been in contact with various podcasting people, from creators and producers to marketers and advertisers, but it’s rare for me to actually meet them in person. With podcasting still being a fairly young and developing medium, it’s important now more than ever to build these real and genuine connections with people across the industry and to learn from them - because everyone has thoughts and ideas that they want to share, and it can be vital for your own career.
Podcasters love attending events, especially if there’s a promise of a free bar and canapes, which makes for a great opportunity to chat to fellow creators as well as key figures from the industry. I can always guarantee that I’ll run into at least three people that I’ve either spoken to or that I’ve written about.
I know that as soon as the lights turn on and people start moving around and mingling, it’s time for me to put on my professional face and start the small talk. While it may seem intimidating to engage in this type of environment, you’d be surprised at how many podcasters - both big and small - can be quite friendly and approachable, and open to talking about their backgrounds and experiences.
Admittedly, you’ll often find that people tend to go off in pairs, and since everyone seems to already know each other (podcasting is a small world, after all) it’s harder to start conversations. Even I find myself shying away from introducing myself on some occasions. However, if the networking takes place after an awards ceremony or conference, you can use the contents of the sessions as an entry point to the conversation and let it flow from there.
If you do happen to spot someone that you’ve spoken to in the past, try not to get offended if they make zero acknowledgement of your presence. I know from experience that it can be hard to automatically match faces with names - particularly when you’re not sure if you’ve actually met them, or if you just recognise their voice from the airwaves. I know the feeling of speaking to someone and seeing their eyes glaze over as they try to remember my name; just let it go, and use it as an opportunity to remind them and make sure that your name sticks this time around.
Once you do start making the rounds and start engaging in meaningful and insightful conversations, make sure to keep those connections for the future. Get people’s email addresses and share yours, follow up with them the day after while the connection is still fresh. Later on, you can ask them out for a coffee if you want to continue building that long term relationship.
I spoke to Shivani Dave, producer and co-founder of independent production company Aunt Nell, at an Apple event a few months ago and they spoke about the importance of building relationships with fellow creators in the industry in networking spaces, and not only treating it as a business opportunity.
“The people that I ‘network with’ in podcasting are not necessarily people that I think of as just colleagues,” said Dave; “they're people that I meet on nights out, or go for a drink with. It's much more free-flowing in that way.”
Speaking of free events, I recognise that it is a big privilege to attend some of the bigger podcasting events such as The Podcast Show, which can be prohibitive in terms of both cost and location, and many independents may not have the same opportunities. However, there are a number of free and more affordable events that people can go to, such as the IAB Podcast Upfronts, sessions held at City University’s Podcasting Centre of Excellence, and so on. There are also a number of events which take place outside London, like the Radio Academy Foot in The Door training and networking programme in Leeds this November, which has previously taken place in regions like Coventry, Cardiff, and Exeter.
For those who aren’t able to attend networking events in person, I also would encourage you to look at online podcast community groups such as the Podcaster’s Support Group and The Entry Level Audio Network (ELAN) on Facebook to form connections with other like minded podcasters and professionals. ELAN is also hosting a pre-mixer at the upcoming Audio Production Awards for entry level podcasters, which can help attendees network with others if they find it too intimidating to do on their own.
There’s an advantage to podcasting that not many other established mediums possess, which is the fact that it’s still a relatively new industry and so many individuals are willing to share information and form connections. You’d be surprised how many podcasters you meet that have the same questions and views as you do. It’s easy to find yourself stuck in a comfort bubble, especially with most podcasters being fairly introverted people, but getting out of that bubble can be easier than you think - and you might just end up with a connection for life.