Moving after college from my hometown outside Nashville to the D.C.-area was stressful. I had only been forced to make new friends twice in my life: when I started middle school and was zoned to a school none of my elementary school friends attended, and when I started high school and was zoned to a school very few of my middle school friends attended.
I quickly learned that networking was one of the keys to a successful career in politics.
Working in the movement means you become friends with most of your co-workers fairly quickly. After-work happy hours and coalition meetings are commonplace. But the pressure to network from acquaintance to acquaintance was a little overwhelming for me at first. And it still is, five years later.
So I needed someplace to go to just hang out and wind down with friends and acquaintances in the movement
I began going to weekly karaoke with just a few friends at first. It was an opportunity for us to relax without the pressure of trading business cards with strangers.
I sang karaoke in Nashville at a few local dive bars throughout college, and karaoke was a shared interest among several of us who worked primarily at the Leadership Institute at the time.
As weekly karaoke gained steam, more and more people in the movement attended. People from out of town who were visiting would attend. Students from Leadership Institute training and attendees of conferences came. On any given night, our crew was (and still is) 50% – 80% of the total number of customers in attendance.
We got to know the karaoke jockey, the bartenders, and one another. There was no pressure at all to sing and no awkward pressure to trade business cards with strangers.
I decided in October 2013 to monetize our weekly karaoke event for a principled candidate for Congress. Attendees responded favorably, and we raised more than $6,000. We’ve had two other official events – calling them #LibertyKaraoke – and have raised more than $20,000 to date.
Our weekly karaoke has also made front page of the National Journal and been discussed on the House Floor. Not bad for a weekly gathering of idealistic small-L libertarians.
Weekly karaoke grew out of the necessity of networking in politics (especially in D.C.) and out of my skepticism of traditional after-work happy hours as a place to forge meaningful relationships (not that it’s impossible). Months (and now years) of regular weekly meet-ups have grown into an event where meaningful professional connections and friendships are formed.
It’s also an inviting place for out-of-towners and yet-to-have-met-in-person Facebook friends, of which we all have at least a few.
Speaking on a panel about networking several weeks ago, I offered this advice: “If you don’t like existing opportunities to network, create your own. Build a network of friends and professional contacts who can build on one another’s strengths. Be a connector.”
I’d like to think weekly karaoke has been successful in that effort. And I’d like to think it’s helped more people than just me find their place in this movement.
Matthew Hurtt is a writer and activist living in Arlington, Virginia.