If you want to make it in a creative industry, I am told, you have to network.
Gone are the days of the reclusive author who is read but not seen; your Salingers, Pynchons and Becketts. Writers must put themselves out there if they want support for their output, because contacts in the right places get you paid work. I’ve even read in several places that if you want to be a hack or write comedy, you should find out where your favourite journalists, editors or producers drink then hang around the same pub till you get chatting. Because that’s not creepy or weird, especially for those of us commuting from Edinburgh to London…
Truth be told, I’m not great at networking. I can do it online, but face-to-face I become more reticent. Given my current career trajectory this is far from ideal – so I have decided to make more of a concerted effort.
Naturally my first step was to go online for advice. According to the Internet, I need to change my outlook on schmoozing.
“Introverts and inexperienced networkers often apologize when asking for an individual’s help because they see networking as an imposition, not as an exercise in relationship building,” an article on CIO.com informed me today.
“They view it as insincere at best, manipulative at worst. They eschew networking for a variety of reasons including lack of confidence, fear of rejection and a sense of unworthiness.”
That is part of the problem, certainly – I don’t want to be that hideously enthusiastic wannabe annoying everyone in the room with constant questions and self-promotion, blatantly schmoozing rather than forming genuine connections with people.
Of course, the fact I am aware of this type of person at all probably makes me a lot less likely to be it. Plus there is a fine line between being superficial and being the idiot who waits for people to develop psychic powers ahead of coming out and asking for help.
However, my main issue is simple stage fright. I’m absolutely fine in an interview situation – I will set that up and go to meet someone or call or email and feel pretty confident. But put me in a situation like a press launch and my immediate reaction is to watch, listen and review rather than to go up to people and introduce myself.
If I look around and don’t see any familiar faces in the room, I’ll find somewhere out of the way and I’ll make notes, take photographs, or tweet. This probably makes me appear busy and means that anyone who might be taking pity on shy types probably thinks I’m managing fine.
IF ONLY THEY KNEW THE SHOCKING TRUTH.
It’s all rather self-sabotaging and I suspect the only solution is to get over myself. Let’s be logical here – I am the one with the problem. I am giving out confusing signals, implying I am impossibly busy when I’m not, or failing to go up to people I spoke to about thirty minutes ago on Twitter because I’m not 100% sure from the avatar whether it’s them. Nobody else in the room has the first idea of the inner turmoil I am facing as I search around in vain for a familiar eye line.
Or what about the flip side? I am assuming people don’t know who I am, but there’s a possibility they not only do know but think me rude for ignoring them. They could be just as unsure about networking protocol as I am. And I am not the only person to be a bit shy around new faces – surely this happens to about 98% of all people on the planet.
The conclusion, here, is that schmoozing is what you make it. And until I’ve written something more Catcher in the Rye than Single Mum’s Aristocratic Library Assistant, I’m going to have to practice mine.
If you have any tales of networking success or woe, please leave a comment!
April 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm
Really enjoyed this post as I am now in the networking/marketing game myself. Is not easy for an introvert, that’s for sure. It often goes against the core of a writer’s very nature.
April 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm
Very true! But there’s a time and a place for introspection and I guess it’s when you’re hunched over a computer/typewriter working on something wonderful..
April 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm
Nice wee post. If I may contribute my five cents (pence?), I have found that one’s ability with networking, like most things, improves with practice. And alcohol. I’m naturally an introverted person, but a bit of perspective (and alcohol) helped me put myself at ease in crowded situations and I’m a bit better at the whole networky-schmoozy-baloozy than I used to be. I hope the following helps:
Don’t be scared to approach people – they’re just people! Like you! I find that if you’re polite and friendly, most people respond very well to you, even if your introductory remarks prove clumsy (“Oh. We’re NOT Twitter friends? Ah. Right. So what IS your Twitter feed like generally?” = *internal facepalm + survival adrenalin rush*).
A sense of humour (feigned or otherwise) is a MUST. As is a smile. As is interest (feigned or otherwise) expressed by eye contact during speaking.
Also arm yourself with a list of conversational questions (two or three will do) that will get people talking. Questions like ‘What do you do for a living’ are cliched, yes, but they’re safe and they work. Pick out a detail from your conversation partner’s answer and ask about that. Ask them about their opinion of the event, their clothes, their accent, their ideas on the budget cuts, their favourite animal, their opinion of that hot waiter/waitress etc. If you cold-approach someone, always have a relevant and pointed question to ask them: ‘I thought your question in the Q&A session was really interesting and I was wondering what prompted it because I’m blah blah blah’. You get the idea.
Finally, the one rule I abide by when I’m stuck: if you’re fishing for questions to keep a conversation rolling, remember that a person’s favourite topic is his or herself. That rule stands true for EVERYONE. Ask someone’s opinion about something and they’ll love you for it. And keep talking.
Keep that pen handy. Email addresses and Twitter names need to be written down, not forgotten.
Okay, this was way longer than intended. Sorry, and hope it helps!
April 4, 2012 at 9:45 am
Thanks Kylie, very comprehensive set of advice there! I do find I’m OK once I actually start talking, it’s literally getting started that stumps me. Perhaps a hip flask is in order…
April 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm
Hello! I really enjoyed this post! I’m also an introvert but I’m part of a project that means I have to speak to anyone and everyone I meet (in person and online) and it’s taking some time to get the courage up to do it easily each time. It’s made slightly harder by the fact that I’m in the US and the knowledge that some things are slightly different over here than back in the UK just makes me feel more nervous than ever.
I’m getting better though. I think there is a certain element of practice but I can definitely sympathise with the feeling of stage fright. I want to go into editing so I know that all the skills I gain now will be useful in the future but I’m just not sure I’ll ever get very good at it…
April 4, 2012 at 9:47 am
Wow, that sounds like a great project! A pretty decisive way of finding out how much practice helps, too! Can you trade on the slight cultural differences, like get people to take you under their wing a bit when they hear you’re a Brit?
April 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm
So many of my own experiences of networking spring to mind upon reading this. Not immediately relevant, but somewhat linked to the hellish feeling of initiating contact was from my 7 week job as a student caller for Edinburgh University asking alumni for money. So essentially I was a networking for the university who now has an extensive list of those who will give and those who won’t! I took the job as an attempt to help my introvert ways. I hate using the phone. And yet, it made it worse. The job made me feel soulless and some people were equally terrible which doesn’t make for conducive work.
I also volunteered for the EIFF last year and was briefly in Teviot I think it was for a networking session. Watching the young aspiring directors in flannels and jeans suck up to the “successful” directors in all white suit ensembles (yes, all white) was quite the eye opener.
I’m going to be studying Publishing Studies at Stirling next year (permitting I get a 2:1 in my current course that is!) and will have this post in mind when I inevitably begin to start networking myself, FOR myself. I won’t be in all white or asking for money so maybe it won’t be so traumatic as I expect! Thanks for posting this, rings very true.