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!