By Donna Moriarty
I may be a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, but last night I had an epiphany about networking. I discovered I love it.
Okay, maybe I’m going a little too far. How about, I discovered that meeting people in a business or social setting doesn’t deserve the fear and loathing I’ve invested in it. In fact, it can be almost fun. I just need to remember a few simple principles.
I’m the sort of person who would choose a root canal over a networking event. Seriously. I have a really great oral surgeon who makes me laugh between bouts with instruments, and frankly, I would prefer that experience to a networking event that resembles some of the kind I’ve had.
But now I know there is a better way. Earlier this year I hung out my shingle as a sole practitioner of editorial services after decades of corporate and nonprofit staff positions. In those days, whenever I attended a networking event for my employer, I had no real purpose other than to schmooze, show the company flag, and just get through it until the boss signaled it was okay to leave.
Those occasions were marked by the most craven wallflower-ness. I would lurk in the corners of the room like some cobweb, scanning desperately for someone I knew or wasn’t too intimidated by. After glancing at my watch for the third time in 10 minutes, I’d sidle up to one of my colleagues and begin talking about how much I hated networking and was it time to go yet.
It’s easier to understand the root canal now, right?
It wasn’t until I started my writing and editing business that I knew I really and truly had to get over this phobia. So I did what anyone would do: I typed “I hate networking” into a search engine, and scanned the results for something that would put me out of my misery. I found it in Devora Zack’s wonderful book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected. I completely related to Devora’s insightful yet playful observations about being an introvert in an extroverted world. I loved reading her take on the differences between people who love networking (e-verts, feel free to wave your hands and yell, “That’s me!”) and those who hate it (i-verts, you can raise an eyebrow in recognition—or not).
I was so enchanted by her insights that I resolved to do a better job. I downloaded her book to my phone, registered for a local small business association’s holiday party—one of Devora’s tips (if I don’t register, I’ll find some excuse not to go), and then forgot about it until the day of The Event. I woke up in dread. I thought about it all day. I was on the verge of bailing. And then I remembered Devora’s book.
I opened my e-book to the chapter on The Networking Event Reimagined. Get there early. Hm, now there’s a concept. Instead of entering a room teeming with people, I could more readily approach the small number who were milling about at the start. Scan the nametag table to get an idea of who’s attending, and whom you might seek out for connection. Another excellent idea I’d never considered. Set a goal, even if it’s only two new connections. Ok, check. Two new connections, a low bar to be sure, but hey—training wheels. Survey the crowd before jumping in. Hand a plate to the person behind you in the food line. After a couple of interactions, take a break to regroup before starting another one. Ask questions, and listen. Know when it’s time to move on, and prepare a simple exit line.
Before long, I didn’t have to think about it; I knew what to do. Something about my confidence seemed to make a difference, too. A few people approached me, which made starting a conversation infinitely easier. I began to enjoy myself. I asked myself new questions, like, “Have I gotten the most out of this, or should I stay a little longer? Can I try something really bold, like approaching the CEO of a company that I’d love to land as a client?” By the time I looked at my watch—for the first time—there were only 15 minutes left before the evening would officially end. Well, shut up! I survived!
So all hail, @Devora_Zack, for rescuing me from a life of antipathy toward my fellow networker. All hail to the lively, helpful people at the business association’s holiday bash. And all hail to the quiet people out there who believe networking mastery is beyond their ken. It’s possible to do the impossible if you just remember who you are and what you are about.
And be a little brave. After all, it’s not root canal.
I’ve been writing since the age of seven, when a nun caught me telling an outlandish story, and said I would be a writer one day. After spending three decades writing copy and producing publications for various employers, I founded Silversmith Writing and Editing. I rarely meet a sentence I can’t improve, even just a little. A lot of website and marketing content, churned out just to fill space, really doesn’t try very hard. “Good enough” copy is stale, full of jargon and riddled with clichés. It needs a makeover. I like to tell my clients, “sit back, relax, and let me bring out your beautiful story.” When I blog, I like to tell stories from my own observations that can illuminate the dim corners of our everyday experiences.
You can learn more about Donna Moriarty at www.silversmithwriting.com.