I’ve been told more than once that I’m really great at networking. Which led me to Google search the definition because (as dumb as it makes me sound), I sorta’ don’t know what that means.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has two definitions for the term.
1) the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
2) the establishment or use of a computer network.
Since I only know enough about computers to be dangerous (as opposed to a computer networker who knows enough to actually be useful), I assume that people are referring to the first definition when they complement my networking skills. I’ve never thought about networking, so it seems strange to me that I’m so good at it. So how can I be great at something I’ve never thought about before? It’s simple. Because I’ve never thought about it before.
Okay, that sounds weird. Let me explain.
First of all, I interact with a lot of people in the writing industry – not because I’m networking, but because I’m volunteering for a well-respected professional writers organization. When I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I immediately jumped in to volunteer. Not with the goal of cultivating “productive relationship for employment or business.” I just wanted to help. And I figured if I got involved, I might meet some other like-minded folks who could become my friends (at the time I was a stay-at-home mom so friends who didn’t pick their nose in public, laugh about farts or need me to help them wipe after using the bathroom were a hot commodity – so far I haven’t witnessed any of my SCBWI friends pick their nose, I’ve never been called to the restroom to help them use the potty, and, well…farts are funny and these are children’s writers/illustrators I’m hanging out with, so I’ll admit we do giggle about those).
I’ve made some of my closest friends through my volunteer work with SCBWI. I’ve even had some pretty cool projects develop from those friendships (my screenwriting partner was a keynote speaker for a conference I coordinated, my Ghost Stories, Inc. group is composed mostly of SCBWI members), but none of those projects were ever the goal or even a thought in my mind when I met any of these people. I just like being friends with nice people. And, well, all these people are pretty nice.
By the nature of being a creative-type person, I have some rather strange-ish thoughts. Letting an idea marinate in your mind for a period of time is cool, but when I finally speak it out loud to someone else, it’s both terrifying and exhilarating. Most people will politely smile and nod when I say things like, “wouldn’t it be killer if I created a documentary about my ghost hunting?”
When I tell those odd-ball friends I met through my writer’s organization about my weird ideas…well suddenly we’re forming a group of ghost hunting authors and illustrators, and before you know it we have some director from New York offering to fly to Minneapolis tri-monthly to help film that ridiculous documentary idea I tried to shake out of my mind, but couldn’t sleep at night until I finally embraced the fact that it basically needed to happen or I might literally go crazy from trying not to think about it.
So if making friends with people who are just as weird as me is networking, I guess I actually am pretty great at it. But not because I’m great at cultivating business relationships, just because I enjoy making friends. If a cool project comes out of that friendship, awesome! If all that comes out it is we sit around giggling about farts, that’s awesome, too!
I guess my point is, you don’t need to set out to network to do it well. If you go to a professional social event, don’t go with the intention of “exchanging information or services.” You’ll feel much less pressure if you simply go for the yummy appetizers and a glass of wine and to chat with other like-minded people because it’s fun to interact with people who share similar interests.
If I stepped into a room full of editors and agents with the intention of networking, I’d probably feel so awkward I’d be afraid to speak. I’d be nervous that I might say something stupid (and if you know me, you know I say lots of stupid things – so that’s a totally legit fear). But if I enter the same scenario with the goal of making a new friend or two, I feel really no pressure at all. If I say something stupid, and they happen to think people who say stupid things are annoying, then we’re probably not going to be buddies. But if I stay long enough, I’ll find my way to the corner where people freely giggle about farts and I’ll know I’ve found my new buddies. Mission accomplished.
Do the things that get you active in your professional community – join professional organizations, attend workshops, conferences and other social events, VOLUNTEER (sorry, didn’t mean to shout at you). Don’t do it necessarily to further your career. Do it because 1) you want to be involved 2) it might make you smarter 3) it feels good to do things that help others who are part of your profession and 4) you’ll probably form some pretty amazing friendships.
So forget about networking. Just get out there and make some new friends! That’s the best networking advice I can give ya’!