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Friday, April 25, 2014

How to Love Networking, or at least have a mature relationship

Today and tomorrow, I’m attending the Chicago North bi-annual writing conference “Spring Fling.” 

Last year, it sounded like a great idea to propose a class and head out to a writing conference. Soak up some new info. Hang with other writers. Drink wine in the Marriot’s retro fern bar.

Riiiight. That was so last year. Now, I’m like, ugh. I have to talk? To people? I mean, stranger-people! And now I’m like, literally, sick. No, really. I mean seriously. What if people talk to me? And I’m so totally awkward. As usual. This may be my worst. Day. Ever!

In case you didn’t pick up on it, the thought of networking at a conference sends me into some kind of weird emo-regression-mode. Back in time! To the worst of high school. Pretty sure I can feel my hair expanding, and is that oxy-benzoyl-peroxide, I smell?

Clearly, I need help.

Lucky for me, I recently had a chance to talk with Gail Sussman-Miller, a career coach, who helps people increase their confidence with her workshop: “How to Love Networking.” Gail says there’s evidence that networking is the number one way to accomplish goals which need you need other people to achieve. Like selling books, for instance.

J: Networking is number one? (eye-roll) Awesome.

Gail: So what are your challenges to networking?

J: Um. All of it? I seem to have this CNN-style mind-ticker scrolling across the bottom of my brain: Should I sit at the end of the row or in the middle? When is too much eye contact is creepy? Is my cold/damp handshake going to give someone hebegebees? 

Gail: Sounds like you might benefit from a shift of perspective and a few practical tips. Try this: 
1. Reframe. Think of networking as “connecting with like-minded people for the greater good.”
J: Well, Spring Fling has lots of great speakers and writers.  Do you think I can get them to connect over wine in the fern bar?

Gail: Maybe. It'll certainly have you all more relaxed! Here’s a thought:
2. Be other-oriented. Everyone is special and if you show an interest in them, or offer to help someone else, you're already connecting! All you have to do is say: “Hello! Is it your first time here?” Focus on others to stay out of your own head.
J: Ah-ha! Regressing to high school mode is pretty much the definition of NOT being other-oriented.  Guess I need to snap out it & think about someone else. I can do that. But I hate that small-talk stuff. Any ideas?

Gail: Most people dislike small talk. Here’s what I recommend:
3. Ask a question that matters. “Why do you write romantic suspense?” or “What's your biggest writing challenge?” or even “What have you read lately that you couldn't put down?” These are questions that can inspire personal, authentic conversations.
J: OK. I can try that. Also perhaps, "Have you tried the fern-bar?"

Game on, NYUS-ers! I’ll report from the scene of the crime about how it’s going. Please feel free to advise me throughout the day! And Gail, if you aren’t busy, maybe you could be my lifeline if I get into trouble? 

Stay tuned!

To find out more about Gail and her work, visit her at


Anne Marie Becker said...

Ah, yes, conference season is upon us. Sigh. I'm okay with networking, but I find it a serious drain on my energy. But I found that starting out with the smaller conferences and building up to the bigger ones really helps me. I went to Desert Dreams (in Phoenix) a couple weeks ago and it was great to see people from my chapter and sister chapters and be able to see someone I knew in each workshop or event. Harder to do that at national-level conferences. (RT and RWA, here I come...)

J Wachowski said...

Oh tots agree, Anne Marie! It helps to have friendly faces around. I still have to do a big gulp at the thought of Rwanda national!

Marcelle Dubé said...

I have faith in you! You are smart and talented, and people are going to flock to you. Go forth and shine!

J Wachowski said...

Ok that was an auto correct. Not a Freudian slip. (RWA=rwanda)

J Wachowski said...

(((Marcella))))) thank you! So far I have waved awkwardly at two people I don't know. (They waved at me first! ) I'm thinking I must look like someone else.

Hmmm. This could be an advantage. The first workshop is in 20 minutes. I'm going to hear Sara Wendell one of the Smart Bitches talk about reviews. Will report later!

Jerilyn Willin said...


I don't know anyone who likes networking. This means that if you talk to someone first they will be soooo grateful. The questions in your post were fine...just be sure they are not yes/no or the ball will be back in your court before you know it. Get to a room early and sit by someone sitting alone. If you just slide in before the talk begins (as I used to do) everyone is already chatting with someone and if you are like me, you feel conspicuously alone.

Jerilyn- reluctant networker/career coach

Anonymous said...

Speaking of conferences, I just returned from one of my own... with master coaches.

It's fun to read the comments you have all shared. I am actually someone who LOVES networking.

As you have a national conference coming up, you are, as Julie says, more likely to be in a room where you don't know anyone.

Here are a few suggestions.:
1) We are all connected, we all have something in common. At a minimum, you and those unknown people are all human beings with a shared interest in the same place at the same time!

2) Strangers are friends you have not met yet.

3) Be other-oriented. Focus on the needs of others and the greater good that can come from your meeting new people. New ideas for your stories, acknowledging the success of others (which attracts more success to you), and putting others at ease.

Smile at a new person, offer your hand and name, and see what you have in common!


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