Every once in a while — and always against my will — I find myself in a situation in which I am expected to “network.” The thing about being a writer is that you end up becoming very skilled at typing, not talking. Consequently, standing in a room full of other less-than-chatty individuals can be painfully awkward.
We all know the importance of networking when it comes to job seeking. Maybe you know this from experience or from a professional development class or from your know-it-all uncle who is constantly reminding you: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
I know a few MBA candidates who have been required to attend mandatory networking events to brush up on their schmoozing skills. Students learn the importance of eye contact, exchange glad-handing tips and go head to head against each other in timed business-card-collecting competitions.
While these formal networking exercises seem a bit superficial, business logic suggests that a stellar resumé means nothing in a world where being unconnected results in being unemployed.
Unfortunately, this is bad news for introverted folk who do not excel at small talk with strangers. I might have plenty to say in writing, but social networking in real life is an entirely different story. My idea of “working the room” is nibbling on appetizers and hiding in a corner with my smartphone until it’s appropriate to leave.
These dreaded mix-and-mingle events occasionally take place at a venue with an open bar. Experience has taught me that the nerve-quashing power of free alcohol is tempting but that relying on it can be detrimental when it comes to making a good first impression.
But even with a glass of wine in hand, I have a difficult time selling myself and an even harder time listening to everyone else’s elevator pitch. I always find myself wondering, do we really have to have a conversation? Can’t you just follow me on Twitter?
Yes, I realize this makes me sound socially inept, but hear me out. It’s not that I’m bad with people — I actually think I’m quite good when it comes to socializing — but this form of instantaneous faux-friending just isn’t my specialty.
I don’t know how to win friends and influence people but I do know how to nurture real friendships over a long period of time, and that’s far more important.
After all, at the end of the day, life isn’t really about the number of business cards in your wallet.