Oh no, not the N-word…
Book launches, industry events, writers’ conferences and festivals. There are all sorts of opportunities for the emerging writer to engage in that most dreaded of marketing activities. Yes, networking. In an ideal world all writers would be allowed to stay on the sidelines, doing that writerly thing of observing, analysing, noting down all the fascinating quirks of people behaviour. OMG, she’s stuffing the prawn vol au vents into her handbag! If only.
Can’t I just stay home instead?
No, and I’ll tell you why. You know those packets of mixed seeds you can buy for cultivating a wild flower patch? The idea is you sprinkle them on the soil and in a few months you have a riot of beautiful varieties of poppies, marigolds, love-in-a-mist. Networking is like chucking a handful of seeds into the earth. You never quite know what seeds are going to make it, or when, but you can bet if you’ve sown enough seeds then some amazing opportunities will spring up, almost magically.
If like me you’re an introvert by nature – as many writers are – then don’t let those feelings of terror and timidness put you off networking events. Believe me, shyness is fine. In fact shyness seems endearingly sweet and quite cute compared to some of the behaviour I’ve encountered at networking occasions over the years.
My top 4 networking turn-offs
#1 Rudeness By this I mean those people who always look slightly past the side of your head when they’re talking to you, as though there might be someone of far greater interest/importance/influence on the other side of the room.
#2 Drunkeness and other immaturity Call me a control freak who likes to be in control of her faculties, but just because the wine is free doesn’t mean you have to get blind drunk. I was at an awards ceremony once where an industry colleague lurched towards me in a very drunken state and (accidentally I believe) tipped his glass of red wine all down my blouse. And then tried to dab at the stain with a napkin! Cool, huh?
#3 Insensitivity to the body language of groups. It’s usually obvious when pairs or groups of people are deep in conversation and don’t want to be interrupted. All the non-verbal clues are there: the speakers will be facing each other and forming a exclusively tight or ‘closed’ group, unlike an ‘open’ group where the speakers are standing side-by-side, facing slightly outwards. The open group is more amenable to being approached; the closed group will be severely irritated if anyone gatecrashes their private conversation, believe me. [For more reading on how to identify different groups then check out Andy Bounds’ brilliant business communication book, The Jelly Effect.]
#4 General crassness/trying too hard. What’s really toe-curling is when complete strangers are clearly in sales mode. You’ve barely said hello when they’ve launched into the 10-second pitch of their book. Actually I’ve just come to enjoy myself, so show me you’re a human being not a robot. Tempt me first with some general conversation, crack a joke, even flirt a little. (Maybe scrub that last point but just, you know, chill out a bit.) And chances are I’ll be very interested to hear about your book.
Having read all that, aren’t you glad it’s only shyness you have to worry about?
What about you? Do you love networking events? Or are they your idea of hell? What have been your best, worst or funniest experiences? I’m dying to know.