Thursday, December 14, 2006

On Networking

First things first, A confession: Networking makes me uncomfortable.

There, I admitted it. I am always a little nervous the first time I walk into a room of colleagues for the first time, plastering on my fake smile and looking frantically for the 2 or 3 faces I know. But I get out there and do it anyway, even though I don't always feel confident in the process. Fortunately Librarians are pretty much a universally friendly and welcoming bunch, and I can usually insert myself into a conversation without too much fuss.

However, I suspect I could be doing a better job than I am currently in building and maintaining connections, and I know from my previous life in corporate america how important a solid business network can be. Fortunately, today I ran into this great post on businesspundit that discusses how introverts like me (and like most librarians, i suspect) can successfully build business connections.

The points I found most helpful were "At first you have to kiss a lot of frogs", and "don't network just for the sake of networking". While I seem to be somewhat more extroverted than some of my colleagues, I still consider myself an introvert in the Nyers-Briggs sense of the word (I'd much rather be curled up in my chair with a good book than schmoozing at a party, unless I'm in a really good mood). And I used to get disappointed when I didn't "magically" develop an awesome network after one event. You meet a lot of people on the road to building a network, some click with you and some don't. there's nothing wrong with this. Also, you don't need to try to meet someone just to add a tick mark on your "meet 5 new people at X event" to-do list. Focus on people you've heard of, or have read online, or who generally sound interesting, and strike up a conversation with an insightful question or some other thing that will make them interested in you. The cool thing about our field is that this stuff comes naturally to very few of us, which means you're rarely going to run into primadonnas.

After being in this field a little while, I have what might be considered the core of a good network, though it could use some growing yet. But I'm to the point where I have to focus on nurturing those links, especially with out of state contacts I may only see once or twice a year, plus a few comments in their blog. I just sent off a ton of holiday cards, and am thinking about burthday cards as well. However, I also had the good sense to jot down a few interests of many of the people whose cards I've collected over the past two years, mainly as a crib in conversation starting for my feeble mind.

But I now have the beginnings of an interesting little database of my connections' interests, which I might be able to put to good use. For instance when I see an interesting story on Jazz music or whatever, I could tag that in, and then send the link on to my contacts who expressed an interest in Jazz. I'm still sorting out how exactly I want to do this, but I think that It could be a good way to cultivate quality contacts, as opposed to just racking up a list of 500 names in outlook, most of whom wouldn't be able to recognize me if their lives depended on it. I'm still trying to sort this out, and I'd be very interested in the networking tactics others have tried. Suggestions?