One of the great things about the conference is that there were so many people there – a mecca for networking! Career Services at Northwestern and my parents have taught me the importance of networking, but this was really one of my first opportunities to practice, and I learned a lot!
The first hurtle in networking is actually introducing yourself to the person. Sometimes, this isn’t so bad if the person isn’t in the middle of a conversation or if he or she is a peer. But I was terrified of the agents and editors and presenters because they weren’t just people, they were somebody. And why on earth would they want to talk to little old me when they could be talking to a colleague with much more interesting and relevant things to say?
The solution to this, I learned, is to simply rip off that bandaid. I was lucky enough to have another of Andrea’s interns with me, Sarah Martinez, who has been to conferences before and has experience networking. At one point there was an editor I wanted to meet and she just sat me down on the couch across from him and said, “Have you met Katie Flanagan?” And the conversation went on from there.
The next problem I encountered was actually having something to say. Sometimes I had questions I’d thought of ahead of time or a reason I wanted to speak with the person, but other times it was me sitting down next to someone thinking, “Oh my gosh you do this and that’s so cool!” and not having any idea how to carry a conversation with that person. Again, the insecurity of I’m nobody and you’re somebody impaired me. In fact, when I was just chatting with other writers, I had no trouble finding something to say. Sarah was very good at having interesting questions for the people she was talking to, and I settled back to just listen to conversations. Unfortunately I didn’t find a solution for this other than to try to tell myself I’m being silly and an editor at St. Martins is just as normal a person as an unpublished writer and that I should definitely be able to find something to say.
The final part of networking that gave me anxiety was handing out my card. I didn’t do this with everyone, so I was really only giving it out to the people I was already scared of. That meant at the beginning of the conversation I already knew I wanted to hand it out, but I didn’t want to do it immediately. So I spent the conversation trying to find a time to pull it out naturally, and then by the time the conversation was over they were leaving and I didn’t want to hold them up by giving my card. I did give it out, but it always felt awkward to me. Of course, the recipient was always graceful and didn’t seem to think it was cumbersome to take it, so it was probably all in my mind.
The conference was a great opportunity for me to practice networking, and I actually did make several great contacts despite my anxieties! So my parents and Career Services are right: network, network, network!