Networking in a Strange Land

This past weekend, I attended the Editors’ Association of Canada annual conference. I had been looking forward to this event and I was not disappointed. The weekend was jam-packed full of sessions on self-publishing, social media, and the future of editing in the digital space. Plus, I had a chance to meet people like fellow blogger and awesome grammarphile Suzanne Purkis from Apoplectic Apostrophes.

I knew going in to this conference that it would be a great opportunity to network with writers and editors that I hadn’t met yet.

Wait a second…I was going to have to talk to new people all weekend? Ummm….

All of you introverts out there know exactly how much *fun* it is speaking with groups of people at large events. We’re the strangers in a strange land, hoping that someone will grok us immediately so that we don’t have to exhaust ourselves putting on a show. We always have a sneaking suspicion that other people have figured out we don’t belong here.

John Carter among the Tharks - What do you think? Should we toss him out, or have fun with him first?

What do you think? Should we toss him out, or have fun with him first?
(Image from John Carter)

Luckily, I was not the only one feeling this apprehension. There was a popular discussion on the EAC LinkedIn group before the conference on networking for introverts (where many of us sang the praises of Susan Cain’s Quiet). EAC member Elizabeth Macfie chimed in by writing an excellent post full of networking tips. Armed with this information, I bravely went forth and connected with many people. I even managed to find other fans of speculative fiction, like word sorceress Vanessa Ricci-Thode and graphic novel editing guru Alison Kooistra.

I’d like to share with you some of the networking tips that helped me survive my trip to this alien land known as a “business conference.”

Sue’s Networking Tips for Introverts

1. Try to know people before you go. See what you can find out about the people who are attending or speaking at the event. Look at their pictures on LinkedIn so that you will recognize them when you see them. Find out what they write about or what they post on their websites. The strange will become familiar, and you’ll have a starting point for a conversation.

(I was lucky that the EAC had a conference buddies program, where you could email with people ahead of the event and not feel alone when you got there. This was a great boon for introverts. Thank you to Jean, Anne, Avery, and Marie-Christine for being my conference buddies!)

2. Dress for confidence. Wear the outfit that makes you feel like you’re a star. You’re not there to blend in—you’re there to show your best self. Stop worrying about being different and celebrate those differences. At the conference, I saw someone wearing an unusual knit dress and another person wearing a tiara. Both of them pulled their outfits off with panache.

3. Keep your cards ready. You don’t want to be fumbling over your business cards and feeling like you have too many fingers as you try to make connections. Networking can be awkward enough. Put your cards in your name tag holder so that you can take them out quickly, and put other people’s cards at the front so you don’t mix the cards up.

4. Take a break. You can’t be “on” all the time. Spend five minutes wandering away to a quiet place and drink a coffee in silence. Pretend you’re out in deep space. Take the opportunity to study your agenda so you know where you’re going next. You don’t want to waste your mental energy thinking about plans when you go back in to meet people.

5. Focus on your goals. Why are you there? Is there a particular person you want to meet? Is there a topic you are interested in learning more about? Go where you will have the best chance of meeting your goals. Thinking about your goals will stop you from feeling overwhelmed, and help you avoid taking on too much.

I’m already looking forward to the 2015 EAC conference in Toronto, which is going international. Next year I will have the chance to meet writers and editors from the US, the UK, and Australia. Then it will be my turn to make strangers in a strange land feel welcome. Maybe I’ll see you there!