December 04, 2016

Why I Don’t Like The Term “Networking”

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I love attending and/or being a part of events, panels, salons, conferences, festivals and the like. I live for meaningful interactions, conversations, connections and meeting new people. If you believe that education never ends and that slow and steady self-improvement is an important ingredient to life, you probably already make sure you go out of your way to discover new opinions, lifestyles and ideas daily. We all know that we can surf through hundreds of new faces every day online (whether it’s a blog network or a dating app) but we only truly connect with a few. 

Finding time to meet new people in my industry makes me better at my job, brings new friendships, inspires me and allows me to think outside of the box. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since over the years of going to different events, it’s that if an event markets itself as a straight-up “networking event” then it’s probably not worth going. I find it soulless when people try and network at you and I don’t like the transactional way people attempt to scratch your back in order to have theirs scratched in return. I also don’t like the pressure of answering that opening question: “so what do you do?”

For me, IRL meet-ups have been invaluable to building a career. One of the biggest myths is that people think you just need to sit on your laptop “networking” your way through your Twitter list from behind a screen. That’s wrong on many levels, but mainly to think you can make strong connections by simply pressing “like” or commenting a few times is never going to be enough. Any publicist will know the first rule is to put a face to a name – or at the very least to build up a real relationship and to pitch things that would genuinely appeal to the recipient. People-you-barely-know who make such big asks via an out-of-the-blue email don’t seem to understand why that will never work.

And it’s not about having to live in a big city like London to reap these rewards or spending a fortune on pricey ticketed events – it’s worth meeting new people in some (any) way that feels good. A local book club for example. Or forming a small meet-up with like-minded people in the industry, or arranging a dinner for people you think would get on, or even going along as a friend’s plus one to their Christmas party; everyone has benefited from being in a room with new interesting people. Luisa Omielan, a comedian I admire and recently interviewed on my podcast, arranged an impromptu meet-up for some women (new and old friends) she’d met over this year. People like Luisa are “connectors”, i.e. people who enjoy introducing people to each other, who have a natural ability to connect others who otherwise may never be brought together. 

The word “connect” by definition means “to bring together, so that a real or notional link is established”. It doesn’t mean retweeting someone a few times and saying “love your work, hun!” to a list of people you kind-of-know. A real connection is something meaningful, something that cannot be rushed, forced or faked. It’s not about using people as social currency, a quick “favour” or treating them differently once you figure out what they could “offer” you.

We press “connect” on LinkedIn and yet people believe this is an invitation to say “Hi, would you mind sharing this [insert thing] on your blog?” without even having one meaningful interaction prior to that. It’s a shallow connection, it’s a big ask and it’s something which feels the opposite of human. Cold messages are just that: cold and empty. 

I’ve been in situations where people are “working a room” and trying to get as many names to add to their Little Black Book as possible. We can often see it happening online too. People spreading themselves too thinly, praying something will stick. In some extreme scenarios, people set up “bot” accounts that automatically comment generic phrases on people’s Instagram accounts. Instead, it’s about building human relationships over time, the same as you would with any other type of relationship. Be curious in others and expect nothing in return. Reach out to people, but in a real way. 

Real connection takes time, investment and genuine curiosity. Real connection doesn’t just happen because you’re in a fancy room with free Prosecco and a name badge. Real connections don’t happen by treating someone like a cog in a machine. Real connection doesn’t mean twelve new business cards in your back pocket. Real connection can often start off so small you don’t even notice it happening at the time. And to me, that’s the beauty of it.

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