Schmoozing Skills

Like most library-types, I’m an introvert. I get my energy and approval primarily from within. I like being alone. I like quiet times. It’s why I was such a good task-oriented person and part of why I would be a good cataloger if I wanted to go that route. But over the years I’ve intentionally placed myself in situations in which I have to interact with people; be the center of attention; expose myself to criticism and (even worse) praise.

It started when I was doing amateur theatre. (Yes, that’s the correct spelling. Shut-up autocorrect!) Every night after the curtain fell we’d go out to meet and greet the people that came to the show. They’d all say how good we were and what a good job I did. For the first few years I reflexively diminished my talent (admittedly limited) or contribution. However, after a while I started to feel that not only was I being too self-critical, I was also being ungracious to my public. “Just take the damn compliment!” I’d say to myself. Not for my own sake, really, but to not be rude to those who came up to me and congratulated me on a job well done.

When I wasn’t in a play I’d find other ways to put myself in front of others. I’d read liturgy at church. I’d volunteer to go first when doing presentations for classes. I’d lead committee meetings. I’d sing karaoke. After I got the MOBIUS job at UMSL I started going to conferences. At the time, I started going to these not chiefly because I wanted to learn about what was happening in the profession, but because I wanted to put myself in a situation in which I was going to have to talk to strangers, and a large number of them.

Now, I go to these things and can start conversations with strangers — however briefly. I make connections, eat comfortably at communal tables, chat with people on shuttles, etc. The fact that I can do this now, however, should not be construed as it being something that is easy for me. Alcohol is still a much desired social lubricant, although not mandatory.

Interacting with new people — a.k.a. “networking” —  is necessary, though, if one is to be successful in the field, or really, any field. It is not easy, and it took years, but I learned how to do it.

Thus far, networking hasn’t helped me get a job, but, it has made it easier to interact with people in job interviews. I can talk in fully formed sentences and act graciously and openly with people I’ve never met before. In fact, my problem now is not saying too much; being too open. Eventually, the positive impressions that I make will help me transition into my first professional position.

In their 2007 article, “How to Network: 12 Tips for Shy People,” said,

But networking is a trial for shy people—geeks especially. They view it as insincere at best, manipulative at worst. They eschew networking for a variety of reasons including lack of confidence, fear of rejection and a sense of unworthiness.

If they could just relate to others more easily, if they just possessed more self-confidence and weren’t such self-conscious wallflowers, the world would be their oyster, and schmoozing would be so much easier.

Sound familiar?

That article has some advice that I think is great, and some that I’m not so fond of. I’ll try to paraphrase what I think are the highlights.

  1. Start Small/Find a Conference Buddy: Humans are pack animals. We seek out our tribes and we like to stay there. When entering a new situation where there are new people seek out someone with whom you are already familiar, preferably someone with more experience than you. Being with this person allows you to relax, and gives you the opportunity to meet your buddy’s acquaintances and friends. There’s no need to jump in to the deep end of the pool when you can ease in to the shallows.
    • WARNING: While we all like conference buddies, eventually you will have to branch out on your own. You will  want to wean yourself off of this tool.
  2. Don’t Apologize/Be Positive and SMILE: Shy and low self-esteem people are quick to apologize and self-denigrate. It’s hard, but you have to resist the temptation. Everyone was a newbie at some point. Networking is about building relationships, and no one wants to be in a relationship with a sourpuss. Look up. Make good eye-contact. and Smile. I promise, people will like you.
  3. Business Cards: I know, it may sound cheesy, but business cards have been around for literally centuries for a reason. They work. If your workplace does not provide you with business cards, or you are not currently in a library position, go out and make them on your own. I did, and I’m still working through my stock six years later. They are an inexpensive way to get your name, interest, and even your face out in the world.
    • NOTE: If you are working in a library and don’t have your own business cards already, be sure to check the organization’s website for a style guide. This way you can make the most official looking business cards possible. That’s what I did.
  4. Be Genuine/Be Open/Be Yourself: This goes with number two. The article refers to networking as building intimacy with new people. You are probably recoiling a that word as much as I am. While I think they are overstating it, I think the point is valid. Networking is not about gaining schmooze points. It’s not one point for every hand shake, five points for every introduction, and twenty points for every conversation. You are actually supposed to be building relationships, no matter how fleeting or “intimate.” Show people your best self, your most generous self, your most compassionate self, your most interested self. Do not pretend to have knowledge you do not have. Do not pretend to be interested where you are not. People will like you. All you have to do is crank up the volume on all of your best traits. And above all, PUT THE PHONE AWAY.

When it comes right down to it, networking for anyone — but especially shy people and introverts — all comes down to bravery. There is a great moment in The West Wing when Leo says to then-governor Bartlett “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way: fake it ’til you make it.” That’s essentially what we have to do. If we act as if we are outgoing people for long enough, frequently enough, then a funny thing happens.

We become outgoing people.

Be brave. Fake it ’til you make it. You’ll get there.

If you’d like to read more, here is some librarian specific advice you can read and absorb.

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