Networking is a four-letter word…

…and those letters are H-A-R-D. I am a very shy introvert, and after yesterday’s (May 22) back-to-back networking events, all I could do was come back and collapse. I was going to blog about it all right away, but I had to spend some time mentally “unpacking” the day’s events.

What were these two events?

The first was the Society for Technical Communication’s (STC) 2012 International Summit. The other was a meetup of local content strategists.

STC Summit 2012 Logo

The STC is one of the largest (if not the largest) professional societies for the field of technical communication. The organization holds a yearly conference that draws technical communicators from all over the US–and internationally, as well. I went to the ’08 Summit in Philadelphia. I hadn’t been to one since then, primarily because it always landed during finals week or “dead week” (the week prior to finals, during which most final projects and papers are due). I did not originally intend to attend this year’s event because I felt the expenses of registration plus the plane ticket wouldn’t have been worth the return on investment (ROI).

Then I moved to Chicago. Suddenly, the price of a plane ticket was no longer an issue. And the ROI would be MUCH higher because I would be meeting with local technical communicators, thereby greatly increasing the value of my network. Attending the Summit was no longer a choice; it was a necessity. I did decide against going for the whole three days, choosing instead to purchase a one-day ticket.

I remember going to the 2008 Summit and being overwhelmed by the information I was getting from the sessions. I spent those three days ultimately learning how much I didn’t know about my own field. My head was so full of new tech comm knowledge that I really didn’t have the energy or inclination to network. Plus, at the time, I had no inkling of the importance of a good network. And even less an idea of how difficult it was to develop one. As overwhelmed as I was after three days of the ’08 Summit, I was far more overwhelmed during my single day of networking at this year’s Summit.

For 2012, my main goal was networking. I did attend two sessions, but they were incidental. However, they both directly contributed to my career goals. The first was about developing and maintaining one’s professional network (“Building Your Professional Network—Beyond the Social Media Maze”), and the other was about maintaining one’s portfolio (“Portfolios for Tech Comm Professionals.” The former was so valuable to me that I plan on writing a blog post or article about it if I can get permission from the presenter, Jenna Moore. I took copious notes, and I’d enjoy sharing what I learned.

The rest of my too-short day up in Rosemont (where the conference was held) was mostly spent at the event’s Hospitality Desk, which was manned by members of Chicago’s STC chapter. I managed to suppress my shyness for the day and chat, quite comfortably, with 8 or 10 locals. They were all super friendly and got me even more excited about continuing my career in Chicago. I really want to become involved with the chapter, and these folks were so welcoming, outgoing, and enthusiastic that I think it will be easy to motivate myself to contribute. For instance, now that I’ve decided I like blogging, I’ve already reached out to the person in charge of STC Chicago’s blog. Because I feel like I have something to contribute, I feel much more comfortable among their ranks.

On one hand, I’m glad I only went for one day. I felt so emotionally exhausted after that I don’t think I could have handled two more days. On the other hand, I wish I’d had more time to network and possibly attend more of the sessions. I spent the whole day feeling like I was behind the rest of the class: everyone already knew their way around the conference venue and had already established connections with each other. I felt like I was the new kid  in town a month into the school year. Everyone already had their playmates figured out, and I had to introduce myself or play alone on the swings.

Fortunately, I was dealing with professionals, not school children, so it was much easier to get into the flow of things. In fact, once I got in the groove of this whole networking thing, I found it got easier and easier as the day wore on. Which is good, because I still had a second networking event to attend, and it was even further from my comfort zone.

Content Strategists' Meetup

Chris Hester was the first STC Chicago member I “met”–via LinkedIn (we spoke for about 30 seconds at the Summit). She suggested I attend a meetup of local content strategists, which took place downtown. Unfortunately, this meant I had to leave the Summit a little early, but I think it was worth it. At the event, I found myself approaching total strangers and striking up conversations–unusual for a wallflower like me, to say the least.

I learned a lot about content strategy, which I can see myself getting involved with down the road once I have some more content creation experience under my belt. The presentation, “Connecting the Dots between Business, Brand, and Benefits with Content Strategy,” reinvigorated my enthusiasm for content creation. Then again, anyone could be inspired to creativity in that atmosphere.

The event was hosted by Manifest Digital–a company specializing in content creation, user experience, and content strategy–at its downtown location (see photo). The walls are painted with chalkboard and whiteboard paint, so employees can scribble and take notes any time creativity strikes. Since starting this blog, I’ve taken to hauling a notebook everywhere with me to jot down post ideas and outlines, so it’s easy for me to see the utility of writing down an idea as soon as it occurs. Those walls stood out to me as an indication of a place that fosters creativity and talent. The event as a whole indicated that Manifest Digital was interested investing in its community. It’s definitely the sort of place I hope I end up working.

Manifest Digital's Office Building

The riverfront office building of Manifest Digital, just across the river from Marina City. Everything about this location inspires creativity.

I was tired, but I did find the time to chat with the presenter, Rahel Bailie, about something she said that was so meaningful to me I wrote it down in my phone. She said, “All content is marketing content.” She specifically included technical communication and user-generated content. It was so poignant because my personal philosophy is, “Everything’s an argument.” It’s a very similar idea. Both statements imply that persuasion a necessary element in everything produced, even if the intention to persuade isn’t conscious. It’s pretty exciting to see my philosophy line up so closely with that of a successful professional.

I also spent some time speaking with one of the event’s organizers. We had a nice conversation about the kinds of work Manifest Digital produces and, of course, about the awesome office. About then, the day started to catch up with me, so I thanked her for opening up her workplace for the gathering and grabbed the train back home.

Despite the anxiety and exhaustion, the day was immensely successful. It was a success because I managed to paper the Summit bulletin boards with resumes, give out (and collect) impressive quantities of business cards, and  make some great local contacts in the field. But I feel my biggest accomplishment during these two events was overcoming my shyness enough to not only approach strangers and speak with them, but to feel comfortable doing so. I’m taking that as a sign that I really am ready for my career in the Second City.

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10 thoughts on “Networking is a four-letter word…

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jessica. As a card-carrying introvert who also attended the STC Summit, I have no wish to trivialize how H-A-R-D the day was for you. But as I read through the entire piece I thought of a 9-letter word that describes your day even better: R-E-W-A-R-D-I-N-G. Would you agree?

    • Definitely! And I am already seeing the rewards from that effort. In retrospect, it was even more rewarding, on a deep, personal level, because it was such a challenge for me. This is the first time I’ve really conquered the shyness that’s haunted me my whole life. It won’t necessarily be downhill from here, but I feel much less like Sisyphus.

      Nice to meet you, by the way. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  2. Welcome to Chicago, Jessica. I look forward to seeing you at some of the STC Chicago events. I see that you’ve joined our email database; that’s a great start.

    • Thanks for the warm welcome! The reception I’ve had from the STC Chicago folks has been nothing but positive–I’m certain I made the right choice moving here. I’m discussing with Adam E the possibility of helping out with STC Chicago’s blog, but please don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything else I can do to contribute.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Hi, Jessica, I really enjoyed meeting you at Chicago and am glad I found your blog to keep in touch with you. I know what you mean how networking can be hard, awkward, uncomfortable and so on. I try to remember that it gets easier with every step, every contact, every acquaintance I make in a field. And I find that it’s easier in tech comm than in many other fields, because many tech comm’ers are just very kind and helpful (it IS our job after all… 🙂 ).

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad to have met you as well. It’s so amazing how international these conferences end up being.

      I would agree that it is easier in tech comm. Not only because TCers are so easy to get along with, but also because at a big conference like this, we all have a common ground for conversation. Our individual goals for the conference may be different, but we’re all there because of our interest in the field. And, most importantly, I think it’s safe to say that everyone is there because they WANT to be.

  4. I applaud your decision to attend the 2012 Summit! You are correct, network is hard. However once you start it really does become a habit. And yes, you definitely have my permission to share anything and everything you learned and picked up in my session. That’s the real value in sharing a presentation for me-that it gets shared again with others! Keep in touch!

    • I can see how it can be habit forming (in a good way). Having a successful social interaction feels great, especially if it results in subsequent contact down the road.

      Thanks for presenting your insights on networking. Your session was rather “game changing” for my approach to both my job search and networking in general. The blog post about it will probably be posted over on STC Chicago’s blog. I’ll run it by you before I post, however.

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment–and for the follow, as well!

  5. Pingback: Blogging, Blogging Everywhere | STC Technical Communication Summit 2012

  6. Pingback: Blogging, Blogging Everywhere | STC Technical Communication Summit 2013

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