My Experiments With Networking (Online and Off)

9 Mar

Like many people, I suck at networking. I admit it, I’m the person lurking on the edge of chatty circles, clutching to my glass of white wine and hoping to get enough conversation to make the valet tip worth the time spent. I know,  common sense and network communication theory tell us that the more ties you have and the stronger those ties are, the more valuable your network. But there is something ever so slightly terrifying about pasting on a smile, mustering up some courage and saying to a near stranger “Hi, my name is Leisa, tell me about yourself .”

Thank goodness the Internet exists then, because I got all of my life through the recent online stream and Twitter chat for “The Politics of Black Women’s Hair Symposium” at the University of Pennsylvania. Three panels convened to discuss one of my favorite topics from the perspective of intellectual (graduate students presenting their papers), hair bloggers (including one of my favorites, Afrobella) and academics (moderated by another favorite, Melissa Harris-Perry). I wasn’t able to watch the academic portion but I did watch and tweet about the incredibly well written and articulated papers from the students and I was able to catch the end of the bloggers’ segment.

Hegemony, power structures, standards of beauty, patriarchal – it was wonderful to hear these words spilling out of the mouths of these intelligent panelists and attendees. I was reminded of the reason why I decided to get my graduate degree: the love of a thorough and nuanced discussion of the ways we communicate, the study of society and academic excellence. The papers covered a range of topics, from marketing within the natural hair community, specifically looking at Mixed Chicks, Carol’s Daughter and Miss Jessie, to the rise of bloggers as natural hair experts in relation to the decline of traditional hair stylists. Some great points presented from the papers: the transition from beauty companies using models with tightly coiled hair to a more ethnically ambiguous look and the fact that though some natural women look to online styling advice, it is also the responsibility of hair stylists to meet their customers where they’re at, which is online.

And it wasn’t all online. I managed to network, and I did it without a glass of wine! My former cube spouse, who blogs over at Pimplomat, you should go check him out, hipped me to the Dallas Press Club event “Becoming the Ultimate Freelancer.” It was my time attending a Dallas Press Club event, and boy am I glad I went. I met the knowledgeable Neil Foote, who bonded with me over the cultural touch point that is The Tom Joyner Morning Show (complete with karaoke-style singing of the intro hook). The panels featured journalists turned freelancers, freelancers from the start, content marketers, lawyers and other experts. Lo and behold, turns out that speaking to strangers over coffee and breakfast tacos isn’t as hard as I’d made it inside my head. I’ll definitely be back for another workshop and networking event.

Have you surprised yourself at a networking event or during a Twitter chat, and turned it out? Walked away with a list of new contacts, followers and inspiration?  Share your success tips!

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