Because I can’t really get started until I get back to the Philippines, I am spending the rest of my time here in New York building networks. I wasn’t really good with networking; I feel very nervous talking about myself, moreso doing awkward small talk about the weather or the food, but somehow I’ve assimilated the American way of socializing with new people—shaking hands, and saying a short elevator pitch on what I’m all about. I’ve had good practice in graduate school, and also during my short stint as a Meetup whore (lol).
What I’ve learned is that networking has gotten easier once I’ve identified my main purpose of participating in it. Right now, forming partnerships and connections is my key priority. I’m looking for people who have same interests and passions who can hopefully become soundboards for my ideas, critics that can be a source of valuable feedback, mentors and advisors, and hopefully partners and co-founders. Using this as a lens to look at networking, I’ve strategized all my communications towards achieving this general goal.
I started by developing a concise way of telling my story: what the non-profit is all about, and why I’m doing it. Asking a few close friends to read it, it took a few days of editing before coming up with the current version. It had to be really straightforward, but still flexible enough to change it a bit (add or remove a few details perhaps) depending on the use (a face to face script is different from a Facebook post).
Afterwards, I created a master list of contacts using a spreadsheet from Google Drive. For each person, I listed their affiliation, contact details, a history of our communication, notes on what I’ve learned from talking to them, and most importantly, my next steps on following up for them—do I need to send them a one-pager, do I have to meet them in a few weeks? I found it really helpful to document my networking process this way, making sure to deadlines and follow through with developing meaningful connections with people.
This systematic way of managing contacts allowed me to reach out to as many people as I can, without worrying about the difficulty of keeping track. I scoured my personal friends and colleagues who might be interested in the project. I also went on a research frenzy online, stalking people and groups whose work aligned with my vision for the organization. Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter were very helpful. I also joined a couple of specialized Facebook groups and posted a brief pitch to attract the interest of people who might be great resources and allies.
I think doing all of these online helped my confidence—there’s less fear from being rejected or ignored in an email, and communicating asynchronously allows me more time to think about my responses. However, you lose sense of the personal nuances, the jokes and humor, the rapport, that you tend to gauge when meeting new people. I was lucky to have some people agree to doing video and voice calls—which helped tremendously—since conversations were more fluid and the exchange of information was quicker.
This experience has been a great learning experience on improving my communication style in digitally-mediated conversations, most of which with people I’ve never met in person before. It’s a different skill, involving different social norms.