Earlier this week I had my first experience of “networking”. As butterflies filed my stomach, we walked up the stairs of the Frontline bar in Paddington, a renowned place for journalists to come together to meet each other and get connections, there was no way I could turn back now.
As we entered the room it was nothing like I expected. It was completely packed. A success for the company holding the event I’m sure, but at this time in the evening I didn’t even know where to begin.
We thought heading to the bar would be a good idea but this only led to more anxiety. As we struggled to get through the crowd to the tiny bar in the corner of the room (all drinks provided, very exciting) I saw each of my friends peeling off into the crowd talking to a prospective employer or future contact.
I couldn’t help but contemplate giving up and going home there and then. My feet hurt, we’d had a long day, and I was petrified on how to start talking to someone.
I’m usually fairly good with talking to new people. (I say this in retrospect, please forgive me if you believe it to be wrong, but I used to be extremely shy so the way I am now, even if I may not be the centre of attention at every moment, it’s a somewhat massive improvement to myself as a child.)
But I had never been in a situation where everyone there was older than me, slightly intimidating, with an apparent established career, there to meet people.
I was there, initially for the banter. I was too scared to admit to the fact that this was going to be reality if I wished to succeed in journalism.
So I stood there. Crushed in the corner, finally having got a gin and tonic in my hand, thinking whether downing it in angst would come across as wrong even if I was doing it to calm my nerves, not really knowing where to go know or how to approach the situation I was subjected to.
Fortunately I was spared that decision as the lights came down and the organisers gave a little talk and slideshows of what they did.
Turns out it was a new company who had created a sort of database of pictures for journalists and the like, for people to upload their images or buy the ones they liked for their publications.
I must say the pictures were fantastic. Really awe inspiring. They captured some of the most important areas and events of life: campaigns against fur, children caught up in war and developing countries pining for help in the heat. It definitely gave me something to think about for the next few minutes. To take me away from the social freeze I was in.
Friend or foe
Luckily, as the evening moved on, I became more confident. Thanks to the help of my friends who gave me that initial kick to get talking to some people I learnt how it worked.
Turns out, for most of the subsequent conversations I had just been at the right place at the right time.
A couple of students from City University had overheard me talking to a photographer about my course and what I was doing and they came over to introduce themselves, and inevitably compare our courses.
I couldn’t help but confuse myself with whether they should be my competition or my friends. A course which also attracted me in the past, it was reassuring to see other people in the same situation, having never been to an event like this before and yet stumbling through their course and the events and challenges which occurred simultaneously as a result.
And to answer my confusion, it was clear they were of no competition. Not in that they were not good as potential journalists. They were anything but. If anything I was a little intimidated by the sounds of what they had been doing.
But we agreed to sort out our own student networking between City and Westminster, something which the universities should do I think, as a practice run for events such as these. I think it would be appreciated by all if such an event were arranged through the universities.
I met film makers, photographers, writers, lecturers, and businessmen. They gave me advice for my future and an insight into their career and what had led them to where they are today.
It was both an enlightening and eye opening experience. I was happy to have met the people I did and I am delighted with the fact that I eventually forced myself into talking to new people (It’s that first line which I hate, after that I’m fine).
I also think it was a valuable learning curb, not just a different social night. To have been to such an event so early on in our course I think it was a vital experience so as to be more prepared for next time. I learnt that it wasn’t as intense as I first believed it to be, but a more relaxed and enjoyable evening.
People weren’t there to interrogate me; they were there to learn about other people or chat to old friends and there’s nothing scary about either of those things.
I came away invigorated. I’m excited to see what the future holds and think that this is the way forward. It’s the only way to do things. But it’s not intimidating. It’s what we should all be doing. It’s developing our social skills and platforms to help us through life, no matter what the future may hold.