I have a confession. I’m a recluse. A hopeless writer geek clicking away at the keyboard most days, oblivious to the world. So it makes perfect sense that I live and work on an island.
I’ll never be a world-class speaker. Speech class was for me the equivalent of Chinese water torture. In fifth grade I gave my lame, over-rehearsed “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” talk to a group of rowdy, pre-hormonal 10-year-olds, including Stewart Granger, who sat in the front row and pretended to pick his nose every time I looked his way.
I had no sooner opened my mouth that day when my fidgeting fingers managed to send the erasers on the chalkboard ledge flying in a cloud of dust. I choked on my words. Literally. The classroom exploded, kids falling off their chairs, all of them laughing at me.
Over the years, things didn’t exactly get better. If anything, my abilities to entertain, heck, to communicate in any kind of oral fashion, deteriorated. I kept my nose stuck in books more and more, avoiding the painful, awkward conversations. I was a geek.
But geeks have no business starting businesses. Well, maybe except for Bill of Microsoft fame. But even he knows how to speak, how to work the crowd.
To be a success in business, you have to get out there. Tell your story. Give your best 5th grader’s speech— in front of the whole class.
Along Came Web 2.0
In my eyes, Web 2.0 was the most noteworthy invention since Magnetic Scrabble. I could actually take my time, think first, then carefully compose an email or blog post or forum comment. It was really still one-way communication. But it felt two-way. Write. Click send. Get an answer. Write. Click send again.
I found myself spending hours at the keyboard, connected to no other living being except my 15-pound white, odd-eyed cat. I didn’t need people in real time. They could always be conjured up on the screen—as one of my favorite bloggers, Sonia Simone, says, like imaginary friends who live in the typewriter.
Take my pal in Portland. We e-mail, trade forum comments, post on each other’s blogs. I know what he looks like. Well, sort of. His profile picture is an avatar, so I might not recognize him if I passed him on the street. Still, I know him. I really do. We’ve just never met.
The Day That Was Different
This past Wednesday, I stepped out of my virtual comfort zone. Something came over me. I had decided to not just attend, but host, a business networking event. Six people who Bob, my husband and biz partner, and I met through a business networking site —hey, that’s a crowd to me— took the ferry over to the island.
We secured a large vacation rental home and the eight of us had unstructured social time (gasp), lunch, a silly game, basically a kick-back day. We chatted about the mundane, drank coffee, ate way too much salmon and pasta salad. Gorged ourselves on homemade chocolates and lemon cake.
Conversations took place in real time. I saw the grins, heard the laughs, rather than reading emoticons on a screen. Somehow it was more real, more natural than I thought it could be.
If Relationship Marketing is all about making deep, meaningful connections with people, we are all now RM experts. There is nothing like finding out through a silly game that something you did—travel to third-world West Africa to help children in need—is another person’s life wish.
Or that someone you knew as a graphic designer can belt out an aria that would have brought Maria Callas to tears. Or that someone else visited Beijing but would really like to live there for a year.
One Day, Eight People, and An Island in Puget Sound
Some would say that spending the good part of the day networking with a half a dozen people is crazy, in this day of globally reaching social media. I’m not so sure. I found that the more we got to know each other, the more we found common ground.
Some of us struck up partnerships and explored collaborative projects that might never have happened. And we all left with the feeling that we knew, liked and trusted each other. Not bad for one day and eight people, on an island in Puget Sound.
Later that evening I started getting the messages. “I LOVED THE COCONUT CHOCOLATES” (online way to express excitement?) and “…add my name to the FRIBTEs…” (Folks Really Impressed By This Event), and “Great fun. = D” But somehow I wished they were still here and I could talk to them, see their faces, hear their compliments. Not a bad wish for a recluse.