If you feel as introverted as I do, then networking seems like the last thing you want to do. I started blogging for Modern DC Business in 2011 so I would have a reason to talk to people. These entrepreneurs had very good stories that begged to be told. Writing something compelling about their different types of business made my heart sing! After over 300 blogs, networking had become a piece of cake for me.
Aphasia Takes Center Stage
You need to be careful feeling like there is enough cake to go around, though. I had a stroke about two years ago and everything that I knew... well... stopped. The little things like walking and talking, so easy before the stroke, became nearly impossible. There wasn't much I could do but work at getting whole again. I remember the speech therapist telling me that I needed to get out and network with groups if I wanted to 'get back in the game.'
"Game? What game is that?" I thought. "I'm still dragging my right side down the street."
Networking had become a serious struggle for me. Now, in addition to being an introvert, I had aphasia as well.
Aphasia comes from brain damage related to stroke or other head injuries. The brain struggles with correctly sending signals to each other. I can think of what I want to say but I can't actually form the word. Sometimes I just stutter. The more frustrated I get, the more I stutter. Or, worse, I clam up. Oftentimes I kept mental notes in my head while deciding not to say much at all.
You can probably guess that saying very little at meetings meant that I couldn't really connect in the right way. I figured I had to find a job in my new realty. So, I went to Career-Confidence, a networking group for job seekers to learn the networking skills necessary to find a career. It felt really good to go there. The people were nice, they made interesting points... but I still had aphasia. I still had to deal with phone interviews. That part did not go so well.
During the first interview I had, I could speak about 10% of the time. I felt so sorry for the people on the other side of the phone. They asked great questions. I had equally great answers written down. But, I just couldn't get them to go from the brain to my mouth. It got a little better the second time around. I hit about 50% of the questions. Unfortunately, that doesn't make me a good job candidate. I needed to find another solution.
Finding the Right Network
The only way I could improve my apraxia meant that I needed to speak in public more. So in February I started going to Northern Virginia Business Roundtable Networking Lunch. (That's a mouthful.) I didn't really expect much when I walked through the door the first time. I was wrong.
The people at NoVA's Business Roundtable Networking Lunch were so warm and outgoing. One of them came up and gave me a hug even though she had never met be before. Surprisingly, the hug felt so genuine that I actually liked it. I have gone to networking events for a long time, and hugging didn't happen at any of them. She knew that I needed something different.
Then it came time to speak. Very nervously I stated my name and that I had a stroke nearly two years ago. Then I sat down and watched the meeting with interest. The educational portion really caught my attention. I noticed that they laughed and teased in a friendly way. Oh, they got down to business, but not in the traditional way I associate with networks. They make people (and subsequently the companies) focus on win/win rather than win/lose. Here, people really, truly mattered most. You can get business cards, but they are not the thrust of the meeting. I found my new community.
Starting My Own Business
It didn't take more than three weeks before I decided to start my own business, Performance Architect, again. Although I can't say the words sometimes, they can tell that I know the words. That makes all the difference in the world to me. (Please be kind if you go to the website. It still needs to be updated.)
NoVA's Business Roundtable Networking Lunch has taught me a very valuable lesson. You need to have the right network on your side if you plan to be successful in the business today. The trick is, you have to belong to the right network. Your network must be your friends first, business associates second. Without friendship, you have no relationship to build trust. In the end, trust matters most. Without it, you have a pocket full of business cards that don't mean very much.
What If You Have Aphasia?
What about the people that are more aphasia than I do? Here's the interesting thing. One of the members turned me on to a chiropractor that uses laser to treat people with head injuries. The chiropractor says there is hope even after this long. So, I decided to try it out. If it works, you will be among the first to know.