The Day Networking Died

I attended my first professional conference when I worked for a local university in their Disability Services department. I was the sign language interpreter coordinator and I flew to Chicago to learn more about the craft and meet other interpreters around the country.

I was 12 weeks pregnant with the twins at the time so one of my most poignant memories of that conference was throwing up in the hotel bathroom and getting up early to walk to the Starbucks around the corner so I could have some orange juice with ice. But there are other things, too, and one of them was the pressure and anxiety I felt to make connections. Rub shoulders. Network.

I don’t remember any of the people I networked with. I remember my roommate Stacy who brought me tea when she knew I wasn’t feeling well. I remember cold orange juice. I remember lonely. I remember my husband on the other end of the phone, offering acceptance and comfort in the midst of a difficult week.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I felt anxious in the first place. It was a bunch of sign language interpreters, after all. But every profession has their own celebrities and none of us are immune, I guess.

Still, I couldn’t wait to get home.

For several summers, my editor and I have led a session at a writer’s conference where we offered 12 truths to know before you write your next book. This is the fifth year I’ve attended this conference. The first year I went as an attendee. Every year after that, I’ve gone as a speaker.

I really love this conference – the women who run it and the women who attend it are lovely, kind, humble. Still, in environments like this, aren’t we always on our best behavior?

People ask questions like how to grow your readership and how to build your platform and I find myself wanting to offer a hug and also fling heavy objects across the room.

Here’s the thing: You are a person and I am too, and we desperately need each other. We eat tuna on rye and have bushy eyebrows and we hold our hearts together with smile-shaped band-aids and a handful of Oreo cookies.

Pass the milk, please. I can’t do this without you.

After writing on this blog for many years, and writing a few books, there is one thing I’ve learned about myself. I’m lousy at networking. It’s a corporate word and I’m not a corporate girl.

But I’m pretty good at making friends. And I’m an expert at being myself. After doing this for a while, I’m learning that’s really all people want anyway.

We can be professional without being stiff.

We can be influential without being preachy.

We can share our stories without being self-centered.

So let’s learn how to make friends, build trust, pray, listen. The world doesn’t need more networks.

How have the people in your life earned the right to influence you?

Sign up for my monthly newsletters for more encouragement like this, reminders that you are a human and not a robot.


  1. says

    Your words and wisdom are always appreciated.

    I attended She Speaks 3 years ago and was 8 weeks pregnant with my third. I didn’t enjoy the conference as much as I could have non-pregnant. I was not yet focused about what I wanted to do and spent half of one day asleep in my room. Perish the first trimester!

    I’ve already registered and booked a room for Influence. This time, by God’s grace, I will NOT be pregnant. I look forward to making friends there.

    From one lousy networking girl to another, I can’t wait to see you there!

  2. says

    I wandered through the halls a nervous wreck last Friday. I walked back and forth hoping to catch a friendly eye and become friends in a flash with someone. I attended She Speaks for the first time. This was my first big time conference and I was attending all alone.

    Do you know who was the first person to meet my eyes and look me in the face? You.

    I gushed and grabbed your hand and fumbled over my words and you just smiled… and soon all of those pent up nerves were leaving. Thank you for being yourself. Thank you for being approachable. Thank you, Emily.

    • says

      AH! You have totally made my week. I know that feeling of nervous and alone and I never want to be that person who adds to that feeling for someone else. So to think that any eye contact I made helped to reassure you? What a gift that is. Thank you, Ginger, for telling me that.

  3. says

    Oh my, I could FEEL this post. This is the pressure I feel when we go to minister’s conferences. They talk about strategy and people with mega churches speak and all we know to do is love the people God brings us in the best fumbling way we know how, and I leave the conference feeling lonely and like a great, big failure.

  4. says

    “Here’s the thing: You are a person and I am too, and we desperately need each other. We eat tuna on rye and have bushy eyebrows and we hold our hearts together with smile-shaped band-aids and a handful of Oreo cookies.”

    LOVED that. So sweet.

  5. says

    Emily, your newsletter tugged on my heart today. I attended your session at She Speaks last year – it’s how I discovered your blog – and everything you said about not despising the small beginnings, and feeling overwhelmed when my longing and my calling rise up as one and the same (could it really be?) – it’s like you’re reading my mind. Crazy. I’m probably not the first person to tell you this kind of thing. Either that makes me unoriginal, or in good company. I pretty the good company option.

    The networking thing – not my favorite, either. This post is so encouraging and freeing. Thank you.

  6. says

    People in my life have earned the right to influence me because they have been genuine in their love and care for me. They have stayed with me and helped me walk a difficult journey. They have shown me God with skin on and helped me to grow in my faith and deepen my journey with God. I have felt accepted, loved and allowed to be myself. I find it difficult to trust people and those who have earned that right to influence me have also earned my trust. Those people may not always get it right but I know they always want the best for me. True Christian love points to Jesus and helps to give you self acceptance and believe you can be of worth. I never felt good enough compared to anyone else in my work, I always felt someone else could do the job better, were more gifted, help others more and so on. Especially in those doubt filled times I would turn to listen to a voice of wisdom from someone who I knew would be truthful with me but not break me in that truth if I had indeed not measured up. That person had earned the right to influence me and is still a Christian mentor to me today.

  7. says

    Hello, Emily! I’ve been reading your words here in ‘blogland’ for only a short time, and I nearly consider you a friend. Amazing.
    The people in my life influence me. Period. And your words influence me. For the good. Thank you!

  8. says

    After seven years of blogging, this is the exact conclusion that I have come to. Besides, when I try to network or build a platform or entice readers, I find I am no longer being myself (and, as a result, lose readers). So now I just write about what is on my heart, no matter if that’s popular or not, and have made some of the best of friends through doing so. Glad I’m not the only one who’s thinking this way, too…the world needs more stories and less platforms, if you ask me. <3

  9. says

    By just being real. That’s all I want from others and what I strive for, myself. And I know it’s so hard to do this, but it makes all the difference in the world. Would have loved to have been at that conference! Loved what you had to say today – I think this will resonate with so many of us. Thanks for your authenticity and encouragement.

  10. says

    Love this, Emily! Your space here is truly a refreshing place to breathe, as your tagline says!

    Yes, so often we don’t authentically connect with others– without an agenda! Thanks for your heart.

  11. Laura says

    I “started” a blog 3 years ago. I posted once, then decided I really didn’t want to write a blog, I just wanted to read someone else’s! So I guess I don’t feel a lot of networking pressure. But if I do meet you, I would love to grab a big, cold glass of skim milk and a bucket of Oreos and sit and talk about most anything. And the Oreos? Double Stuf. Nothing else will do!

  12. Wendy says

    YES! YES! YES! I so loved what you shared here. I have never really looked at it as networking. Only making new friends and expanding my world. You put how I feel into words so beautifully. Thanks so much for sharing!

  13. says

    I’m going to my first ever conference in October (Allume) and I have been anxious about meeting people and networking and being in a room full of strangers. Thank you for reminding me that I just need to be me and make friends. :)

  14. says

    I love this so very very much. Thank you.

    (I have no idea how to tame my bushy eye-brows by the way, and I have a strong dislike for self-promotion of any kind).

  15. says

    Emily, thank you so much for this post. This was what I needed to read this evening, without having any idea that I needed it. I work in a fairly male-dominated, corporate environment and I’ve felt under a lot of pressure recently to network, to be able to build a rapport and develop influential relationships with important people in a short space of time. And I just don’t feel like I can.

    When I ask how, I’m always told to speak up more, to have more of a presence but that’s not me so it doesn’t come naturally. But I’ve stayed in touch with most of the people I’ve worked with over my four years in the office, and some are now quite senior. I’d just call it being friendly, but like you say, aren’t friendships networks as well? And if I appreciate people being genuine, why do I think the best thing is to try and change who I am?

  16. says

    Someone earns the right to influence my life by being my friend, just as you said. Don’t try to sell me something–even if it’s yourself. It’s better to take some time and build a genuine relationship, then the influence is real and genuine.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Especially in the blogging world, I’d much rather make friends than network. I’m SO looking forward to Influence this October for that very reason!

  17. JennyBC says

    This reminded me of the many times I met with teenagers while I was a Young Life leader. You earned the right to be heard. As leaders, we couldn’t just rush in and preach the message to the teenagers. We spent a lot of time “doing life” with them. I went to many more football games, cheerleader tryouts, chorus concerts,track meets and meals at the local coffee shop or sandwich shop. I believe we have to treat adults the same way. We all want to feel like we are worthy of having peers that enjoy being around us and are interested in us as much as we are in them.

    • says

      This is so true. “Doing life” takes longer, it’s an investment of precious time, but it’s the only way you really earn the right to be heard.

  18. says

    I appreciate these words so much. Networking and “platform building” sort of make me want to throw up. I want to write, and make friends, and connect with people, I don’t know how to sell my brand, whatever that is. Thank you for this, I appreciate it so much.

  19. Terri says

    I just love this. I’m following a blog about writing where he’s ALL about platform-building and readership-growing.

    I’m just about to start a blog (have the domain, still going through the WordPress tutorials), but I just want to write, and let the platform grow organically.

    I get that there should be SOME intentionality about things, but I fear there’s a fine line between that and cynical formulas.

    People in my life earn the right to influence me by showing that they CARE.

  20. says

    Thank you for pointing us back to the real and the honest. To relationships with one another that are authentic. This is simple. But this is truly profound. I always want real from others. And I hope that God will bend me. Whisper to me. Remind me. And convict me. To show the real me ,the true me to OTHERS. Always. You inspire and encourage today. And I am grateful.

  21. says

    OH! Amen. And Hallelujah.

    I am so very, very grateful to be your friend. And for you to be my friend. The friendship connection goes both ways, doesn’t it?

    You know, you could also title this post something like “Why authenticity matters more than you might think.” Because friends need to be real with one another.

    And because I have a stream-of-consciousness kind of mind, I must now add that the idea of being real makes me think of the Velveteen Rabbit. What do you think? Does love make you real?

  22. says

    “People ask questions like how to grow your readership and how to build your platform and I find myself wanting to offer a hug and also fling heavy objects across the room.”

    Loved that sentence! Loved it! Because it shows just how compassionate and genuine you are. Not to mention you understand what it means to be last and in the midst of all this progress as a writer you continue to stay true to yourself and always keep Christ in the center.

    Thank you for being so awesome! Hugs!

  23. says

    Emily, one of my only disappointments of the weekend was not getting to hug your neck. I saw you from a distance but being that you don’t “officially” know me, I thought it would be awkward if I just pounced on you.
    I just wanted to tell you face-to-face that I get your blog post right in my inbox everyday and I can’t wait to read it. You inspire. You equip. You enable me to be real in my relationships – online and off!
    Started reading your book on vacation and had to put it down because I felt like I was reading my own story. Thanks for writing it in such an authentic, graceful way.
    Finally, perhaps we will get another chance to meet in the future. Until then, I am sending a hug via the internet. It won’t feel as nice, but it won’t be as awkward either. :)
    Do not ever stop writing!!!!!

  24. says

    Thanks again for a reminder of what is really important. Thanks for taking away the masks and reminding us that we’re okay without them.

  25. says

    This is very wise and timely advice for me. When you’re the controlling type, it can be hard to wait and listen, however good intentioned you may be. This is encouraging and humbling.

  26. says

    I arrived at She Speaks on Thursday, feeling totally out of my element. Everyone was so … together … professional. I tried to be all that too, even though I felt like a junior high kid on a college campus. Then I started meeting “famous” people … and actually sat down by you for breakfast and failed to recognize you. You mentioned building friendships instead of networking … and I responded appropriately, I think. Then I wondered about it all day … friendships with people so far beyond me? How exactly does that work? That night, God broke down my walls through 2 beautiful, very real women who dragged me to the prayer room so He could do a work in my hurting heart. Emily, I wish I could have seen you again before the conference was over … I’d have been less worried about appearances & impressed that you are “famous” :) … and I would have hugged your neck, shed a few tears & thanked you for being your real self. You’re a jewel … & you influence me. <3

  27. says

    I want to be a better networker, I do! Well, sort of. But it is just not me. Like you, my strength lies more in seeing life lived around me and sharing it. I can be real, but I’m not good at the corportate stuff :).

  28. says

    I absolutely love these thoughts:

    “We can be professional without being stiff.

    We can be influential without being preachy.

    We can share our stories without being self-centered.

    So let’s learn how to make friends, build trust, pray, listen. The world doesn’t need more networks.”

    As bloggers/writers, it is so easy getting caught up the networking world. The beauty of Allume and She Speaks is they give us opportunities to build relationships, not just meet people to advance in our profession. We’re sisters in Christ who love each other, encourage one another and help advance the kingdom together.

    So glad we had a chance to chat at She Speaks.

  29. says

    You lost me at “tuna and rye.” 😉

    Seriously, though, great post. I’ve never been much of a networker. I suppose I’m too introverted.
    Now I’ve started a blog, an I realize there is a whole world of other people out there just like me an it feels less intimidating. So in an effort to pursue my dream and break out of my shell a little bit, I’m attending the Quitter Conference with Jon Acuff, this September in Nashville, TN.

    I’m very much looking forward to meeting others just like me, who are passionate about their dreams and who are interested in meeting other dreamers.

    Thanks again for this post.

  30. says

    My family, my neighbors and my church friends are all the network I need. The friendships and networking gained through blogging is just the icing on the cake. It’s not good to put too much value in what could be gone tomorrow…

  31. says

    This is beautiful. Having started blogging about 4 years ago, I see this as so true. When I first started blogging it was about friendship…and community. And as blogging as grown and bloggers have made careers and dreams come true {which is super awesome!}, we have lost sight of that love a little. Thank you for sharing this. It is so easy to get discouraged by these things…those words…but I am reminded how much a little positivity and love can grow. I want to give that and not just expect to receive it.

  32. says

    I really love the thoughts you wrote here. I’m bad at networking too. And small talk. At least it feels to me that I am. I’m a big believer in working hard at something, like a craft, or growing a blog, or whatever. At the same time, I have to trust that God is in control of all that too. I guess it’s the tension of work and rest. Work with what He’s given and rest in the results He gives.

  33. says


    This was my first year at She Speaks. My first time to go to a blogging conference. I went with a friend, but she had a really rough weekend, because everyone was exchanging their cards and it seemed so networky that left her down and discouraged.

    I was hopeful because I’ve known some of these women from a distance via the blogosphere, twitter, facebook, etc. But so few I met in real life this past weekend. When it came time for all us to leave, and I saw the groups of women here and there, I felt a little like my old lonely self, like I had missed something some where because I don’t build friendships fast and furious, I make them one at a time.

    However, I was reminded of the one here and the one there, how valuable our encounters with one another were. That I am made for small, and that’s okay. I’ve been trying to figure out how to blog about it all week, and you’ve opened my heart in your post today. Thank you, Emily!

  34. Lee Ann Fisch says

    I’m at a work conference now and have lived the truth of this for the past two days. After spending the weekend at She Speaks, I was too wiped out to do the corporate networking thing here. Instead I have had a blast playing with the kids who are here with their parents. It lets me be me and also gives the parents a welcomed break. Total win-win-win. Actually I think the parents like me better for helping with the kids than if I had tried to impress them with work talk.

  35. says

    Thank you for saying this! With all the buzzwords of tribe, platform, and building a social networking base being bandied about in every corner, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I’m not good at networking (especially online) either, but I am an encourager and a good friend to others. I’ve decided that the Holy Spirit will grow the readership in His timing and in the hearts of those He wants to reach through it; instead of concentrating on building it myself, I’m going to seek Him with all my heart. Then the life and the writing will overflow from that. I appreciate your heart-felt writings.

    Deb Weaver

  36. says

    Emily, I can’t tell you all the ways I love this post. I’m not much of a corporate girl either. I’ve never been to She Speaks or any other writing/speaking conferences for that matter. I dream of it, but even in my dream version, I am prone to being intimidated and fake, feeling less than, not professional enough, and not NEARLY accomplished enough. Here in the blogosphere, I make friends easily, but the whole idea of “networking” seems so forced, so ulterior. It kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies. Friend-making sounds so much more personal than networking! Thank you for reframing it for me!

  37. says

    Another sweet voice of confirmation. God spoke the very same words to me at another Writer’s Conference this weekend in Dallas. Thank you for sharing YOU with US!

  38. says

    What a great question…I think the people who have earned the right to influence me have listened first, with a genuine desire to understand and a genuine heart to care. They’ve also let me into their lives…let me listen and honored me with their thoughts and struggles. It’s just what I tell my kids about being a good friend. I hate networking too, but it seems more a lot more doable when you say it’s just making friends and being yourself!

  39. says

    Oh don’t we all just want to make a friend.?! Especially one who will have room in her heart and date book.
    Thanks Emily…I needed that…especially since I moved 9 months ago. Some days it feels like being at one long conference and hoping to make eye contact with someone.

  40. says

    This makes me want to CHEER, do a HAPPY dance, and CRY all at the same time!!

    Thank you for saying this and putting this out there! Just rings true to my heart and give freedom to us all!

  41. Rachel says

    So I needed this today. Because ordinary-ness doesn’t mean you can’t have what matters. Because being attuned and awake are the only outlines of ourselves we need to make out. The only angle which is true is angling ourselves toward the Father. All the rest really do have days where they die. Thank you, Emily, for encouraging, speaking truth, and believing in it too.

  42. says

    My influencers spur people on and speak truth gently. I try to do the same for those around me. I love observing a person and finding their special sort of creativity and nurturing that in them. As for all this stuff about networking, I swing back and forth between wanting to learn all the secrets of increasing readership and wanting to shut the computer down and keep it all in my notebook. It’s so easy to get overstimulated by everything there is to read and to feel that writing another post could be just adding to the chatter. And it’s easy to get disillusioned when the online world seems like one big party and all you know how to do is flower the wall. But I’m a writer and like what C.S. Lewis said about a joy being multiplied when it’s shared, well, a piece of writing is like that for me. I’ve got to share it, even if it’s just with my husband and my mom, but I open myself up to growth when I share it beyond. I keep up the steady plodding, writing when He shows me something, and slowly He is building community around these stories…and others’ stories. I have connected with like-minded women all over the country through shared words, but the most beautiful thing, I think, is how I learn more of the people already in my life through making myself vulnerable in story. If all this isn’t about real life and individual transformation, it’s tawdry. Thank you, Emily, for your influence, your authenticity and your truth telling…even in these words today.

  43. says

    “I’m lousy at networking. It’s a corporate word and I’m not a corporate girl.” THAT resonated with me. Your post was so refreshing. Good old-fashioned relating sounds much more inviting than networking, doesn’t it? Wonderful post. Thank you!

  44. says

    LOVE this post! I’m going to BlogHer next week and someone asked me recently, “Are you going to network? Are you good at networking?” I said, the exact same thing that you did…”No, I’m not good at networking but I’m good at being myself.” It’s so true…”networking” is cold, distant, and competitive. It’s all about making friends and building trust. Just be yourself and the people will come.

    • says

      Oh, and the people in my life who have earned the right to influence me have done so by speaking the truth in love, offering wisdom, being themselves, standing in faith along side me, and being positive influences. Those people are gems.

  45. says

    Great reminder, Emily. I hate the word, networking, and I stink at it too. But if I just focus on the goal of interacting with others and forming friendships then I’m okay. Networking makes me feel sleazy.

  46. says

    Thank you for this Emily! There was a point in my life where I could envision myself as this great networker and business woman, but that never came to fruition because I became a stay-home mom and lost any chance of being that uber professional. But that’s not who I am anyway. I’d rather make a real connection with someone rather than a forced, “stiff” handshake, and I’d rather make friends than business partners. All I know how to be is myself, and I’m hoping that my writing will carry me where I want to be, surrounded by people who genuinely care about me and my work rather than just making money off of it. Your posts are so helpful to me during a time when I am still unsure what path my writing is going to take and how I’m going to find the right people to help me take it further. Thank you for your advice!

  47. says

    I laughed so hard when you wrote all” I want to do sometimes is hug someone or throw something
    across the room.” I agree w/ you 100%. Right now we all need each other so much
    Thank you and congrats on your 1st and second books. You are wonderful!!!

  48. says

    There is a frenzy of networking that I really have started to dislike.

    I started writing to do just that; write. I’m not really all that interested in techniques to boost my readership. I just want to connect with those that I’m supposed to…and I have and do.

    I sometimes purposely keep myself out of the “know” about the newest social networking thing. Not that its a bad thing to know some things, but I don’t want that to drive my writing or reach.

    Thank you for “going back to basics”. A good old “I need you” kinda way.

  49. Jenna says

    Thoughts I am processing after reading this post and just finishing Jen Hatmaker’s book Interrupted. Maybe we in the church are trying too hard to network with the wrong people. I realize community within the body is important but what if we focused more energy networking within the community God has placed us in on daily basis. Then Ann Voskamp just tweeted that a good leader will not just climb the ladder and strive after power but bow themselves, doing the seemingly insignificant (my interpretation). Prayerfully considering how I should be networking each day. Thanks your posts always provoke me to examine my life.

  50. says

    Emily, YES. I so feel this very same way. I am a HORRIBLE networker but I love to connect with other kindred spirits. Thank you for putting words to replacing this plastic world, a world that seems inauthentic and not-so-real with what IS real and true.

    Your session was great and I appreciate your advice on talking to Andrea. Thank you!

  51. says

    I relate so much to this post (maybe because I have twins too!) The idea of networking makes me anxious to the extreme, so as I head to my first SCBWI conference in LA next week (yikes!) I will focus on making friends. Thanks!

  52. says

    Loved this post, thank you! This is exactly what I took from SheSpeaks. I’m terrible at networking, and would rather just sit and have coffee with one friend than pass my business card out to 20 acquaintances. But the pressure for numbers and readers and expectations can be overwhelming. Since coming home, I have let that go, and am trying to focus on content and connecting with the wonderful readers that I have right now. I also met a ton of people at the conference, but left with maybe 3 good friends. That’s more me.

    And the 3 days of intensive extrovertedness? Totally sent this introvert into a tailspin, and I’m more sick than I’ve been in years! Just God’s way of reminding me of my need to be still, I guess. :)

  53. says

    I agree with you Becky! I attended your talk last year too and you gave me such reassurance! Thank you Emily for teaching us how to be authentic in these kind of environments :)

  54. says

    Ohhhhh, this reminds me so much of my first blogging conference (Blissdom 2009). I was a hot mess. Except…you know…not hot. The introvert half of me TOTALLY took over my extrovert half, and I got lost in my crazy head! I’m thankful that I’ve learned since then that it (conferences, meetings, LIFE) is not about the networking that scares me. It’s about being real and meeting other real people. Great post, friend. I love this!

  55. says

    I love this. Like, puffy heart love it. I stink at networking, too. I just want to have coffee and laugh and not try and figure out what the heck SEO means and why I need to monitor Klout and bliggety blah!

    I just want to write and love and live and laugh and walk this road of life together. Everything else overwhelms me. Thanks for sharing your heart (and mine) so beautifully.

    PS- I miss your sister. She is one of my favorite people. :)

  56. says

    Emily, I’m a first time visitor (came here from Nesting Place), and this post is exactly the confirmation of something that’s been in my heart and running around in my mind for weeks. Thank you for being so honest. That’s exactly the way I write my blog (sometimes with that nagging self-doubt we all seem to face on occasion), and I’m glad to see you do, too. I’m going to look around now. Stop by for a visit if you get a chance. You’re always welcome … at My Place to Yours!

  57. says

    I really, really love this. Your words helped to release some of the pressure I have put on myself. I am just a girl who loves to tell stories and connect with people on a real basis. Love how you said that you are an expert on yourself. Thank you for writing this. I think we all are looking for real relationships and not ones on the surface. I tell people all the time that the surface almost killed me once. I would much rather be swimming in the deep with people who know me for me.

  58. says

    Having just spent the past few days subconsciously worrying about what I will wear to the Influence Conference if I get to go, this resonates deep. I’ve never been to a conference like that before, but having admired and felt inferior to a million and one lovely bloggers, I can only imagine what I feel like in person. In person! Ack! You make me cry with your honesty and truth and transparency. Thanks for putting words to what everyone — even the “celebrities” — is feeling. You are lovely.

  59. says

    Wow, I needed that! Thanks for showing me I’m not the only one who is adverse to the old school idea of networking. Oh, and I work in higher ed, so I know about THOSE conferences. So glad I found your blog through the Influence Conference website!

    • says

      oh yay! Me too! When the Lord wove me together, he did not put in even one thread to work in higher ed. I learned that the hard way for sure.

    • says

      well, there isn’t a way to see it. But you could contact the Proverbs 31 office in Charlotte and see if you could purchase the recording of it. Wish you were there too!

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