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#DearID Episode 54: Building a Network

In: Dear ID Showelearning

This episode I wanted to talk a bit about how I’ve built and continue to build my network from the perspective of an introvert.

Be sure to check out a transcript of the episode below the player. And the shownotes are here:

Hey everybody and welcome back to Dear Instructional Designer, the show about the instructional design journey. I’m your host, Kristin Anthony.

We’re in Season 4 of Dear ID where we are concentrating on the journey into freelancing as an instructional designer. This episode I wanted to talk a bit about how I’ve built and continue to build my network.

So I recently finished Susan Cain’s Quiet (didn’t love it, but that’s another story) but I am a deeply, deeply introverted individual and the book had some interesting insights into the strengths and temperaments of introverts, in general. And I want to talk about building a network from this perspective because I’ve heard from a lot of other IDs who have said that they also consider themselves introverted and I think it would be useful to talk about building relationships when you might not be the sort of person to go to ALL the THINGS, or hey you just may not have the resources to get to all of the conferences or meetups you might want to go to.

I’m going to tackle this in a three-fold answer. First, I want to talk about the impactful things I’ve been able to do in a way that has still allowed me time to think and articulate myself and be generally introvert-y. Second, I want to talk about conferences especially since I’m such a newbie with them. And then, third, I want to talk about the activities I’d like to begin engaging in in the future.

But first, I should probably define a bit more about what I mean when I say network. Christy Tucker, who was a guest on the show, wrote a bit a while back about how careful she’s been about accumulating LinkedIn connections in order to make sure that she’s building more meaningful relationships. I have NOT been very careful there, perhaps just because at this point in my career, I’m interested in making connections to a bunch of different people AND LinkedIn is not typically a social network that I find disruptive to my workday. So a lot of those people would be on the outer rings of my network universe. BUT, like Christy, when I think about my network, I’m thinking about people with whom I have had sustained, deeper contact with. People who I’ve had google hangouts with. People I’ve worked with in the xAPI cohort. And people who I’ve interviewed on the show because having an hour-long conversation with someone is a deep act, I think. So when I’m thinking about cultivating relationships and the network of people who I might ask questions of or ask for help from, those are the folks I’m thinking about.

Now we can move on to the things I’ve done to build up that network.

Probably the most impactful thing I did to start was to consistently share my experience via my blog. I intended my blog as a way to reflect on my own journey as an instructional designer and along the way, I started using Buffer, which I talked about last episode to automate sharing my posts via Twitter. This opened up a TON of conversations with other people who happened upon my writing. This was awesome because it let me meet other IDs and talk and geek out about in-depth topics while skipping the small talk. I wrote very consistently for the first couple of years and I met a bunch of people. And again, I want to emphasize that I’m not just talking about gaining Twitter followers (more on that in a bit) but I’m talking about my blog as being a gateway to some more sustained relationships. With some of those people I particularly gelled with, we had DM Twitter conversations or email conversations; and sometimes we met for Google hangouts, outside of any particular project, we would just meet face-to-face via hangouts to talk. So from my blog, I was able to create those more meaningful relationships and conversations.

When I was starting out, I tried Twitter chats and they were a really great means of introducing me to the work of a lot of leaders in the community, such as Jane Bozarth and Cathy Moore, who I might not have discovered on my own. But, as I progressed and continued exploring my own experience, I realized that Twitter chats, weren’t really my thing. There was too much information, moving too quickly and I found it really hard to participate and concentrate and schedule time for them. But I was able to find other smaller communities to participate in more intimate groups. There was a HipChat community I participated in at one point. And I also found the instructional design subreddit, which, the odd ugly comment or post aside, has really awesome for me because it’s highly asynchronous and I don’t need to let it steal my focus from other work (though of course, I, like anyone have been guilty of wasting time on social media in lieu of concentrating on the task at hand). These were communities that were and are, again, really focused on work and on a small group of people who are consistently around so we’ve able to have deeper conversations around topics, which I find really helpful.

Another really impactful activity for building my network, as you might imagine, has been this podcast. I get to really meet and talk with people who I might have only met on Reddit or who have reached out to me on Twitter and I really value reaching out to other people who are on the ground, working around their frustrations to do their best work. I like to start off or end every guest chat by continuing to talk to them about their ideas. This has been a really great medium for me to build meaningful relationships with people who I might never meet otherwise.

One thing in common about each of these activities (blogging, participating in a curated set of social media, and podcasting) is that they all allow me to work from my strengths. I get to articulate my ideas or my questions and share them in a way that puts my voice out there into the world without asking me to change into someone else. And I also get to meet so many awesome people via the interwebs. I have found, and you heard Devlin Peck mention this as well, that IDs, in general, are very helpful so reaching out to people, asking to hear their stories, asking questions, questions, questions, has been incredibly rewarding for me AND it’s helped me to build up a network of people who are familiar with my work, who’s work I’m familiar with and who could be allies for me or for whom I could be an ally.

Conferences, on the other hand, have been a much more recent phenomenon for me. As an employee, I had not ever been able to get an employer to pay for a conference. I’ve gone to two now as a freelancer. Because I’m paying for them myself, I, of course, am having to be very careful about what I want to be involved in. And I’ve decided that I want to stick to those more intimate, smaller conferences. Having just returned from Learning Dev Camp(where I got to meet up with Cara North, Joseph Suarez (both previous guests), and Anna Leach, who I first talked with on LinkedIn), I noticed a couple of things for myself. First, having to be at a session at 7:30 AM was absolutely awful, I’m a night owl and always have been, so I was dealing with a lot of sleep debt throughout the experience. Second, though I was able to attend some really great sessions, I was absolutely exhausted at the end of each day. So I can’t imagine how one of those tens of thousands of people-sized conferences would affect me. And third, I was actually able to see the same people in a lot of sessions and talk with them, and also talk with the presenters. And to me, that’s where one of the main benefits of going to conferences lay. For me, if I can’t have serious conversations, it’s probably a not worth it. So I’ve made a commitment to attend at least one small conference a year.

And, you know, to this point one of the things that has been in my mind is that I had someone, while I was at Learning Dev Camp, ask why I didn’t stop “hiding behind the desk” and get up and make presentations. That comment really struck me. There was a point where I did really want to present, and I would like to actually see more diversity in the experiences offered in presentations. I’ve been seeing just recently the TLDC community tweeting about mentoring newbie presenters. So there are resources out there for you and for me and I’ll put some in the shownotes.

But I don’t like this idea that, as an introvert, I’m hiding behind something because I’m not presenting. I think that’s really harmful. I reach out and talk to people and put my voice out there into the world in ways that have been working for me. I do believe that introverts can make great performers and presenters. For me, I think that moving again towards presenting would require A, me having a project that I felt like allowed me to share some particular success and B. my throwing all of my effort towards being a better presenter. And right now, my One Thing for myself is actually game development, so I’m not willing to split my focus. All of that to say that, as an introvert, you can still put your voice out there in the world. If you want to be a presenter, then the Internet allows you to reach out to communities like TLDC to get some mentorship about getting proposals accepted. But if you don’t want to do that right now, you aren’t hiding. There are other means for you to build meaningful relationships and it doesn’t make you less-than.

The other thing that this really relates to for me was this super impactful statement I heard, I think it was on a podcast, though the particular one escapes me. The podcast host was talking with someone about their business and they exchanged business cards. And, like you do, this host looked up this other person on Twitter. And they felt really good about themselves because they had thousands of Twitter followers while this other person only had like two hundred. But later the host came to find out that this other person was doing millions of dollars worth of business with these huge companies. They were out there quietly, effectively doing the work, even though Twitter didn’t show it. And I just had a similar experience myself. I reached out to a presenter from Learning Dev Camp and though they only have a couple hundred followers on Twitter, this person has been in business for 15 years, has a successful company, and is doing business with these huge innovative companies as well as startups. And when I think about who I want to be like, who I’m jealous of, to use one of the litmus tests Susan Cain recommends in Quiet, it’s those people who are out there doing really cool things. People who have those stories to tell about the impact of their work and who concentrate on doing that excellent work to the exclusion of other things. So, again, for me, I want to concentrate first on building a business that makes an impact and then, at some later point of my career, I might be ready to share those experiences via presenting at conferences. But right now, that’s not where my focus is and that’s okay. And I want you to be okay with where you are. If you want to present at conferences, make that your focus and Go for it! If you don’t, that’s okay. Think about how conferences could fit into your networking and think about the size of the conference too and the experience you want to have.

To recap, when it comes to building a network of people with whom I have built more sustainable, meaningful relationships, I’ve found blogging, participating in some social media, and podcasting, or more generally inviting people to talk one-on-one have been really impactful for me. I don’t have a lot of experience with conferences but I’ve found that there are pros and cons for me, so I’m committing to stick to the small ones right now, where I feel like I can build experiences that better suit me.

Last, I want to talk about activities I’d like to participate in.

I’ve mentioned Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, several times on this podcast and in my blog and one of the things he mentions as he advocates for quitting (or at least ruthlessly trimming) social media is that you can build much more meaningful relationships by engaging in local groups. When I lived in Austin, Texas, I actually was starting to go to coding meetups regularly but since I’ve moved to the suburbs, I’ve found that my access to the kinds of meetups I’d like to go to has been restricted. But I’m currently looking for a city and a living situation that would allow me to participate with local groups like this because I do think that I would get a lot of value from that.

On a related note, I was also introduced to the concept of a mastermind group from the $100 MBA podcast. The idea is that you have a small group of other people that you meet with regularly to talk about your projects, hold each other accountable, and support each other. I’m really interested in that, too. I’d love to be a part of a mastermind group of active IDs from a variety of backgrounds to jam with regularly. As a side note, the ONLIP LinkedIn group Christy mentioned might work for many of you in this capacity, but I think I’m looking for something a little different. So that’s something I keep thinking about. I don’t know if it will happen, but I’d love to hear from any of you who might be interested in something similar.

Last, I’m trying to really implement the lessons from the One Thing and focus on one thing at a time. Right now, I’m still in the middle of some time-blocked professional development, a Udacity nanodegree, so I am trying really hard to focus all of my energy and attention on completing that first. Once that is over, I want to refocus on my own game development work. I recently purchased Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s PlayToLearn as well as Melissa Ford’s Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine. And I have a TON of game making courses and tutorials I want to get through. So my idea is that I’d like to give myself a weekly assignment from Play to Learn to play games and evaluate them from an ID perspective and perhaps a monthly assignment to make a game. I think that this may offer an opportunity for me to collect learning-game prompts, which has been my biggest blocker when it comes to practicing making games that are more portfolio pieces rather than just making games generally. So that’s something I’m hoping to engage in in August or September. It’s my intention to be working out loud so, again, it’s a way to share my voice and work from my strengths and I hope it will get a conversation started with other IDs who are interested in making impactful learning games.

That, my friends, is how I’ve built my network and hope to continue building it as an introvert. I’ve really been deeply grateful for the opportunity to speak with so many people and share with so many people while being able to be myself. I’ve haven’t needed to put on a mask or be a pseudo-extrovert. I’ve been very me this whole time, and I’ve been really honored to call so many of you my colleagues. I’m really hoping that, for any other introvert IDs out there, the activities I’ve shared here will be helpful to you as you seek to build relationships with other professionals from your own places of strength.

That’s it for this episode! I would love to hear from you. If you’ve got any follow up questions about this the activities I used to build my network or if you have any suggestions from either the extrovert or introvert POV or both or neither, feel free to reach out to me. I’m @anthkris on Twitter, or you can shoot me an email at kristin AT

And don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes! Your review helps other people find the show and lets me know how I’m doing. I would really, really appreciate it.

Thanks so much for listening and I will see you back here next time. Take care!