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Digital nomads need human networks

IABC and the power of networks

Last week I spoke as a guest lecturer for the first time, at the University of Ljubljana to communication students about If Not Us Then Who? The opportunity was facilitated by Vita Kernel, ABC, long standing member of IABC, International Association of Business Communicators.
I have been involved with IABC since receiving a part scholarship to Eurocomm 2011, in Turin, Italy. It opened my eyes to the world of professional communications, corporate and non - profit. There were some fantastic presentations I still recall and while the networking seemed daunting at first, I met many very interesting and passionate people.
That initial experience went on to impact how I delivered communication projects from then on, influenced my next career move and kickstarted more than 3 years of involvement with the IABC. I have spent 2 years on the EMENA board and in 2014 was a co-track chair role at World Conference in Toronto. It has been a great experience attending regional leadership institutes, organising Gold Quill judging and introducing speakers. However, by far the most rewarding part has been getting to know fellow IABC members, learning a great deal from them and as the years have gone by contributing a little something back. I am still in touch with a number of members I met back in Turin.
As my career zigzags around the communications industry and I slowly hone in on my strengths and passions, networks is becoming core part of me and what makes me tick. I get a kick out of connecting up two people whether it is because they find themselves in the same country at the same time, or have a professional mutual interest. I've been learning this skill from IABC's best!
The benefits of networks are well documented. One example that struck a chord with me is Superconnect by Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood. It makes for a very interesting read. They theorise that it is the 'weak' links that often lead to more unexpected outcomes than 'strong' links i.e. close family and friends. They argue that the strength and innovations of our species may have depended on our weak links, gaining important information from passing communities. Returning to the 21st century they explore how weak links can help us in today's hyperconnected world. Coincidentally, Richard Koch just yesterday published an article on the topic; Cultivate the Edge of your Network. He suggests if we do this it ultimately "makes us more open to daily experiences that usually pass us by, and it makes us more open-minded." 
With the advance of technology networks live and breathe in a digital dimension. One where our networks can thrive quickly; a few clicks to add someone on Facebook, one click to retweet, a short request to connect on LinkedIn. Social networks has helped us cast the net further and wider than may have been possible before but the strength of those connections, I would argue, still lie in the very human interaction.
'Networking' has recently been seen as a dirty word, as clinical and formulaic; a transactional process. You cannot make networking an input-output process for the very simple reason we are not machines. And people can easily see though this veil. My advice is don't overcomplicate it. Stay human and simply be curious. Leave your agenda behind. Listen, really listen and ask questions. Follow up afterwards. There are great listening resources in the mental health world, here is how Rethink summarise active listening;
"Being able to listen effectively is a key communication skill. The active listening involves more than just staying quiet. It is different from listening where you hear someone’s concerns then give an opinion or advice. Active listening means allowing someone to talk, drawing out the person’s point of view and checking out the things you don’t understand."
Since going it alone and more recently becoming a digital nomad, I knew I would only stay sane if I plugged into different networks. I reached out to the Impact Hub network for co-working, not only meeting like minded inspiring characters but also to take advantages of the global network (I received a warm welcome in KL earlier this year). And of course IABC.
When I knew I was bound for Slovenia I reached out to Vita who I met in Turin, and from her other members from the chapter. Very quickly I my inbox glowed with reciprocal welcomes. Both Vita and Dejan Verčič invited me to speak to students groups and other members about the environmental communications project I am working on, If Not Us Then Who? A unique opportunity for me to talk about the work to a new audience and it is helping me to shape how we will share this learning with indigenous activists in the future.
I strongly believe in serendipity, it is often an output of good networks and it can be a powerful force of innovation and new ideas. Science of Serendipity by Matt Kingdom is another great read
And I love how it works, I would never have thought 4 years ago I would be talking to students at the University of Ljubljana! In another unique moment, I was on an excursion with Vita to Trieste, Italy only a few hours away from where we met 4 years before, when I recognised the Impact Hub logo down an alleyway. I explored a little more and found the beautiful Triste Hub! After explaining my Hub roots we were given an enthusiastic tour of the space which sparked Vita's curiosity about co-working. Two world's collide.
Now I am Paris bound and already making plans to connect with the French IABC chapter.
Networks are a source of emotional support, professional guidance and serendipitous opportunities but they require time and energy to maintain. And most importantly perhaps, the need to switch off the laptop, turn off notifications and have real conversations with real people.
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