Friday, June 7, 2013

And what do you do?

I received an invitation to attend a networking lunch with a new group. Excited, I changed my schedule to attend. I view networking events as opportunities for three things: creating new connections, exploring opportunities, and my favorite, people watching. 

After having survived this particular event only by the skin of my teeth, I am forced to admit the broad generalizations I held about networking events were ill-conceived. Not a little off the mark but out the ballpark incorrect. Please don’t tell my husband. I hate admitting I am wrong. 

I confirmed there is a secret world out there. A world people like me don’t understand. In this world, all the sales people conspire to create dastardly plans, campaigns to make the non-sales people feel invisible and obsolete. They accidentally allowed me to attend one of their meetings last week. As an educator, writer, and non-for-profit advocate, I didn’t belong there. I quickly found myself trapped in a sea of business card exchanging, name dropping, and high-pitched fake laughing. 

After a short time, a few of them figured me out. After my commonness was revealed, basic courtesies like the give and take of conservations and eye contact became just too much for some. In their secret world, created by who you know rather than what you know, I became invisible. People would chat long enough to assess my value to them. After deciding I had none, if they bothered to appropriately close the conversation, I noticed them looking past or through me, but no longer at me. 

I found myself feeling alone in a room full of people. Watching them, I kept thinking many of them should be in theater rather than sales or perhaps in addition to. There is no possible way these people could be this energetic, loud, and animated all the time. When my lunch check arrived, I expected to find an additional fee for the show I just suffered through but apparently the spectacle is free to world members. Relieved to be spared of the expense, I left before anyone asked me to demonstrate the secret salesperson handshake. 

Please don’t get me wrong. Networking, when done correctly, is great and I appreciate the value in having opportunities to meet with like-minded professionals. But that’s where the rub occurred in this instance– the whole like-minded idea is critically important. Am I opposed to sales people? Of course not. As writers, we have to sell our ideas and ourselves in every query and pitch. As an advocate for the AHA, I have to convince people to share their charitable giving with our organization.  A fair amount of salesmanship is involved in doing this, in addition to raising awareness. What bothered me was the immediate dismissal I encountered and watched happen to other people over the course of three hours. 

At the end of the day, we all want to matter to someone and have others recognize our value, even if it doesn’t immediately serve them. Maybe I am just old-fashioned but that should be at the core of creating connections. One thing I know for sure, the next lunch I attend will be in the company of those who I know do this – my family! I just hope they remember to bring their business cards.

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