Random Inspirations

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Why Networking Events are Like a Middle School Dance

on February 17, 2012

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending my first “Network After Work” event to promote my new tween/teen novel, Unlucky 13. I have participated in similar events in my own field…but a 700-person, 3-floor, multi-professional extravaganza? Never!

Mega networking events can be daunting for first-timers, mostly because there are almost too many people. And they resemble a middle school dance, with clusters of people engaged in seemingly scintillating conversations. Now, I consider myself a moderately outgoing person. Throw me into a room full of total strangers, none of whom know each other, and I’m perfectly at ease. And when surrounded by people I know, I’m golden. But last night, as I stood rooted next to my fiance and our friend, sipping vodka and 7-up, I felt my middle school self emerging. My mind flooded with questions: What random group should I approach first? Isn’t it weird to just invite yourself into people’s conversations? What if no one here is interested in fiction for tweens and teens?

I surveyed the scene of polished, high-powered professionals, and was shocked to realize that everyone seemed to be in touch with his or her middle school self. I noticed some people fidgeting nervously, others shifting from foot to foot, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, some people projecting an almost super-human, grandiose image of bravado. I observed awkward silent moments interspersed with brilliant exchanges of conversation. And, of course, there was some clumsiness: people dropping business cards, spilling drinks, and inadvertently jostling their neighbors.

In a moment of sudden clarity, I realized that we were all in touch with our middle school selves, but the others were overcoming their insecurities, moving outside their comfort zones, and mingling successfully. In other words, their adult maturity and professional aspirations allowed them to move past their initial, adolescent-like feelings of uncertainty.

From that moment on, I went all out. I shared viewpoints with people whose specialties ranged from fashion designer to IT guru. I gained valuable feedback on promoting Unlucky 13 from experts in marketing and advertising, as well as from people in seemingly unrelated fields like school counseling and small business owners. Each person I spoke with brought fresh new ideas, perspective, and energy, and I left fulfilled, stimulated, and inspired.

I took my cue from the crowd and, in doing so, was able to overcome a negative aspect of middle school (uncertainty, insecurity) while rediscovering a positive one (stepping outside your comfort zone).  And, in that way, networking after work beats out a middle school dance hands down!

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