By Cazey Williams
In my life outside blogging, I happen to be events chair for my local alumni chapter. That job entails planning football viewings, happy hours and promoting friend making.
So my event idea was to coerce people who regularly attend our meetings to meet people different than the ones they already know and/or came with. I originally called it “speed dating,” but then decided we weren't trying to market to lusty singles, so let’s go with “speed networking” – because that’s what we’re doing. Except not in the professional sense; or at least that wasn't the primary goal. When I wrote up the event blurb, I put, “Emphasis on social.”
Okay, in hindsight, every name for the event was doomed. Social networking conjures notions of Facebooking and tweeting. Speed dating…well, this isn’t for hapless Valentines. And speed networking – please, keep your business cards in your pocket.
To keep the event lite (misspelled on purpose), I made a bingo sheet for an ice breaker. Each square had something related to our alma mater. I printed out a list of questions stolen from websites meant for both speed dating and networking.
The first person to arrive for the event was in a tan suit and had silver hair. Me internally: Crap. Like, I’m wearing moccasins. I almost wore shorts. We shake hands.
“This is my first event in several years,” Mr. Businessman says.
“What brought you out?”
“The speed networking. I love networking. I’ve been in sales for 16 years.”
“Well,” I think fast, “we’re expecting a mixed crowd, so it’s gonna be a little social, a little professional (not at all, I’m in moccasins). Hopefully you’ll get something out of it.”
“Can’t wait to find out.”
Oh, I can.
People trickle in. The assortment is mixed only by contrast: Me and my moccasins, 23 and in grad school, and everyone else years older and employed – or formerly employed. Gosh, I invited you here to make friends, not get you a job. One of my worst self-critiques is underperforming, and I would say a list of questions that includes “Star Wars or Star Trek?” is underperforming for this crowd.
Of course, the pizza comes out late (yes, we’re hosting this at a pizza parlor; why were you expecting business networking?!). Some people mingle. Others wait for me to prompt this networking. Me: I only have it to make it through an hour before I can drink away this humiliation.
I narrate how this will work, mention “we were expecting a mixed crowd, so I prepared for social and professional networking (so I won’t ask ‘If you were an animal in the wild, what would you be?’),” and try to explain the bingo ice breaker – but some of the older men just don’t get it. Forget it; it’s an ice breaker. I need a megaphone. I’m sweating. No one can hear me. No one knows which way to rotate. People are repeating the opposite of what I said.
The first person I network with is Mr. Businessman. He says he’s been to many networking events. In fact, he specifies: “I teach group networking.” Great. Judge this failed spectacle.
“Well, I’d love to hear what advice you have,” I say. Should I be biting into this pizza while listening? Is that professional? Well, darn it, I’m hungry. “Like, what prompts I should use.” (Because I was going to ask “Who was your favorite superhero when you were little – and how does that relate to your profession?”)
Once I collected comment cards at the end, I assessed that the event was not as disastrous as I painted it. In fact, my biggest criticism was not starting on time (sorry, we waited until 7:05 PM; I guess there are no stragglers in the business world). However, I would not have worn moccasins.