When did it start? A decade ago attending a party meant hanging out with friends or finding a soul mate. Then the dreaded concept of “networking” arrived on the scene and spoiled all the fun. No longer can we just arbitrarily talk to a group of people over a few martinis, now we have to be selective and cruise only the well connected so we may leave with a pile of business cards that will send our career into orbit. “We’re as mad as hell and we are not going to take this anymore.”
When did we sell our souls? I think it started during the Clinton administration. Bill’s legendary handshake and way around the room put our game to shame. It wasn’t much better with “W” who, despite how you felt about him, seemed like the kind of guy you’d want to know when he clenched your hand and offered you an off color joke and a beer as he was making the rounds. And of course now there’s Obama who cut his teeth on social networking. They set an awful high bar for the rest of us! What to do?
Ok, I admit that I am a networking Diva. It comes with my territory as a CEO and fundraiser. But I don’t wait for cocktail events, I meet people everywhere because I make my life one big networking event. I happily strike up conversations with all kinds of people because what better way to stay in touch with the world and collect “sources”. Cab drivers have more info on local economic indicators than the WSJ because they know how much their fares are up or down. NYC Waiters can save you the time of reading theater reviews since most carry an Equity card and read “Back Stage” like the Bible. My hairstylist is a seer about all sorts of things since he is also a social events photographer for a trendy weekly. Bet yours has some tricks up his sleeve too! My list of sources goes on and on. I bet yours does too.
Next time you want to network, get dressed and go to the local coffee shop on a Saturday morning and hang out. Talk with the waitress. She has probably worked off-Broadway most of her life and will know things that will increase your knowledge of theater fifty percent. Next go have a shoe shine at Grand Central. Chances are the guy who operates it has buffed the toes of some of the most powerful brokers on Wall Street. My guy, Angelo, at the Delta Shuttle at La Guardia can tell you stories that will make your hair stand on end — just don’t try to steal him away. He’s mine!
You might also want to chat up some teenagers. They are very savvy about popular culture from “Glee” to “Nas” which will help when you interview with the twenty-five year old CEO in that new start-up venture. If you are smart you will also chat up that teenager’s mother who will remind you about the start-up dot.com debacle of the 1990’s and urge you to research their start-up plan. And if you have time left, go to the movies so you can chat up the Oscar picks at the next Networking event. You’ll be the belle of the ball!