Seminar story

As things go, bang after my last entry on networking at seminars, I got tossed headlong into a seminar. If you were to draw a map marking off ‘Conversational skills’ on the Y-axis and ‘Time of the week’ on the X-axis, you will notice a major dip in my personal map around Saturday mornings. Usually I am at my impolite best, trying to get over the fact that I up early on a Saturday for some work related thing and I was up late night on a Friday.

So this morning I trudged in slowly at 9 a.m. into the seminar hall to find that in a room of the sixty possible seating places, my three colleagues had chosen four consecutive chairs in the first row. The fact that they had arrived early and had voluntarily chosen these seats did not help. This immediately killed all plans I had of SMSing my friends throughout.

The first thing that happens in most of these conferences is a bladder alert fifteen minutes into the programme. For some reason organizers believe that people get their money’s worth only if they are subject to air conditioning that makes them realise what afterlife is going to be when they are tucked away in a morgue. Within the first hour you know most people are fidgeting. Coffee break is welcomed by all at this point.

At the coffee break I realised I already knew someone over there. My colleague and I agreed unspoken that latching on to this guy would be the best idea to avoid feeling guilty about not being in active networking mode. We sidled up and did the polite conversation-over-coffee thing when our acquaintance’s friend steered a seemingly innocent question into a terribly sad story about his personal life. We had asked him if he had been with this company for long and he replied in the affirmative. And added that except for the one year break he took to look after his then ailing (and now dead) father. I am a considerate person and usually feel quite sorry when I hear about personal tragedies. However I have never figured out how to handle it when strangers start pouring out their tales of woe – not in a manner of seeking comfort from another human being but for just filling up awkward pauses.

I suddenly realised that I had not actually still ‘networked’ with anyone. So promptly turning to the stranger nearest to me, I smiled brilliantly, introduced myself and gave my card. He did the same and then apologized and pointed out that as the next speaker he would have to rush to the stage for setting up his power point slides. So much for accurate spotting of potential targets.

After an hour more, the last speaker came on stage. Much as it is unfair to be judgmental about people based on their looks, my colleague and myself agreed that clearly he spent a lot of time in deep and intense personal experiences with alcohol. This had not just added bags to his eyes and jowls to his jaw but also an ‘I-could-not-care-less’ aspect to his personality. 45 minutes into his speech, he had criticized a range of things from newspapers to the finance minister. His worried co-speakers, seeing no end to his speech and a fast approaching lunch hour gestured subtly to him that he was running out of time. Our man however was in no mood for subtle gestures. He interrupted his own speech to ask if it was time and when the answer was affirmative, stopped in mid sentence, thanked the audience and sat down.

At least since it was a half-day seminar, there was nothing else to do but wolf down some lunch and leave. And that is just what I did.

If anyone is wondering where exactly did I use the skills I had pontificated about the previous time you must realise the greatest networker is one who knows when the audience is not really in his target list and conserves his energy. Ok, that bit was complete rot, but Saturdays…No way.


dinesh said...

That part about the guy's speech was pretty funny. Reminds me of the umpteen lectures/speeches I had to sit through in college. And you're right, some people have no understanding of what the audience wants, and do their speeches like it's some kind of an unnecessary ritual! One thing I am trying to understand from your posts - Why do you have to network with complete strangers ? I mean, don't you have to know that he can be of help to you or you to him ? The reason I ask is that he's not likely to open his wallet and find your card and call you any time unless he knows that it would be beneficial to him right ? Just thinking aloud here..

You write well !

dinesh said...

I left a comment on your "creatures of routine" post. I liked that piece a lot.

anita said...

Oh people actually call you. The protocol is if you have spent 5 mintues talking to a stranger at one of these things it is ok to call for professional help.