To Network or Not to Network?


It's 6:38am. Before I even get to the registration desk, two smiling faces flank me, hands extended for a hearty handshake along with a "Hey welcome, who are you and what do you do?". I stammer out a quick bio and then they usher me to the desk to sign in. At the desk, I'm asked for my business cards and approached by two others who size me up like fresh meat.

The noise level in the room is already at concert-level, full of men and women who are clearly morning people. I'm a morning person too, but this is a bit much. 

I'm at a networking event, a local chapter of a global networking business that was LinkedIn before LinkedIn. It's a quaint throwback to a simpler, more personal and gentler time, save for the noise and the cultish grins.

Soon, I'm interrupted at least three times in separate chats by more grins and extended hands as the more aggressive networkers zoom in like conversational kamikaze pilots. It's at once acceptable and highly annoying.

Even breakfast doesn't provide a respite. Scrambled eggs on the way to my mouth are no match for Gary, whose hand almost becomes part of my meal as he says "Sorry to interrupt" as he introduces himself and asks me to do the same. 

After breakfast, ears still ringing as the food did nothing to slow down the chatter, each of us gets 30 seconds to stand up and promote our business, ideally with a memorable tagline at the end (A garage door company owner wins the room  - and my applause - with a "my business is always up and down..."). Applause follows each presenter. All. 45. Of. Them. I expect to see Tony Robbins burst through the wall at any moment.

For many, this kind of forced interaction, this high-speed blender of handshakes and faked interest comes entirely naturally. For others, a root canal would be preferable.

I'm somewhere in between. I do see the value in it - a small business owner can never have enough leads, and the intentions of everyone in the room are positive for sure. And new ideas can come from anyone and anywhere.

But the used car salesman feeling that permeates the room at these events is tough to shake off. Bad suits, gold chains, cologne that smells like desperation - it can all be a bit much.

Wait, there's an idea... I can pitch a new fragrance to Calvin Klein. A signal to others that you're ready to ignore social norms, turn back the clock from the digital age, and sell, sell, sell. Whisper it, just like in the ads... Desperation.