High Stakes Socializing AUUUUUGH [rant? adv? I don't even know]

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Post by kleenestar on Mon Apr 13, 2015 5:40 pm

As of today, I am currently booked for not one, not two, but three extremely high-profile events over this summer and fall. These are not the standard academic conferences, where a certain amount of schmoozing is expected but also everyone understands that we are a bunch of socially awkward nerds and we always can fall back on shop talk. No, these are extremely social-heavy events where everything meaningful happens at parties (not my forte!) and most people there will be far more socially competent than I am (celebrities, politicians, CEOs, world-famous artists, etc.).

I'm honored to be invited and of course I have said yes (BECAUSE OMG HOLY SHITBALLS) but I am also freaking terrified. I do pretty well socially but only because I have practiced certain skills and seek out contexts where I can perform excellently. I am super, super out of my depth.

The stakes are high in two ways. First, there's always the possibility of a massive fuckup and losing access to this new and shiny world. But I also I am concerned that I will invest a lot of time in doing these things (they all involve significant travel) and not actually get anything out of them - especially given that the potential upside is huge. I just don't quite know what I can do to practice or prepare given that I don't quite know what that upside looks like concretely.

I am looking for advice, and also HOLY SHITBALLS did I mention HOLY SHITBALLS.
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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Mon Apr 13, 2015 5:58 pm

This is all going to be very general but I'll take a swing. First off, go to networking events locally as practice. Basically, do what you're going to be doing in a lower stakes environment. Go into each one with a goal. It can even be a silly goal like "find someone who can get me a meeting with Elon Musk" (assuming the event is not tech related) but have in your mind something to accomplish. Which reminds me..  .

Funny enough, I learned how to network by playing in vampire LARPS in my misspent youth. When you go to big travel events where a dozen games worth of people are showing up, you know the locals as people, a few others from online but basically don't know anyone well, even when most of them know each other. Its a high stakes cocktail party but fictional. On the other hand, you've got (or I had anyway) an agenda to get done, dammit. Looking back, I realize I had a system for weekend events that might do you some good:

Friday - meet people. Some people can make your dreams come true. Some are there to help out the people who can make your dreams come true. Some of them have nothing to do with you. At least you won't have to deal with people who are directly opposed to your success. Friday's parties are just about circulaitng, shaking hands, being a friendly face while all the time drawing a mental org chart of the crowd. Who connects to who? Who is it you really need to be talking to in order to get things done? Who's got the bosses ear? Who can you assist in their own development? Are they friends with someone who can help in yours? Is there a coalition where three or four groups each want something and would help each other for reciprocation? That last one probably doesn't apply either but you get the idea. By the time you go to bed, you'll be drained and exhausted but if you've circulated well, you'll have identified who you need to talk to on. . .

Saturday - moving and shaking. Now that you know who you're looking for, you can zoom in on them. Chances are a lot of other people will be doing the same thing. Don't be rude, don't stress them out. Those other people will be coming in with an elevator pitch. In practice that meands they're reciting thirty seconds of prepared material with their hat in their hand. This is not the person you want to be. You'll have already talked to them and hopefully have some topics to bring up. You enjoy talking with them about shared interests. You're not just some poor slob with her hand out. Doesn't matter about what as long as they've bought into talking to you. You can drop in and out in short increments as politeness dictates but they'll be interested in talking when they have a spare moment. Get them going then steer it to something of mutual interest that is also leading up to a win-win situation involving your potential upside. Doesn't have to be concrete but it has to be something worth discussing at length to both sides. If you can do that on Saturday, great. If not there's. . .

Sunday - Let's keep in touch. This may be an end fo Saturday thing in your situation. Don't just get contact info and give it, write down on the card what the conversation was about, the one you hand out and the one you accept. Figure out if you can get (in order of preference) face time, phone time or digital contact after the event. Follow up on this before you get on the plane with a polite thank you email.

Take Monday off. You'll need it.
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Post by kleenestar on Mon Apr 13, 2015 6:11 pm

I don't think the practice thing works too well in this case - this is way beyond the scope of anything I have access to in order to practice. (I know, because I actually do go to events to practice this stuff!) But if you have thoughts about what a good practice venue might be, I'm open to changing my mind.

On the other hand, the three day structure you present is extremely helpful. Somehow that breaks down the problem far enough that I can start to see how to apply the skills I do have.
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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Mon Apr 13, 2015 6:25 pm

I developed it organically from a similar situation. A far as practice events. . .well, Vampire LARPS. Grin
Seriously, though, it depends on where you are. I can find tech networking events every day of the week in Silicon Valley. If you can find a bunch of connected ones, you can go to two or three in a row and pick out who's at all of them, I guess.

Actually, conventions of any type are good for this, just tailor your goal. I went to GenCon years ago. A female friend of mine was also there who wanted to meet current broody TV hot guy who played a staff fighting ranger. So we went to the autograph signing and he complimented my jacket, I made a little small talk. Maybe that would have been it, but it was sitting there in the back of my mind that he'd half remember me later. Saturday, he comes into the lounge just MOBBED by teenage girls and looking rather uncomfortable. So I seated my friend at the bar, went up to him and said "hey, remember me? Looks like you could use a drink. I'll buy the first round." (implicitly, "where they can't follow because they're under age") and put him between the two of us. He was so happy to be able to talk about staff fighting with someone who didn't fangirl squee. So again, win-win.

Of course, all of this is very situational. One of my biggest LARP "tricks" was to wear tight leather pants that had been nicknamed "Pants Of +1 XP" because women always voted for me to get the costuming award when I wore them. This may not be the way you want to go with it. Grin

Sorry for making suggestions in anecdote form. I have no idea where to find a more formalized version of this.

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Post by The Wisp on Mon Apr 13, 2015 6:31 pm

I don't know if you've done this, but have you tried probing your social connections to see if you could somehow find a way to talk to somebody, a friend of a friend or something, who has experience with these types of people and events or, even better, one of those sorts of people themselves? A state senator or owner of a regional business where networking is vital, for example? What about another academic who has experience with these sorts of things, even if they're in a different field?
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Post by Caffeinated on Mon Apr 13, 2015 7:43 pm

A couple things come to mind. One is that conferences generally make their program available ahead of time, so you can do some research before the event and see who's going to be there that you'd particularly like to meet. In addition to becoming familiar with their latest work (book, article, project, whatever), you can see if they have a publicly available email address and contact them ahead of time. A polite email introducing yourself and saying you're excited to hear their talk/attend their panel/meet them could be something that doesn't get any result, or it could start a conversation and lead to a natural opening when you're there in person. It can also be helpful to have in mind what you'd like to get out of these interactions. Do you want to be a speaker at their next conference, write an article for their publication, work together on a project, get their advice on a project, just become part of the regular set of faces a person sees at this level of event?
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Post by Hirundo Bos on Mon Apr 13, 2015 7:50 pm

First, lots of congratulations!

Then, only a few loose thoughts...

Do you have some sort of emotion-management plan, both for before and during the events? People to turn to, or call, or e-mail, when you can find the time? Rituals to help you relax and make sense of things? So you can spend more mental resources on participating and enjoying the things themselves?

In addition to the research Caffeinated mentioned, would it be possible to research and prepare for some event-appropriate, lower stake topics you can fall back on, if at some point you don't have a grip on the high stake ones?

And when it comes to potentially great, but unknown upsides... I'm wondering if in addition to preparing for eventualities, is there a way to train oneself to recognize opportunities when they show themselves? I don't really know what such training would look like, but it sounds like a skill that can be applid widely.
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Post by PintsizeBro on Mon Apr 13, 2015 8:07 pm

Before the event: take good care of yourself. Pump yourself up so that you're going into the event with a full tank, so to speak.

During the event: Breathe, because oxygen is good. Schedule downtime for yourself. If you'll be attending panel discussions, attend some discussions on topics that you feel comfortable and knowledgeable on, and a few that are out of your comfort zone. If some of the available parties have themes, attend them - if nothing else, the theme will give you something to make small talk about.

After the event: crash as hard as you need to. At the end of a very long and grueling trade show last fall, my coworkers all went out for dinner and drinks. I got a massage, sat in a steam room for an hour, and went to bed at 9. I work with a great team of people and normally I love spending time with them, but after that trade show I just had nothing left. It's okay to crash.

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Post by BasedBuzzed on Mon Apr 13, 2015 9:54 pm

>(celebrities, politicians, CEOs, world-famous artists, etc.)

Being sociable is part of their job, so this goes both ways. They will do much of the work for you, and by virtue of having to be social, will have had to entertain and put up with an enormous amount of assholes and nutballs, and you will look good by comparison anyway, because you are well-grounded. Of course, this does not preclude them from being rich and popular enough to utterly ignore social norms themselves, but really, that just makes them look less calibrated then you by default.
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Post by kleenestar on Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:43 pm

Wow, these are amazing suggestions!

GJ: I am going to buy some awesome new clothes for this event. Because while I may not be able to pull off leather pants, I can at least feel zero self-consciousness about my looks.

Wisp: brilliant! I know someone who went to one of these events last year. I am going to (consensually) corner her and pick her brains!

Caffeinated: unfortunately this is all informal partying and socializing (auggh) without any formal schedule but I can try to get my hands on a guest list to do some advance prep. Plus, you are absolutely right that it will help me to do some brainstorming of possible upsides in advance.

Hirundo: emotion management, yes! I think part of why I'm nervous is because I don't know how much access I'll have to my usual emotion management strategies. When I talk to my acquaintance who went, I'll probe to see what my options are. Also, I think the brainstorming will help me be in opportunity-recognizing mode.

PSB: a massage and a steam bath already sound heavenly! But yes, I think your point about taking ownership is good. Maybe I will try to schedule some one-on-one time with folks instead of parties when possible.

BasedBuzzed: ha, I hadn't thought of it that way! You're right, the bar is probably not as high as I think.

Thank you all, you are the best!
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Post by ChrissyOrig on Mon Apr 13, 2015 11:07 pm

kleenestar wrote:I do pretty well socially but only because I have practiced certain skills and seek out contexts where I can perform excellently. I am super, super out of my depth.

The stakes are high in two ways. First, there's always the possibility of a massive fuckup and losing access to this new and shiny world. But I also I am concerned that I will invest a lot of time in doing these things (they all involve significant travel) and not actually get anything out of them - especially given that the potential upside is huge. I just don't quite know what I can do to practice or prepare given that I don't quite know what that upside looks like concretely.

I am looking for advice, and also HOLY SHITBALLS did I mention HOLY SHITBALLS.

Hi, not sure if this is what you're looking for... but first, when you say that in other contexts you can perform excellently, what does that mean? Do you know or have a feeling for what your goals are for these events? Also, I really doubt you're out of your depth. As someone else said, celebs have to deal with so many [choose your own word here], that most of them are very relieved to have conversations with intelligent, thoughtful, appreciative people. Also, in general, many of them have wide-ranging interests and are delighted to meet someone with expertise in a different area.

If you already know who some of the people are that you're interested in meeting, then maybe do some fantasizing about what you'd like that to be like. In my experience, no matter how famous someone is, if you can give them an insight or perspective that's new and different, or even ask a really well-thought-out question, things get off to a great start.

My best advice, though, is to enjoy the events. Stay in the moment and try to forget about what the payoff might be. The worst possible case is that you end up with some great stories to tell. [And let us know what happens, if you can!]

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Post by kath on Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:24 am

I think tChrissy's advice to enjoy the events is great.

I also think having a mantra / thought to think when you feel silly might be helpful. Because you'll probably feel silly at some point, even if only because this is a skill set you think of as being a challenge for you and you feel out of your depth. But you are probably your harshest critic, so having something you can think about to power through times you're feeling awkward might help (Like, 'AUGH THIS IS SCARY but if I can keep talking to this person for 10 more seconds I can bring up this topic that is relevant to both of our interests / one of the Upsides', or 'this feels weird but that is all it does' or 'feeling weird is not being weird' or something, depending on the ways you motivate and comfort yourself).

Also, is there something you can bring to the event that would be calming? Like, could you arrange to have your favourite tea and just get the water warmed up, or bring those little portable vials of scented gel that are supposed to be used to calm yourself*, or something soft to stroke, or whatever works for soothing you that you can do discreetly in a public setting?

And, finally, can you schedule breaks for yourself during the party? Will there be somewhere outside you could go for 5 mins out of every half-hour or something? (I'm imagining the washrooms will not be calming) You could use this as strategize time or "see who's outside - anyone I want to say hi to?" time if you need to rationalize it, or you could just use it as break time.

*I used these a lot during a really difficult job and I found they helped.
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Post by reboot on Tue Apr 14, 2015 8:54 am

Nothing much to add to the great advice, but socializing with professional socializers such as politicians, Hollywood sorts, etc is actually easier than socializing with others. It is a bit like dancing follow with a good dancer as lead, even if you are not good they will make everything look great.

They are also the sort that will not remember middle to severe social flubs, trust me, they have seen worse than anything you can imagine and then some. Being famous or semi famous can evoke some strange reactions in people, so as long as you do not try to cut off any hair, steal clothing, call anyone a lizard alien and try to stab them, etc. you are gold.

Downside is this is a group that it is hard to make any impression on at all because they do so many of these events. If there are any politicians you want to catch the eye of, I recommend spending more time with their aide(s) than them, since the aides control all access to the politician post event. PAs sort of play the same role of others, but not to the degree you see in politicians.

Now another plus side of being the not famous in a room full of famous people is that you can slip out for some introvert down time at any point. As a "nobody", people are not paying attention to what you are doing, so you can drop in for a half hour-hour, leave to recharge and come to the next party and no one will notice you left the earlier one. As long as it is groups of 20+, though, under 20 and even the " nobodies " are noticed.
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Post by kleenestar on Wed Apr 15, 2015 4:30 pm

I'm really good at one-on-one interactions, and at structured social engagements like giving lectures, attending an academic conference, etc. I do relatively well in small groups, though I find it much more exhausting than either of the other two - giving a speech to a hundred people energizes me, while game night leaves me totally wiped. I'm both exhausted by parties and not very good at them.

I think what's making me so nervous is knowing that there are invisible rules for how one behaves at these events. They look like a series of parties and informal conversations, but there is deep structure behind them that I'm ignorant of and is invisible to me. I know just enough to know it's there, but not enough to actually navigate it successfully.

I will also probably be the fattest person in the room, which is usually something that doesn't bother me but is worrying me in this context. I'm going to solve this with leather pants if humanly possible!

That said, being awesome one-on-one is how I got invites to two of these three events - in one case, because of a conversation I had with someone four years ago! so clearly I said something memorable - so maybe that will be my touchstone. I'll navigate the parties as best I can, and try to find opportunities to connect with people one at a time where possible.

I'll also be honest and vulnerable about my limitations if I think things are becoming awkward. I suspect some of the attendees will find it refreshing, as long as I don't do it in a way that dumps my needs on them. Fortunately this is also something I have practice with in other contexts.

Thanks again for everyone's very helpful thoughts! I am beginning to develop a strategy here. Smile
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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Wed Apr 15, 2015 4:47 pm

kleenestar wrote:
I think what's making me so nervous is knowing that there are invisible rules for how one behaves at these events. They look like a series of parties and informal conversations, but there is deep structure behind them that I'm ignorant of and is invisible to me. I know just enough to know it's there, but not enough to actually navigate it successfully.

The good news with those is you're likely to get an idea of them during the low impact meet and greet phase and can either adjust to or tactically ignore them once you et to the real meat of the event. They're also probably unwritten rules, which means everyone has a slightly different take on them and a small gaffee won't mean eternal ostracism from the Halls Of Power.

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Post by Caffeinated on Wed Apr 15, 2015 5:43 pm

kleenestar wrote:I think what's making me so nervous is knowing that there are invisible rules for how one behaves at these events. They look like a series of parties and informal conversations, but there is deep structure behind them that I'm ignorant of and is invisible to me. I know just enough to know it's there, but not enough to actually navigate it successfully.

Maybe one of your techniques could be doing close observation at the parties in order to learn the invisible rules. An interesting social experiment rather than a personal trial.
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