A room full of strangers and you. A table with name tags and colorful markers. Business cards and awkward conversation escapes. An overeager host standing at the door, telling you to get out there and mingle.
It’s my third networking event of the week and I’m exhausted. Shaking hands and making small talk is something I’m good at, but it’s not my favorite. Instead, especially tonight, I can imagine myself sitting at home with a glass of wine and writing an overdue blog.
This time though, my friends rally me to walk downtown and join the event. Fortunately it’s with a few people I’ve met before and a generally easy crowd.
As we approach the bar, three young men crowd the doorway, asking for ID’s. We approach with our hands in our purses, rifling around for our wallets.
“Just kidding!” One of the men says. “We’re just standing here for fun, you can come in.”
One of my friends, having no tolerance for lameness, walks into the event leaving me and another friend behind. We stay for a bit, chat and give them tips about how to not pick up ladies.
After talking for a few minutes, I learn that they are not there for our event, but that they work for a well-known beer company and are visiting Denver. They immediately offer to buy us drinks and I decide to be bold. As one leaves we get to talking about their company, what they do, why they’re in town.
The man comes back with two drinks and my friend declines. I double fist two cold beers.
“What I really want to know is who is here that I can talk about corporate social responsibility.”
They laugh. Actually, he’s here. One of the men points across the bar.
“You should meet Jim. I’ll introduce you.”
Jim walks over and we begin to talk. It turns out that the director of corporate social responsibility is his good friend. He whips out his phone and gives me her email and phone number.
“Are you sure that’s ok?” I ask, shocked at the level of personal information.
“Yeah. It’s actually great that you asked.” He lifts his glass and toasts my two beers.
What I didn’t tell him is that I had been trying to get a personal connection to this person for the year that I’ve been in the United States. This woman’s work is inspiring to me and I wanted the chance for a one on one conversation. His nonchalant offer of her information was thrilling.
Talking to Jim reminded me why connecting to strangers is so important. Looking back over the past year, I’ve met some of the most interesting, dedicated and motivated at random social events or through other people’s connections.
I’ve started working with Justin, who has started his own version of a chamber of commerce for the sports and fitness industry.
I’ve met James who runs his own successful graphic design company who is continually encouraging me in my own projects.
I’ve become great friends with Carly who is a chiropractor, entreprenueress and co-social chair for our own community group.
Actually, there is a huge list of people I’ve stayed in touch with from these groups, so many that it’s hard to choose who to talk about. Most of them have all become friends of mine and have allowed me expanded my circles to include people from a wide-range of industries all over the state.
Thinking about the list of connections I’ve made in the past year is inspiring in itself. The strangers in the room all happened to be just like me, dreading the nametags but finding a reason to stick it out and start relationships.
We have to put ourselves out there because everybody starts the day alone. Eventually the vulnerability of walking into a room as an outsider brings you into something much greater. You could start a business, get advice, change your life, fall in love.
Or at least get some free beer.