Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just a greenhorn networker!

Today I was very busy preparing for a networking session I had just learned about aimed at business strategists, writers and inventors. I gotta start getting serious about my goal of becoming a published writer. No time like the present!

"How can I attend? I don't even have any name cards! What if...?"

Whether it was to show that my excuses for not attending or worries about being prepared once I got there were unfounded, my friend designed a simple but effective name card for me to pass out at the session. It contained only my name, profession, the link to my blog and my email address. My immediate goal was to promote my blog, since both my two books are very much works-in-progress. I made photocopies on card stock and cut them with a paper cutter so they would look fairly professional.

I had never networked before but I psyched myself up. Gone was the under confident, do-you-think-I-can-really-make-it-as-a-writer Amy. This new me had to believe that I already was one in order to sell myself! Apparently, there was to be a famous speaker at this event, and we had only half an hour to network. I would have to be efficient. The speaker seemed incidental to my goal of networking.

I arranged for transport to get to the event, then hurried to be ready to leave after a quick dinner. As I waited, thoughts assailed me. What if people avoid networking with me cause they think I can't see? What should I do? Maybe I shouldn't go after all.

"Of course you should go!" My friend sounded exasperated. "It's up to you to make others feel comfortable. Make small talk. That's how conversations open up."

My ride arrived and off I went.

Countdown to network: twenty minutes. Ten minutes. five minutes. 6:30! Time to mingle!

One glance around said that might be a challenge. There were so few people! I saw only five or six, total. The attendant offered to sign in for me but I assured her that I could see well enough to do that myself. I then proceeded to prove that I could by doing it.

Afterwards. the blond-haired woman guided me over to the water table and asked me kindly, "How can I help you? What do you need?"

I felt puzzled; I didn't 'need' anything, except to pour water from the pitcher and to begin networking.

"You will hear many people saying that to you tonight," she added.

My first thought was "I am perfectly capable of navigating myself through this networking session on my own, no worries."

It has only been two months since I have been using my cane. As a result, I am sensitive about my independence and what I can accomplish even though I have vision limitations. People don't know how much I can still see, and they don't ask. They often assume that I am completely blind and can do little or nothing by myself. This irks me.

But after the woman spoke to me a little bit more, I realized that the "How can I help you? What do you need?" are catch phrases designed to help people network more effectively and had nothing to do with my vision issues whatsoever! I smiled. I felt energized once more.

I have so much to learn! I'm just a greenhorn!

"Uh, I am a-a writer." I must attempt to sound more polished! Oh no, I even forgot to offer my name card-- though she promised to send me some information for copywriters. Next time, I'll get it right! As the woman sauntered off to ask another how she could help and what was needed, I prepared myself.

Networking, here I come! I squared my shoulders and set off for a group of three that I saw talking.I listened for awhile but then jumped in. "So you invented a game--?" I asked one of the women. She nodded and launched into a how-great-this-organization-is spiel. "And what about you two?" I asked warmly as I turned to the other two.

"I have a cleaning business." the other woman said.

"I'm just here to cart her purse," joked a silver-haired gentleman with a moustache.

"Do you have a card?" There! I got the words out just as I had been coached. As soon as I got hers, I could go ahead and offer the first of my own thirty-two cards. I could hardly wait!

The woman raised an eyebrow, "Do you need someone to clean your home?"

No! This is not the way it is supposed to work! You are supposed to offer it kindly with a smile on your face and ask for mine in return, or at least give me a chance to offer it!

She motioned to the silver-haired gentleman who stepped away from the group to fetch her coat. She fished into a pocket before returning the coat to her friend. "As a matter of a fact, I do." She handed it to me casually.

"Oh! I have one, too." I almost felt like I should present it in the Japanese way since this was a big deal for me. But I caught myself in time. Get a grip! You're not in Japan anymore!

The words were barely out of my mouth when the woman with the cleaning company suddenly left me standing alone. She rushed off to meet someone who I surmised would benefit her more. A few feet away, she turned as if just remembering our conversation "Excuse me, I see someone I know."

"Oh, have you been here--?" I was going to say before but she was long gone.

"Keep smiling, Amy!" I desperately tried to scope out someone--anyone else--to continue networking off my remaining thirty-one cards. Unfortunately, my time ran out. The regional director stepped up to the microphone. Everyone quickly took their seats. After a couple of minutes, she introduced the keynote speaker, a famous entrepreneur.

He was exciting and motivating - though some of his speech went over my head; the personal stories and entrepreneurial stuff seemed to blend together in one continuous blurb that everyone found very funny. I found myself missing key points. He did have a commanding presence, however.

Afterwards I had a chance to mentor with him briefly and he convinced me that I had the ability to not only write a book about my father but also a screenplay of his life! The speaker led another man to dream that he, too, could get published. After hearing about his talents, the speaker suggested that he write a practical book utilizing his psychological background. "Entitle it, 'We're All Nuts!' We are all nuts in one way or another. It's something we can all relate to. It'll be a best seller!" It was as if proclaiming made it true. Everyone clapped in delight.

To the fabulous baker in our midst, he gestured grandly, "Rename your business..." he looked in my direction as if to inspire himself, then snapped his fingers, " something like "The Gingerbread House." He then swept her off her feet with his enthusiastic marketing and branding possibilities. Our speaker encouraged the out-of-work business man who'd worked for big companies all his life only to be laid-off now just before retirement, "My company can get you networking with other companies. Tell them you want to be the chairman and demand five percent of the profits. We'll put your skills to good use!" The frown on the businessman's face turned to a smile and he began to nod in agreement as he saw himself in this new, much more positive role.

Our speaker was in the business of flaming our grandest hopes, much more so than we dared to envision on our own . He believed BIG. We each saw our dreams in vibrant technicolor as we entered the spotlight tonight. Very heady stuff!

But at the end of the night, my pocket still held thirty-one name cards and my pocketbook was void of the thousands of dollars I needed in order join this outfit to become the screenplay writer I was intended to be.

But it was a great experience! I'm one sweep of my cane closer to becoming the writer I want to be. Next time I won't be so green...maybe red in the face, but not green.

Oh Lord, I'm thankful that you showed me this opportunity and provided me with a friend that didn't allow me to back out when my fears threatened to overcome me.

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