Networking: The Dark Side

By June Campbell

It's a well known truism that that you can't succeed in business without attending a variety of networking events. Do this, it is promised, and the gods will smile upon you and your entrepreneurial activity. You will MAKE CONTACTS. You will LEARN NEW SKILLS. You will enjoy the support and encouragement of OTHERS LIKE YOU.

You will also, I opine, run the risk of driving yourself stark raving mad. Take, for example, my last journey to the Promised Land of Networking.

It was a three- hour session. The topic was sales. Now, that's a good topic. If you're in business, sales is where it's at. No sales, no income. Bottom line. So lured by the possibility of improving my less-than-exemplary sales techniques, I ventured, business cards in hand, to the Networking Event.

It started out uneventfully. We self-selected ourselves by sitting at a table of six. Introductions began. Two women at my table identified themselves as practitioners of Reiki, an alternative health care practice. Immediately recognizing one another as kindred spirits, these two would-be entrepreneurs emitted high-pitched squeals of joy, reminiscent of the mating call of two modems connecting over a phone line. Now, let me be quick to explain that I am not bad mouthing Reiki or any other alternative approach to healthcare. The business could just as easily have been potted plants or low-fat ice cream or raising Siamese cats. It just happens that in this case, it was Reiki.

Throughout the three hours that followed, Reiki Practitioner I and Reiki Practitioner II discussed the object of their passion loudly and incessantly.

If I said it was a distraction, I would be minimizing. I could say it was on a par with major building construction going on just outside your office window. That would be only a tiny exaggeration, and one that would surely be excused on the grounds of poetic license.

There were four others at this table. You've probably seen television documentaries about persons bonding together for mutual support when trapped in a crisis situation. They huddle together, exchanging confidences, offering encouragement, showing pictures of their families, trading recipes. We would have done those things had we been able to make ourselves heard over the loud, high-pitched voices. As it was, we were reduced to rolling our eyes and treating the offenders to "group glares."

Not that our offenders were responsive to anything so subtle as a group glare. Nor did they respond to subtle or not-so-subtle hints. Eventually, the more assertive member of the Group of Four suggested to the Gruesome Twosome that they might like to relocate to a private table at the back of the room. The response was raucous laughter accompanied by a hand gesture that my kids tell me is called flipping the bird.

The ordeal finally drew to a close. Before we could make our escape, our two women turned to us and laid it on the line. Their beliefs exposed them to ongoing prejudice and discrimination. People were intolerant. "I was staying with one family," explained Reiki Practitioner II. "And they kicked me out. They said I was a WITCH!" (Note: the actual word used could have been one that rhymes with witch).

My composure evaporated. Suddenly convinced that I was on Candid Camera, I preened for the hidden lens and scanned the room looking for Suzanne Somers. I'm sure you'll be able to catch me on TV some evening. I'm the demented looking one who's flapping her business cards in the air and waving her brochures for the camera.

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