This weekend is the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It’s in Chicago, so naturally I am in attendance. Fortunately for me, my work with AWIS qualifies me as a member of the press, and thus I attend for free. Its basically a chance to listen to scientists talk about cool stuff. As we all know, I’m all about that.
In addition to being a meeting of minds, it’s also a meeting of people, and there are various mixers, breakfasts and other social events for people to meet and network. This evening was no different – downtown at the Aon Club, a gathering was held for science writers to mix, mingle and chat. There was food, drinks, and even a band and dancefloor. I went, hoping to meet some people from the biggies (Wired, Time, Science) or some of the specialty publications like Space.com, or locals like Chicago Tribune or even some tiny little publications. I figured I could meet some friendly faces and maybe make some good contacts to get freelance work, or hell, maybe even a foot in the door for a job.
However, when i got there, the place was full of so many people it was intimidating, and the music was so loud you couldn’t get a read on what people were discussing. Normally, I’d pass by and listen to a snipet of what people in a cluster were saying to figure out if they were friends or coworkers (and thus, keep walking) or strangers conversing (and thus potentially join in). So, with that option out the window, and with the event much larger than I had expected, I panicked a bit. Here is how the night went.
8:05: Arrive at networking event fashionably late. (Oh god, there are a lot of people here. Nice bathroom! Complementary mouthwash. Swanky…)
8:07: Crap, everyone is already paired and grouped up. Go to the bar. “Gin and tonic, lemon no lime, please.”
8:10: Good good, drink in hand. Now, circulate and find a group to join or person to meet.
8:14: Circulate! Oh god, FIND someone. Recall the part of the movie Bridget Jones Diary when she’s at a book launch party and keeps telling herself to circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.
8:20: Found a woman by herself. She was short and old, which made her not intimidating. Turns out she is a Wilmette native who wrote a book about natural places to visit in Chicago – parks, lakefront, prairies, etc. The book was written 10 years ago, though, and although I ask her a lot about herself, she asks very little about me. The conversation is essentially rather boring, so I excuse myself. Bust.
8:25: Not sure what to do next, so I decide to station myself next to a window. Look out the window, over Millennium Park. Realize this is right next to a building where my friend rented a condo for a couple months.
8:28: Text to Carrie from School: “I’m right by your Chicago condo complex. :)”
8:30: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.
8:31: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.
8:32: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.
8:33: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.
8:34: Circulate throughout the room, oozing OH GOD, I am Bridget Jones. OK, this has to stop. Text to Carrie: “Dear God. How do you mingle w strangers?”
8:35: Forward message to Carrie to several other people who might have advice or consolation for me. Genuine fear has set in. Station self near another window. Look comfortable and at ease, dude. Text from Carrie: “Well, you ask them about themselves. Most people love talking about themselves.” Write back to tell her its the approach I’m finding hard.
8:38: Woman comes up to me -YAY! Begin to feel excited and confident that my standing still by a window paid off until she says, “Hi. You looked alone and pretty unsure of what to do while you nursed your drink, so I thought I should come over and talk to you!” Oh god, I suck. It makes me feel about 2 inches tall, but at least she means well. Conversation is rather pedantic and consists mainly of awkward inconsequential small talk. She’s not a journalist, but is here with her husband. We have nothing in common. I excuse myself, inventing an exit line. “Thanks for coming over and chatting; I’m going to make a call to see if my friend from the Tribune is still planning to come by. Nice to meet you.” (Note: there is no friend from the Tribune – I made him up.) “Thanks again for chatting.” Stop thanking her! She came over because you looked pathetic. Now you sound pathetic too! Get away!
8:45: Check text messages. From Lizzy: “What? Where are you? Small talk is brutal.” (Respond: “Ugh, Meet n greet.”) From VoW: “Find the geeks. Stare down the boring and creepy ones.” (Respond: “Yes! Hmmmm.”) From Carrie: “Well, pick a group, not too small, not too big. Find something to notice about them…necklace, shoes, book. Introduce and ask about them. You’re in!” (Respond: “Compliment! OK.”) From Jason, and others: “I hate mingling.” From Grant: “You’re asking the wrong person. Going OK in general?” (Respond: “50/50. But tortuous.”)
8:52: Look for geeks. Realize that I’m surrounded by science writers and everyone is a geek, but since they are all already in conversations and have real science writing jobs, they are all cooler than me at this moment. I tapped out of the weak members of the herd when I talked to the old lady.
8:55: See a girl with a purse that is cute. Bonus: she’s all alone and roughly my age. Stalk her (literally, followed her around until I could “bump” into her). “Excuse me, but that clutch is really cute!” Turns out she got it at Old Navy. Have a lovely conversation and it is clear that we both have no idea what we’re doing and are greatful for conversation.
9:12: Conversation naturally peters out. I excuse myself by saying I’m going to check in with my (still fake) friend at the Tribune, and I go off in search of more purses to compliment.
9:20: Alright, that was yet another lap around the room. Go get a coke from the bar.
9:22: Standing in line for the drink ticket lady, I happen to look back over my shoulder and recognize the man standing behind me is Jeremy, a longtime acquaintence of mine from the Chicago Tribune who has just arrived! (Do you see the irony here?) Recognize him, he recognizes me and introduces me to his wife. Turns out he left the Trib and now works elsewhere. We discuss a bit before getting interrupted by the drink ticket lady. I want to reestablish the conversation, but it is obvious he intends to speak to another gentleman standing with him and talking to his wife. Give him my card and ask him to contact me regarding his current work, leave gracefully, though nonetheless disappointed that I can’t even have a conversation with the one person in the room I legitimately know.
9: 35: Ponder the irony of the situation. Try to engage a guy in conversation, but no bite. He’s on his way out the door.
9:37: Sit down outside to read newest text message from Carrie congratulating me on having at least one good conversation when am interrupted by 40-something guy:
Guy: Hey, have you seen this view?!
Me: Um, well, yeah, uh (follow the guy to the window).
Guy: Great stuff. Hey have you eaten here yet?
Me: Oh no, I didn’t eat here, I ate earlier.
Guy: Oh, so you haven’t had dinner yet?
Me: No, I did. Just earlier. (Do not yet realize he’s hitting on me.)
Guy: Oh well, I was hoping to get out on the town, hear some music, grab a bite…
Me: Yeah, that sounds nice! (That’s right dear friends. I am so starved for conversation and un-aloneness that I still do not realize what is happening here.)
Guy: OK, well then let’s go. (Michevous wink.)
Me: (Oh crap. I am an idiot.) Um, no thanks.
Guy: C’mon, let’s go…
Me: (Ew.) Thanks, but I’m declining.
Continue awkward conversation with guy-who-wants-hook-up so that flat out refusing him doesn’t feel so mean. Eventually he leaves, no doubt to find someone else to hit on.
9:45: Consider that this might be a sign from God that it is time to leave. Decide to circulate the room once more.
9:47: Ick, boring and awkward. Leave event.
The rest of the night was an adventure in trying to find my car, but that’s a different post for a different day.
Now, as I blog this, I have determined that the combination of people I did meet and talk to essentially represents the stereotypical meet and greet. I met a boring person, had an awkward chat, met a nice person, reconnected with an old acquaintence, and got hit on. All in all, the standard professional mixer, I should think.
I count my five “encounters,” if you will, as neutral-loss-win-win-loss. I guess its not bad for being a total fish out of water, but it could have been better. Later this week is an event for AWIS that I’ll probably attend, and I am guaranteed to know the most important person in the room there and for many other people to know of me and/or my work, so that promises to be a better time overall.
In sum, that was a rather tortuous event. Glad to be home.