Last night I went to a going away party for a well-known local funder. The room was jam packed with many of the VIPs in the arts ecology including funders of all shapes and sizes, presenters, artists and those that love the arts.
I wore my favorite dress, I re-applied my lipstick and I did my networking affirmation "I am confident, charming and articulate."
I walked into the packed room.
I didn't see anyone I immediately recognized.
Slight panic set in.
I tried to look calm and interesting, not socially desperate.
I headed for the bar and I got a white wine to ease the pain (slowly! slowly!)
I saw two of my favorite art stars that I am confident know my name and I headed to them (LESSON = go for some low hanging fruit!) Luckily they opened their backs to me and let me in to their conversation. (Beware the unturned back! It may not open to you!)
With a bit more social confidence under my belt, and a wee buzz of booze, I headed for higher hanging fruit! THE FUNDER WHO SCARES YOU!!
She was in a tight duet conversation. I was grabbed (luckily) by a super savvy colleague who is a masterful networker and she parted the social waters for me (LESSON! make friends with good schmoozers!) She asserted herself into the duet, gracefully reminded the Scary Funder who I was and made an elegant entree for me. (LESSON: have a salient, intriguing fact at your tongue's ready to get conversations going. Know it, believe it. Be generous to others with it!)
Alas, the SCARY FUNDER duet conversation didn't really open up to me and my pal. We all stood there, the four of us, but the duet stayed a duet, and we were left hanging. SOCIAL TERROR! all my high school angst reared up. I am not worthy. I am not popular.
Now, 1) the SCARY FUNDER knows, in her heart of hearts, that her access to money makes her the most tasty apple on the tree. (This truism, I am sure, is both awesome and sad. Do they love me for me? or for my money?)
2) Be gentle with yourself. Don't give up. Remember your worth in the situation. Stay present to the conversation and gently insert yourself when it is appropriate. Also, know when to leave! If they are ignoring you (which could happen!), then excuse yourself politely, and move on.
Numerous times last night I found myself standing solo and looking for my next conversation. I scanned the room, I asked trusted colleagues where so and so was or who was xyz. The ballsy and generous ones (thank you!) escorted me directly to them and paved the way. (Lesson: don't mess up their largesse though! Make the most of it, thank them and return the favor!)
SCARY FUNDER #2: Upon introduction to a generous funder to the arts community, I said something idiotic but heartfelt like, "Thank you for helping so many artists." She nearly kicked my shins. It was very odd. "Oh, I am going to walk away if you say things like that again" she replied. (Lesson ??? Some funders don't want you kissing their arses? Some funders want to just enjoy the party and not be pestered for money all the time? OF COURSE!)
Overall tips for managing this social networking madness:
Have a small glass of wine
Stay present and focused and talk about real things, don't just try and get some $ from some folks.
Have a few good ideas, tidbits, thoughts on your mind.
Ask questions of your conversation partners.
Be real, don't fake it. If you love what you do (and you do!) then let that love and care and curiosity infiltrate your conversations.