"Working the Room"

(...as it applies to Networking and Neuro-Linguistic Programming)

© 2009 Jackson Gillman


Ist place story told by Jackson Gillman at the 12/14/09 MassMouth Story Slam, the theme of which was “It’s My Job” (This is a written approximation of what was told.)

This is my job. Although I don’t always get paid for doing it, case in point. And I love my job except for the part which I’m not very good at which is figuring out how to get paid to do my job. In fact, I often have to invest a lot of time and money into trying to get myself hired by registering for showcases, tradeshows, conferences and learning how best to market oneself.

To that end, I went to a meeting of the National Speakers Association a while back, specifically interested in the session being offered that day by Diane Darling, who is an expert on networking. It was held at a big conference center in Westford and when I arrived, there was a board in the lobby steering people to the different events that day. The Boilermakers Union was meeting in the Bolton Room, oh, and the Speakers Association was in the Summit Room.

Diane gave us pointers about “working the room.” And she explained that when you work free-lance, interactions with anyone can be valuable marketing opportunities, so “the room” is everywhere. She gave us lots of really practical tips about meeting people, and talked about things like handshakes, eye contact, opening lines, and shmooze techniques. Then she had us all mingle amongst each other practicing all the things we learned. For someone like me who is rather introverted off-stage, this was all very helpful, especially getting to apply the lessons right away.

There was another presenter that day, Mark Shepard, who gave us an introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP for short. In a nutshell, it’s a subtle science of how one can create affinity with another person by getting in sync with their mannerisms. For example, if you’re talking on the phone with someone who talks in a s-l-o-w drawl, and you counter that with a fast-paced patter, you’re likely to create more of a polarization. Where as if you match their speech pattern, that person will be much more comfortable talking with you.

When you’re meeting with someone in person, there are a lot more things that come into play, like their posture, their comfort zone for personal space, how tactile they are, how they gesticulate. You can pay attention to their breathing pattern, and breath with them. You can even match their eye blinks. And the science behind this supports the idea that you can actually win friends and influence people with this tool. The other person might not know why, but they’ll subliminally just like you more if you can get on similar wave lengths with them. Again, Mark had us work the room and try doing this with each other. It was absolutely fascinating.

During a break, another man and I went into the men’s room and approached our respective urinals at the same time. I noticed that we unzipped at the exact same time. Then I could hear that we even started our streams at the same time.

Now there’s kind of an unwritten law that when you’re hanging out, so to speak, with a stranger at neighboring urinals, you look straight ahead, you don’t make small talk, or big talk, you just do your business and zip it. Well, we’d just been at a workshop all about networking and working the proverbial room and I didn’t see why that should exclude the men’s room, so I put myself out there and said –

Well, I wonder if urinating at the same time creates a bond too.

I am expecting a laugh and joking response in kind, but there’s just silence. A really awkward silence…

…You are with the Speakers group, aren’t you?

Then I notice his Boilermakers Union pin.

Where could I even begin to try and explain why I came out with that question? Nowhere. It wasn’t even worth trying. If he asked me, I know what the worst answer would be, even if it were the truth: Well, I’m just doing my job.

Now if either of us zipped up any faster, one of us could’ve lost something. Again, it was at the very same time(!) but I don’t think any bond was created here. On the contrary, at that point I don’t which one of us was more eager to get the hell out of that rest room.

But when I got back to the speakers meeting, I shared what had just happened and they thought it was a pisser, and it was. And now, I’ve shared it with you simply because – it’s my job.

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