high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

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A neatly stacked, perfectly organized hell
Today in lieu of my usual walk to work in the morning I hopped in my car and traveled over highwayed hill and dale to that mythical, far-off place....actually, make that "foulest of abominations"....the Easton Town Center.  If you aren't familiar with Easton, let me tell you about it.  There are fountains and trees and decorations, all of which sound lovely on paper.  But their true purpose is dark and sinister, for they are merely intended to distract you from the fact that you are slowly forfeiting your soul.  You see, Easton is a giant outdoor mall ('outdoor' in the sense that all the stores have outside entrances), full of evil the likes of which this world has never see...er....sees in every major city.  There are strollers, and piped music, and Pottery Barn.  Let me reiterate that as you walk through Easton and observe all these things, your soul is slowly leaving your earthly form.  This is why the models in the Abercrombie & Fitch store windows look so forlorn.

Fortunately, my time at Easton was actually to be spent in the giant Hilton there and not in the mall area.  Being in the Hilton is kind of like losing your soul in its own way, but you at least get a continental breakfast.  My trip to the Hilton was made necessary by a conference I was attending for work, put on by a (rich) legal firm, so the continental breakfast promised to be especially grand.  And by grand I mean "tastes really good," because the focus of legal firms hosting continental breakfasts is getting potential clients to like them, not to make the potential clients healthy.  Fresh fruit?  Maybe a fresh fruit pastry.  Whole wheat toast?  Fah!  I will swipe that away with one fell swoop of my bear claw.  Bacon?!  How dare you bring that before....oh wait, bacon is okay.

Eating healthy can be a challenge at times in the work week, especially when it comes to packing things to take to the office.  It is far easier to buy a burger than it is to put together a salad.  Grabbing a candy bar in the afternoon is quicker, and more satisfying, than cutting up some raw vegetables ahead of time.  Taking a piece of fruit for the morning isn't too bad, as pieces of fruit are easily portable, but only oranges and bananas really seem to be readily available at all times.  Both are tasty, but you can only eat so many bananas, and oranges can be troublesome.  Ever tried peeling and eating a citrus fruit at your desk?  If you have, then you too have probably found yourself covered in citrus juice, vainly looking for a napkin on your citrus juice-covered desk, with a look on your face that says "What just happened?" right as the CEO stops by and extends his hand in greeting.  Yes, that same citrus fruit may peel nice and easy at home over the sink, but get it to work and it suddenly transforms into a citrus bomb.  There is such a thing as an easy-peel orange, commonly known as a clementine, but these are small, making it necessary to carry at least three, and seemingly a seasonal fruit like apples, despite being nothing more than a miniature orange with magic skin.

P is for pastries
So yes, attending a conference is a good excuse to give up on all that trouble for a day.  In fact, if you brought your own healthy food to a conference, it would probably be seen as bad etiquette, or at least like you were trying to show up everyone else.  It would be like wearing a suit, knowing full well that a conference is the perfect time and place to have casual Friday on Thursday, and that every other attendee  is going to show up in a button-down shirt at best, certainly with no tie.  Needless to say, the casual dress easily translates into a casual approach in general, and if you're still taking notes on the inevitably provided printout of the Powerpoint slides after the first few minutes, then you've completely missed the boat.  Everyone knows that you focus up at first, taking a few notes on the easily understood intro slides, feeling pretty good about how well you are grasping the material, but then quickly fade out and barely manage to turn the pages of your handout to keep up with the slides being presented, wondering when the first 15-minute break will arrive so that you can get yourself another bear claw.  Yea, if you want to be the jerk wearing a suit, intently listening and taking notes, you risk angering those around you.  Behavior like that is probably going to get the apple slapped out of your hand and get you dragged outside for a beating by fingers covered in powdered sugar.  Serves you right too.

Of course, going to a conference isn't all fun and games.  Real work must be done, and specifically I'm talking about the practice of "networking."  If you aren't familiar with networking, here is the 101 idiot's guide to how you do it:

1. Find a seat in the conference hall that is reasonably close to others so that you don't look like a complete loser sitting off by yourself, but not so close that people think you're "getting up on them."

2. Give a cursory glance over the Powerpoint printout sitting at your place and pick up/put down the pen and notepad inevitably provided by the conference center, and then glance unassumingly at the nearest person.

3. When the person looks back at you, give a faint smile and offer your hand, saying "Hi, I'm (your name) from (your work location)."

4. The person, if following proper conference etiquette, will already have forgotten your name, despite the fact that you are wearing a stick-on nametag inevitably provided by the conference organizer at the check-in table, and will respond with "Hi, I'm (their name) from (their work location)."  You can immediately forget this information.

5. Both you and the person you have just met will say "Nice to meet you."  Neither of you actually cares.  It is understood.  Some authors have written books about the importance of networking and how to employ little tricks to remember people's names and demonstrate genuine interest.  However, because people don't read, these authors end up sharing their tips, ironically, at conferences in conference centers with continental breakfasts, and nobody listens to them while they're talking.

The Powerbar for networkers
6. Make some small talk with your newfound "contact," asking about what the other person does for their job, searching for something of personal value in it or some personal connection, like a shared acquaintance.  If nothing arises, the conversation may be a bit awkward, but you can be satisfied that you have put in a hard day's work and can return your undivided attention to more important things, like the mint inevitably provided at your place by the conference center.  If some shared connection is uncovered, you will have a few brief panic moments realizing that you don't know the person's name despite the fact that they just told it to you, but unless they try to maintain eye contact you'll be able to steal a glance at their nametag.  Only a jerk, probably wearing a suit, would actually try to maintain eye contact while you're talking.

7. At the first 15-minute break, make a passing comment to the person.  If you made a previous connection, your job is a little more difficult - go to step 8.  If no previous connection was made, skip step 8 and go to step 9.

8. Make some more small talk and build on the connection, searching for something of personal value.  Try to make a joke to show that you are funny and confident.  If the person laughs, further demonstrate your confidence by excusing yourself and then strolling around with your hands in your pockets and looking satisfied.  You can skip step 9 and go to step 10.  If the person does not laugh at your joke, go to step 9.

9. Pretend to be checking text messages on your cell phone.  If you need to extend the time, pretend to listen to voicemails.

10. With about 20 minutes left in the conference, quietly get up, gather your notebook and Powerpoint printout, give a faint smile and nod to the person, and walk out.  This will show that you are both a person who is a busy professional and who can't stay to the end of the conference, and a knowledgeable professional who has nothing further to learn from the presenter.  If you've managed to pull off all the preceding steps perfectly, you can reward yourself by throwing your Powerpoint printout in the trash on the way out.  Well done.

There you have it, an easy 10-step guide to networking at a conference.  Just posting this on a blog doesn't seem to do it justice.  Maybe there is a better forum to share this valuable information...

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