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Does networking give you 'the ick'?

I once spent three days and two nights networking on a cruise ship drifting around the Solent. ‘The Comms Boat’ was relentless. My extrovert was exhausted at the end of day one, the Highly Sensitive Person in me sulked for the next three months and my People Pleaser didn’t even get a look in! The organisers now run a very professional (and more pleasant) version out of a nice hotel. At the time however, ‘The Comms Boat’ had an, erm, ‘interesting’ reputation.

Here’s the downlow: three days on the cruise ship, completely free if you worked for a ‘Brand’, paid for by suppliers…which meant that every meal, drinks event, opportunity to breathe involved Design, PR, PA, video agencies pitching at you. There was A LOT of food and drink – again, all paid for by the suppliers. I really felt for them. If you were a supplier you had to sleep in even tinier quarters, had spent a fortune on the opportunity and needed to come off the boat with some serious leads for it to feel anything like worthwhile.

To add even more entertainment, the boat was shared by three other conferences: IT, Finance and HR Directors. Thousands of businesspeople, suited-and-booted, pitching at each other, while trying not to vomit over each other, thanks to the Solent’s clear rejection of being navigated by such a monstrosity.

Some clear and slightly distressing memories:

  • Our keynote speaker was no longer able to join the boat, due to the choppy waters (which also resulted in the swimming pool slopping all over the drinks reception), but we weren’t to worry as a group of about 20 young performers popped out of nowhere, leading us all to question where they’d been hidden until now…

  • As we were all carried from coaches towards the cruise ship I met a (married) IT Director. She told me that her first stop was the boat’s beauty salon, she needed to ‘get her epilation done’. I was mildly confused until I saw the state of the dance floor later. This was a version of networking that I was unfamiliar with.

  • Another big speaker was ready to lecture us on how he ran the Brexit campaign, at the time there were multiple accusations of dodginess involving misuse of Facebook data. Chloe Kembery and I refused to attend the talk, insisting on stomping around the outside of the boat angrily in protest (I’m sure he was devastated).

Why am I telling you this?

The boat was one of the most intense experiences of my career (I said 'one of'), but it was just about the biggest lesson in networking that I could have imagined. Because after a day or two of intense interaction, sea sickness, overwhelm and general weirdness, every single person on that boat had dropped all pretenses; we were all revealed to be the messy, funny, weird humans what we really were. I made some great friends on that boat, professional relationships founded on real humanity and vulnerability.

I have been to many networking events in my career, I ran a networking business for God’s sake (with Dan Selinger, of course…) and this is my Tip Top Secret Tip when you know you need to network, but it makes you feel icky: meet the human, not the name tag.

Shout out to Chloe KemberyJohnathan Tetsill and Amy MacLaren for keeping me company (sane) on that big weird boat.

What am I dancing to? 💃🏼 As I write this my 11 year old is painting banners for school with her friends and Helen Lundebye and 'Call Me Maybe' by Carly Rae Jepson is possibly the ultimate tween girl dance song. Or 'Firework' by Katy Perry.

This blog post came from my newsletter, Dancing in the moment, you can subscribe to these bi-weekly updates via LinkedIn.

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