Young Associates gala takes the dread out of networking

People mixing at the Young Associates Black & White Gala.
People mixing at the Young Associates Black & White Gala.

Networking sometimes just seems like a dirty word. Especially for Gen Y-ers who want their playtime to be actual playtime and an unwinding experience. We haven’t grown up too much yet.
In past years, I’ve seen my beautifully dressed friends appear at an after-hours party post the Young Associates (YA) gala; they always seemed pretty “loosened up,” and they were happy to be joining our informal party, but they also seemed glad to have had their time at the YA ball.
Did I mention they looked super dashing?
When the opportunity came up to attend the Young Associates gala as media, I was totally game – as long as I had someone to go with.
The work engagement made it sort of an obligation, though a fortunate one at that. But, you’ve gotta agree: it just isn’t possible to do the party-network alone.
I’ve seen people do it, and they are the unicorns of this world that are so rare they’re almost not even real. (I know, unicorns aren’t real – how depressing is that to just say outright?)
They have that affability to make them seem totally enthused to be hanging out alone, and then they easily transition to socializing with strangers with the familiarity and likeability of a longtime friend.
What the hell do these people drink? (I want what they’re having.)
For the less advanced networkers (so, really, all 7 billion of us, minus the few existing unicorns), it is a necessary crutch to roll with a friend. Bonus points if that friend has a pretty sizable network or knows friends going to the event, which will lead you to be extended to their network by association.
Luckily, this was me that night. (Whoop!)
I was fortunate enough to have someone in the same boat as myself – sort of wanting to do the whole thing but to make it as enjoyable as possible – and we did just that.
The event was a success on the fun-o-meter, and oddly enough, went well on the “networking” front.
Before you groan (I heard that), I’ll explain what I mean by networking.
I basically only talk to whoever I’m introduced to by the person I’m with, or someone that I know peripherally (through mutual friends) – at least enough to have something to say.
It’s not because I’m some big snob and don’t want to meet new people; it’s just that, like for many of us, the thought of going up to a complete stranger with no material is super uncomfortable.
Sometimes I even chicken out if there’s someone I want to meet because I know of them, but can’t think of an appropriate opening.
I think I get gun-shy because millennials have a sharp bullshit detector – that’s probably why we sometimes think networking is icky or smarmy.
But really, networking is best when (like a unicorn), it’s completely invisible.
If you forget you’re networking, you might just have a good time at an event, and incidentally have met a few new people along the way.
The more genuine the connections are, the more they mean anyway. I’ve met people at events in the past where we’ve awkwardly, or at least, not meaningfully, been cohabitating a table and made light conversation, and I’m sure none of them would remember my name today. Nor would I.
But if you have fun at a party with your partner-in-crime, and they’re nice enough to introduce you every time they run into friends, you’ll totally get into some better than run-of-the-mill conversations.
You may even exchange the odd card, without it being the nightmare you just pictured in your head.
I think that’s pretty much the lifeblood of networking: its own disappearing act.

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