Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Networking tales from the socially challenged

After I joined Romance Writers of America last week, author/blogger Jeffe Kennedy kindly educated me about the different branches of the organization. With one branch, she explained, I’d have access to special meetings and events.

“Meetings?” I asked weakly. “Like – in person?”

It’s not that I’m antisocial. Though I prefer my human interaction to be virtual, my career in marketing & corporate communications forced me to participate in plenty of in-person networking activities over the years.

I just wasn’t very good at it.

One group of local marketing professionals used to hold monthly luncheons. They were well attended, and always provided an excellent opportunity for networking and education.

They were also an excellent opportunity for me to demonstrate why I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house.

The first time I went, I moved through the buffet line chatting amicably with a colleague about a direct mail campaign. Spotting the brownies, I set one on the edge of my plate and reached for the spoon nestled in a giant bowl of whipped cream.

“So we’ll be using radio spots to get the buzz started before the piece drops,” I explained as I spooned a hefty scoop of whipped cream onto my brownie.

The brief look of horror that crossed her face probably should have alerted me to impending danger, but it didn’t. I assumed she was counting calories.

Smug in the knowledge of my remarkably high metabolism, I marched back to our table to continue the conversation.

“So what sort of ROI have you been seeing on your new campaign?” I said as I scooped the whipped cream off my brownie and spooned it in my mouth.

The moment my lips closed around it, I realized my mistake. I had just crammed a half-cup of butter in my pie-hole.

Butter that began melting before I had a chance to decide whether I really felt like swallowing a mouthful of salted fatty-acid emulsifiers. It was instantly liquefied, eliminating most of my options. Could I spit in my water glass?

I saw my colleague scoot back a few inches as she gamely tried to pretend nothing was wrong. “Our preliminary numbers look good,” she said, ignoring the gagging sounds I made. “We’ll be using focus groups next month to fine-tune the message, but we’re seeing a great response.”

I took a deep breath and swallowed the butter. “You don’t say?”

You would think I might have learned my lesson and avoided the luncheons altogether after that. If so, you would have sorely underestimated my desire to humiliate myself with food.

Several months later, I returned to the scene of the crime. This time they provided chicken and a guest speaker discussing the merits of qualitative research.

As I absorbed the presentation, I daintily cut a bite of chicken and began to chew.

And chew. And chew.

I soon realized the piece of gristle wasn’t going anywhere. Having learned from my butter experience that swallowing bad things wasn’t a networking requirement, I reached for my cloth napkin and quietly spit the gristle into the corner.

As the speaker continued, I forgot about the gristle. Several minutes later, I reached for my napkin again.

Everything happened in slow motion. The gristle rolled out of the napkin, tumbled off the table, and bounced into the gaping Coach handbag hanging on the chair of the stranger seated next to me.

I looked up to see if she’d noticed. She was smiling obliviously at the speaker, jotting notes about controlling consumer perception.

I looked back at her handbag. I couldn’t see the gristle anywhere. The bag was a huge tote, packed to overflowing with several electronic devices and something that looked like a pair of gym socks.

I stole another glance at the owner of the purse. She laughed, still focused on the presentation.

I started to reach for her purse.

Suddenly, the woman seated beside gristle-girl looked at me. I saw her eyes narrow as she spotted my hand creeping toward her friend’s purse.

I froze.

Had the speaker paused then, I might have offered an explanation. “I’m not a thief – just someone with abysmally bad table manners.”

Instead, I drew my hand back and pretended to dust some lint off the edge of my sleeve.

Satisfied I wasn’t planning to pilfer her friend’s wallet, the woman turned back to the speaker. I looked down at the handbag again. Was that the gristle stuck in the bristles on her hairbrush? Maybe if I knocked the purse to the ground, I could grab the gristle and run. Or maybe if I pulled the fire alarm –

“Thank you all for coming today,” announced the speaker. “Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

I sat back in my chair, defeated.

I watched the woman and her friend gather their things and flounce out of the room. I tried not to picture the scene when she eventually discovered the gristle. Would she know what it was? Would she know to blame me?

I never got answers. I also never had those two women sit anywhere near me again.

So you see, I don’t have the world’s best track record when it comes to in-person networking. That doesn’t mean I’m dreading future RWA meetings. Just that I hope they don’t serve browies. Or chicken. Or—


Linda G. said...

Okay, that does it. I have got to meet you in person. Next time we're on the same coast, let's meet for lunch. I'll pay. You provide the entertainment. ;)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Remind me not to sit next to you at RWA National!

Tawna Fenske said...

Linda G, as long as there's no chicken, butter, or whipped cream being served, I'm in!

Jeffe, see, aren't you afraid now that you encouraged me to join RWA and hang out with real people?


Jeffe Kennedy said...

Yes. Yes, I am. Hopefully RWA won't penalize me for this...

KAK said...

Did Jeffe mention she's the grand poobah of a RWA ONLINE chapter? One that doesn't require tactile interaction 'cept at one helluva fest during National? Hmm?

This year, they're promising a race between steampunk mechanical wings and gossamer fairy wings. You'll have all sorts of opportunities to spike purses with giblets while everyone else is focused on a ship-to-shore sprint.


Rhonda said...

Girl, if we're ever at the same conference...you come sit next to me. First, if you dump a big old dollop of butter on your brownie? I'm totally gonna say something (and maybe giggle at you) so you can dump the tainted brownie and not be forced to eat a big old hunk of whipped butter.

Also? flying gristle? So not a problem. If I found it in my purse, I would assume it was me that did it and no one would ever notice your hand creeping towards my purse because they would all be staring at me as I drop food down the front of my shirt.

I try to eat daintily. I have excellent table manners but apparently I've got horrible aim because you can always tell what I had for lunch by looking at my shirt. Seriously...my sisters were going to buy me disposable bibs for my wedding so I wouldn't end up with food on my dress.


Cynthia Reese said...

Hey, Tawna, if I can survive TWO RWA conventions, you can certainly survive one. Trust me, I have the market cornered on "clutzy." :-)

Candyland said...

Have no fear. You're really every woman who pretends to be better than that. We've all done it...at least...some of us. *cough*

Tawna Fenske said...

Jeffe, don't worry, when I filled out my application, I made sure to write in an extra section that said, "who referred you?" just so I could include your name. No need to thank me. The look on your face when I spit gristle in your purse will be enough.

KAK, online RWA chapter? Now that sounds like my cup of tea! The less human interaction the better.

Rhonda, I can see you feel my pain. I TRY to have good table manners. I really do. It just doesn't always work out for me.

Cynthia, well is the food any good? And by "any good," I mean is there butter to put on my brownies?

Candyland, I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in my disgusting habits. I'm just eager to share them with everyone!


Jeffe Kennedy said...

Well, it's the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter (FF&P) - I hadn't mentioned because I didn't think that was your schtick. Though it *is* a fun crew!

dirtywhitecandy said...

This had me chewing the desk with laughter. I know that most of us writers are better on email and blogs than face to face, but my dear you take the biscuit (without butter or gristle). Blogs and prose are the best place for you. Thanks for playing the game on mine - and love the name of your blog too!

Claire Dawn said...

I am in tears! That chicken story is hilarious! I really hope you include it in one of your books! The world needs to hear it! lol!

Tawna Fenske said...

Jeffe, nope, Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal is definitely not my cup of tea. Sounds fun though!

dirtywhitecandy, I'm definitely better off with minimal human interaction. I make a much better hermit than social butterfly.

Claire Dawn, I may have to use the chicken story in some future book. Can't believe I haven't done it already.

Thanks for reading, guys!


Lindsay said...

You are so hilarious! I love these stories.

Tawna Fenske said...

Lindsay, kinda makes you think twice about going out with me for ladies' night, huh?


Minta said...

Let's talk about the time we played a game at one of these famous luncheons and you left your paper behind that described...in great detail...something that I'm pretty sure Pythagoras would have turned pale over had he read it. Or red. Or maybe neither, considering he's known you for so long and loves you dearly. Boy, do I miss those lunches. Or any place we went together that involved food, for that matter. It's a shame they never served wine at those events. Our boss would have been pleased with us stumbling back to work. :)

Tawna Fenske said...

Minta, shhh! Pythagoras is already mortified that Friday's blog post revealed he has occasionally been (gasp!) NAKED with me. Best not to share what I wrote on that piece of paper (unless I decide to save it for a future blog post....hey, good idea!)


Sydnee said...

Oh. Oh my.

You poor, poor thing. *covers you with sympathy*

Jennifer X said...

I have no words. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!