Break the Code

I don’t much like networking.

And I attended a mega-networking event in Miami the other day. Accompanied by my friend Anne B. Freedman, cherished colleague and impeccably skilled social animal. Over 300 people in the room. Whoa.

Yep, I still don’t like networking. I’m cleaning up my language for you here. My true feelings about the networking charade are way more ferocious than I care to commit to in print.

When I walked into the lobby I wanted to burst out laughing. I know that sounds like a cheap line, but I truly did. Everybody was following the code.

Translate: Over-dress. Act polished. Pretend you’re successful and have your act together. Pretend you’re interested in talking to someone when you’re not. Smile as you dash off to the next person.

The code: We put on the professional show. Mind you, Anne had prepared me. I had donned my blue-checkered Hugo Boss suit; I blended right into the Miami-professional-charade.

Speaker after official speaker droned on with platitudes. Spoke at a clipped pace. Dispensed well-honed jokes. Oozed “polish” while guests had their heads buried in smartphones, answering emails and texting away.

Why oh why do we participate in this show? And then, just when I had given up hope of anything remotely real happening, it did.

I was fixated on my over-loaded appetizer plate from the salad bar when Emilio Gonzalez, Director of the Miami International Airport, got up to speak.

Within a minute, the energy in the room shifted. It was palpable. Anne leaned in to me and whispered:

Wow, you can hear a pin drop. That doesn’t happen here too often.

Yes, Mr. Gonzalez broke the code.

Allow me to translate: He didn’t rush. He wasn’t glib. He didn’t sound canned. He reached beyond platitudes and talked with urgency about the unspeakable (the intolerable taxi situation at the Miami Airport).

Mr. Gonzalez got real.

Real beats glib. Real beats polished posturing. Real touches the human core in all of us.

Any time. Every time.

This week, as you dash from meeting to impromptu social encounter to networking event, ask yourself: What codes am I following here? What are the ways in which I hide inside the professional role? What would happen if I experimented with breaking some of my own codes?