One of the hardest things I do for work is attend cocktail receptions. Yeah, I know, poor me. Go somewhere for free food and drink and casual conversation. It’s the same look I get when I complain about having to travel to Key West to speak at a conference in the dead of winter. But for those of you who travel a lot or who get invited to a lot of receptions, you understand my pain. You may not hate it to the degree I do, but you at least know where I am coming from.
Here’s why I hate cocktail receptions.
- I have a ridiculously difficult time hearing people talking to me. No, I’m not hard of hearing per se. Rather, I have a very hard time picking out one voice from among a sea of them. I can only ask someone to repeat themselves so many times before it gets really annoying and seems like I’m not trying to listen. People I know well understand, but the point of receptions generally is to meet new people or at least ones you don’t see regularly.
- I get overwhelmed by large-scale human interaction. Put me in a lunch or dinner setting with a handful of people — even total strangers — and I’m a gregarious guy who will chat about damn near anything. But when I’m bouncing around in the human equivalent of the lottery number ball machine, I shut down a bit. Once I get in conversation with a couple of people and can psychologically shut out the rest of the room, I do much better.
- I’m very bad at extracting myself from painful conversations. If you find me at a cocktail party, at some point you are likely to find me stuck with the most annoying person in the room. I have a hard time detaching myself from these folks — and they seem to stick to me like a magnet. They even find me again and try to latch back on when I do extract myself and move on. I’m not that interesting — find someone else.
When I do go to a reception, I try to find familiar faces so I can ease into the environment. I hang out against the wall — especially in corners — where the ambient noise levels tend to be lower and I can hear better. When I sense I may get stuck in a conversation I don’t want, I try to get prepared early on with an exit strategy.
If all else fails, I’m not bashful about bailing out either. There are plenty of tools in my networking arsenal, so if a particular reception doesn’t feel like the right fit or if I’m not in the right mood for it that day, I’ll skip it and move on to the next thing on my to-do list.