The Fine Art of Schmoozing

I have the rather freaky-ass opportunity to run with a different crowd now.

The people I’m working for are politically connected. It’s an entirely different world. I once fancied the idea of running for politics. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time and was volunteering for the Liberal party as a member of the Young Liberals. I helped campaign for an East Indian guy in a Vancouver suburb. I, I’m sorry to admit, was part of a Burma Shave.

(Kind of marketing done in pieces at roadside. Originally, billboards that would write out one well-developed sentiment over several clusters of signs. In politics, a bunch of yahoos standing roadside, wearing sandwich-board signs for any given politician. Hi, I’m Steff — resident yokel and yahoo.)

It’s fuckin’ ‘zarro, man.

Whew. Deep breath in, strong breath out. Yeah, it’s a real headtrip. I once wanted to run, y’know? Now I’d be the fringe freak candidate, though. I’m in the right fuckin’ city for it. Enter: The Sex Party. Oh, yeah. I want their convention to have the acronym O.R.G.Y. Hey, if it’s a bonus anywhere, this is where redundancy works. “The Sex Party’s convening now. The O.R.G.Y. aspires to take things to an entirely new level, but they say they’ll have to sweat it out this weekend if the right climax is to be found.”

Yeah, okay, you caught me: I also always wanted to be a news copy writer. Ah, well. Chasing ambulances proved to not be my thing. Nothing like showing up on the scene of an accident because it’s your fucking job when some gaping onlooker turns and calls you a “sick bitch” for liking that kinda thing. Nah, dude, it’s the grade for glass, y’know? Report from scene of an accident? What’s yer fucking excuse, bub? Whew. So, yeah, I learned to not like that one in a hurry.

Point is, there was a time when my life could’ve gone a couple other directions. Like, seriously different directions. It fucking STUNS me, BAFFLES me to be this person now, writing about the things I have, considering the type of aspirations I’ve always had. I’m outed, man, my name is OUT there. I can be Googled. I can be found. I can be deciphered — piece by bloody little piece. Like, it’s over for me. There are jobs I will never, ever have. There are positions I will never, ever have. It sort of disappoints me to know I can probably never get it on merit — like I damned well should. I can schmooze, man, but I can’t live that life, I don’t think.

There’s so much carefulness, you know? There’s been about a dozen times now in work-related (including tonight’s party) situations where I’ve said really politically incorrect things, like calling the entire Middle East sexist when I’m surrounded by Iraqis and other folks in that region. (I qualified it quickly by saying it was an easy dismissal by people who didn’t understand the culture so much — which is true, to an extent, as they do adore women, but I think that’s in the same ballpark as saying you love the kid and that’s why you hit them, to teach them… I don’t think it’s meanspirited, but I still think it needs updating).

Anyhow. Schmoozing. The fine art of.

Schmoozing, in essence, is the art of faking sincerity. Now, you can be sincere and schmooze, but it’s just easier to not give a shit, because then it keeps you neutral, all right? Keep it current, keep it simple, and keep it neutral. Don’t get involved, just have an opinion and a well-timed smile.

Eye contact. Need I say more? Fuck, man. Eye contact. All about the eye contact.

You gotta learn to listen with your eyes. You wanna focus on them so intently that they can tell you’re really being drawn in. It forges an intimate bond. You lean in ever so slightly. Tilt your head slightly to one side, and just soak ’em in. Be attentive. Listen, and more importantly, hear.

When you talk, think about what you’re saying. If you’re short on an idea, don’t hem or haw, or um or uh, ‘cos it makes you seem like a bubblehead. Do a simple “I don’t know” hand guesture as you try to find the right word. Focus then. Silence, good. If five seconds passes, it’s “I’ve lost my thought,” and you move the hell on.

If conversation falters, just tell them you’re just going to make the rounds but you’ll check in a bit later. Thank them for the chat, nod, and move off with a toast of the glass and a slow, searching stride.

When you’re speaking, don’t talk politics or religion, if you can help it. Don’t discuss money problems, ever, when you’re schmoozing. It’s about impressions, not bad ones. Ask where they’re from, who they know, and if you think they want to tell you, ask about their job.

You need yourself a 10-second introduction. “Hey, I’m Steff from Vancouver, born and raised. I fancy myself a writer, and when I need to pay the bills, I work in a consulting firm. The rest of the time, I blog, photograph, ride a scooter and a bike, cook, and slack.”

When someone tells you what they do, you have an in for asking for their business card. “Oh, I’d like to hear more about that sometime” or “Hey, I’ve been in the market for one of you” or “Oh, great. Say, can I get your card?” I favour straight-up, but in case you’re feeling pussy… you know.

You can touch if you get the sense they’re into that, but understand that different people have different personal space issues, and to assume that everyone’s cool with being touched is foolish, and in the case of some cultures, flat-out wrong.

Limp handshakes are creepy. Lose it. Be firm. Never more than three seconds for a handshake. Clammy hands? Find a way to dry them. Nerves are for pussies.

So, there’s a good introduction to the world of schmoozing. It works well for picking people up, too. Instead, you lean closer and closer. When you take a sip, always make eye contact over the rim of your glass. It’s sexy. When they can’t hear you, don’t speak up, lean into their ear and speak more clearly and maybe even softer, so they have to also lean in. It’s sexy. If you’re trying to pick them up, then definitely touch them, but just on the back of the hand or forearm, or possibly the elbow. Anything else can feel forward, I find. (Taking the elbow’s a bit more sensual, though.)

And that’s how ya do it. Go off, my minions, and schmooze this weekend. In my part of the world, we call it networking.