Business Networking Events and Singles Parties – Are They Really Any Different?

If you’ve been in the workforce for a few years, and I don’t care which industry, you’ve probably been to a few “business networking” events. Probably several. A while back, I heard a woman complain that one such business networking event she’d attended was being viewed by several male participants as a prime venue to pick up women. On at least one occasion, at the direct request of a young lady, I’ve attempted to get her fixed up with a friend at one of these events, so I’d say both genders are subject to these impulses… but this talk of mixing business with pleasure got me thinking. On a certain level, business networking events are a lot like singles parties.

Seriously. There are certain parallels between the two types of events, both physical and sociological. Let’s start with the physical.

Networking events are often held in a bar. Guess what? Singles mingle in bars all the time, and the booze is a flowing in both types of events.

From an attendance standpoint (especially in the Internet arena), much like Saturday night at a sports bar, the men will vastly outnumber the women.

Much like attending a matchmaker’s party, the business networker is often given something to help break the ice while meeting new people. Sometimes it’s just a name tag. Other times it’s a badge, color-coded to what your professional niche is, or what your convention status is. The closet merging of the matchmaker’s realm and the networker’s I’ve personally witnessed was the stamping of business cards with specific characters when you entered the reception – find another person with an identical stamp on their card and you win a prize. If that networking promotion doesn’t sound like something straight out of a single’s party, I don’t know what does.

Moving on to the sociological aspects, at networking events, there seem to be two types of people: those huddling with entourage, only occasionally leaving their group to fetch a new drink; and those who approach potential partners and drop opening lines like “Hi, my name’s Bob. What’s your job?” Sound familiar?

At networking events, the vast majority of opening lines revolve around dropping your title and/or inquiring as to the other person’s job. I’m not saying there’s a parallel between “what do you do for a living” and “what’s your sign,” but if the cliché fits… An opening line is still just that, even if more people lead in with a handshake in networking events than their singles equivalent.

All this still points to one thing: at both events you’re looking to leave with a partner. At a business event, you might be looking for a long-term strategic partner or just a partner for a particular short-term need. The exact same thing occurs at a singles party, although modesty precludes too close an examination of this context.

While you’re out looking for that business partner, the prowling starts to resemble the baser parts of a single person’s mating ritual. Looks are still important, though the emphasis can slip to the cut of one’s suit more quickly. Business cards are collected and fancy titles savored. All the better if you partner with the CEO, instead of a programmer.

This deepens when Venture Capital and potential investors enter the business networking event. An investor is the business equivalent of a Sugar Daddy/Mommy, and an investor brings in a slightly different crowd to the event. A lot of people would like nothing more than to have an investor fund their short-term, exit-strategy-focused venture. That is to say, they want to be taken out for dinner and bought some jewelry before they stop returning phone calls. Then there’s another class of investor-stalking attendee that’s looking for first-round financing for a long-range business plan. These people are looking for a ring.

Especially in the case of the investor function, just like Saturday night, even though everyone’s out looking for a partner, almost every one still goes home alone.

And for those who don’t go home alone, sometimes their new partners don’t look so good in the morning. Much as a single person would rather gnaw off their arm, as to slip out in the morning without waking a particularly distasteful partner, a breach of contract lawsuit is the ultimate extension of Coyote Love.

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