I have given myself a new job title: “Conference Queen.” 95% of the time, my job keeps me at a desk, chained to a computer. This month, I’m living the other 5% and spending each week in a different city, whoring out the company that writes me a cheque several times a month.
I’m naturally painfully shy, making it difficult to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Even more difficult is that my only reason for introducing myself is to give them a sales pitch (yuck!). Multiply that by several hundred conversations and that’s my entire experience at any conference.
That said, I’ve forced myself over the past few years to become the person who can man an exhibitor booth on a trade show floor and come out the other side with solid new leads. Hell, I’ve even gotten pretty fast at setting up and tearing down the booth on my own.
However, the one piece I’m having a hard time getting comfortable with is the after-hours networking. Every night is an event designed to outdo last year’s host. I’ve had dinner on a museum rooftop overlooking the nation’s capital, dinner at a historic fort, followed by a fireworks display that would rival most city’s Canada Day celebrations and a 70’s themed cocktail party at a war museum surrounded by dozens of tanks, planes and machinery that date back as far as the 1800’s.
The venues are always amazing and the alcohol is everywhere. It’s free, it’s abundant and it’s an opportunity for attendees to have a good time away from home. I don’t directly struggle with wanting to drink, however I do struggle with interacting with people as they slowly become pickled.
The jokes aren’t as funny to me as they are to everyone else. I’m not “in” on the inside jokes that inevitably come out between long-time co-workers as they become more and more drunk. I imagine a lot of people are uncomfortable around drunks, but as an alcoholic in recovery, there’s an added layer of discomfort.
So I politely excuse myself from attending the after-after-hours hospitality suites that flow free booze until 1am. And when I hear the rumours over breakfast of a broken elevator and vomit on a wall, I’m happy to have missed the “party.”