This is an excerpt about not judging books by their covers.
I plan and host many business networking events throughout the year. I can't help but observe people and analyze the room in an attempt to ascertain how the event is going overall. Are people engaged? How is the turnout? Are people smiling? Are they meeting knew people or just hanging out with their buddies whom they know very well.
I tend to get my heartbroken at these events. I often notice a lone ranger. A person who is either very new and uncomfortable with initiating conversation or someone who is just not naturally extroverted. I observe how most people just walk right by someone who is standing alone, eating alone and/or walking around looking for someone to talk to - a safe harbor, a beacon of light.
I recall an event with about 80 people we did a few years ago. We were about an hour into the event and I noticed a young man, impeccably dressed sitting with a small plate of food, scanning his cell phone. I did not recognize him. After about 10 minutes, the food was gone and he was still sitting there with his trusty cell phone. So, I approached him and he lit up. Turns out he was a CPA about to open his second office. A CPA? Really? A CPA? As in one the most highly sought after connections that more than half the room wants to meet? I told him to follow me and I introduced him to some of my clients who are to this day raving about him and the power of that introduction.
It kills me to acknowledge this but I sometimes feel that in the world of networking there is still an "in crowd" and if you're not in it - you may be outright ignored. It bothers me and it bothers me deeply.
I recently held an event with about 30 professionals in the room. It was an easy room to work and everyone had plenty of time to circulate and meet all in attendance. There was a gentleman who was dressed appropriately, he was on time and he was proactive. He was also not an attractive man - physically. I am not saying this to be mean, quite the opposite actually. I am saying this because it almost brought me to tears to watch how people reacted to him in general. A few people were painfully polite and reluctantly exchanged business cards while simultaneously scanning the room looking for their next conversation. They barely listened to him. A few people spoke with him briefly and when they walked away I saw eyes rolling and even some snickering between two ladies who stood together while he introduced himself.
I was so upset over this - he left about half way through the allocated time. There was about 90 minutes left and he was gone. I felt awful and I called him the next day. I asked him what he thought of the event and he was so sweet and so complimentary that it broke my friggin heart. He said he always has a good time at my events and that he can't wait for the next one. I was so relieved that he has such a great outlook and positive attitude. I decided to get to know him and as it turns out he is in the market to buy a house. I smiled when we got off the phone because I saw many people dismiss this person and for no other reason than his physical looks. There is an endless number of real estate and mortgage professionals who compete daily for business and they spend tons of money in marketing just to find someone exactly like my buddy "John" who was right there under everyone's nose.
I find that many times people gravitate to the people they already know and like. I think it's only natural. I also believe we all should remember what it's like to be the new kid on the block. We were all underdogs at some point in time. I believe we should all make a concerted effort to initiate at least 3 conversations with people we don't already know and see where it goes. If we ignore the wallflowers, we ignore about 1/3 of the population (check out this article on introverts by the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/13/famous-introverts_n_3733400.html )
We should get off our high horses and get real. The world doesn't revolve around us. It never has and it never will. To cast someone away based on looks is disgusting. It's unprofessional and it's a form of bullying. Shame on us "professionals" if we allow this to happen.