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There’s business networking... and there’s Soho networking

Posted by Joyce on 19 September 2009

Care to guess which one landed us invitations to London Fashion Week?

It began as an innocent post-internship rendezvous in Soho with a study group friend. We ran the gamut of regular MBA topics—electives, second year projects, Dean’s List speculation(!)—and while they are standard fare for MBA talk, I can see how it wouldn’t be easy for a stranger to break into the conversation.

As we chatted away obliviously over martinis, I was suddenly faced with the daunting task of engaging the party of gourmet chefs who had just joined us on the left. What do you say to three French culinary experts enjoying a round of drinks (red wine of course) on their rare Friday night off? Having been in the mode of language and conventions for business leaders, was I now inept at introducing myself to people with different passions? I used to be much better at this... what happened? I wasn’t happy about this sudden episode of brain failure.

I wonder whether this links to why some critics condescend on the value of an MBA. Maybe they’ve encountered one too many of us and are sick of not understanding our conversations! I can see why too. I’ve caught myself using terminology which would be obfuscating jargon to anyone who, for instance, hadn’t spent three hours in a strategy class studying “value-chain analysis”. For MBAs, those three words hearken back to a thirty-slide lecture on the framework’s particulars... but it understandably sounds a bit hollow to some others.

I remember the networking training we had on campus: how to write email introductions, request meetings, the kinds of questions to ask... all the way down to the most basic skill of shaking hands (according to the trainer: the “fleshy bits have to touch”). Definitely skills to be practiced and honed, but I would personally advocate some out-of-MBA practice too. Don’t let the great socializing skills you had grow stiff from lack of use!

But back to whether I managed to uphold a scintillating conversation with our party of chefs. Well, I must have muddled through somehow for we ended the night with an invitation to a fashion show (one of the chefs has a designer girlfriend) and a great recipe for quiche Lorraine.

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