OTS 032: Extrovert Privilege – Robbie Samuels

Extrovert Privilege

Welcome back to On the Schmooze. Thank you so much for joining me. Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Dorie Clark, this week you’ll be hearing from me, your host.

Every other week I’ll be offering my take on some aspect of networking and relationship-building. These shorter podcast episodes will include practical networking tips and techniques you can put into practice right away. My hope is that insights from me and my guests will help you achieve the leadership position you’re seeking, build and sustain your professional network, and find the work/life balance that works best for you.

This week, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the different ways outgoing extroverts like myself have something I’m calling extrovert privilege.

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Empowering Children to Make the World a Better Place

Grant at 2 monthsA magical thing happened on Dec. 15, 2015, at 9:11 p.m.. I became a father.

While I had been planning for that moment all throughout my wife’s pregnancy — immersing myself in researching baby gear for our registry and reading parenting books — I could not have been prepared for what it felt like when my son finally arrived.

That day I joined the brotherhood of fatherhood.

Growing up I didn’t think I would become a father. For starters, I’m transgender and was raised a girl. I also wasn’t at all interested in carrying a child, even at a young age. So I wasn’t sure how this parenting thing would happen for me.

Over a decade ago, I decided to move from living a very gender-blurred existence to being solidly perceived as a man. But that word– “man” — always felt a little off for me. I would say I was a “guy” without hesitation, but a man … well that had a different connotation for me.

As someone raised female who then came out as gay, I had some strong feelings about the way white, cisgender straight men behaved in our culture. I had no interest in exemplifying that.

Small Networking Moments at Conferences

Image of empty conference room filled with red chairs

It’s early in the morning and you’re on your way to a local conference – or it’s late at night and you’re flying to a conference across the country. Knowing you would be out of the office at least one day, you stayed late several days in the last week to get work done. In fact, you’re still thinking about a project at work and wondering how you’ll meet the deadline while being out of the office.

The last thing on your mind is networking.

Ideally you’d have thought through a strategic networking plan before going to the conference, but even without one you can take advantage of all the small networking moments throughout the day. One example is the opportunity to meet fellow attendees at breakout sessions.

Does this scene sound familiar? You don’t know many people at the conference and you don’t enjoy mingling during the breaks, so you go directly to the breakout session room 5-10 minutes before it begins. You choose a chair as far apart as possible from everyone else in the room, taking the aisle seat in the last row if it’s still available. Then quickly get on your phone to check work emails, scroll through Facebook, or play Bejeweled. As the room fills up a few people are sitting near you – perhaps even one seat over. The room is less than half filled and almost completely silent. You and almost everyone else is focused on their phones.

#1 Networking tip: Croissants vs. Bagels

left side of image shows people standing in a u-shape at a networking event, right side shows people standing in a closed circle

What I’m about to share is a tip from a very memorable section of my Art of the Schmooze training.  A year after attending my session, sometimes even two years later, I’ll run into a past attendee and they’ll excitedly point at their feet and say “Croissant! Croissant!”

What are they talking about?
Let’s say you’ve arrived at a networking event, you’ve circled the room looking for an opening for your first conversation, but you’re surrounded by those tight networking circles. I call those shoulder-to-shoulder huddles “bagels” and they are nearly impossible to break into. If you are like most people you’ll be looking for an easy opening and might be drawn to the person standing by themselves against the wall. Unless you’re a regular and can introduce that person to someone when your conversation ends, your best bet is to engage with folks in those bagels.

Now imagine you’re one of the people standing in a typical networking bagel. If you took a small step back with one foot and turned your torso slightly, you’d create an opening that would make it easier for someone to join your group. That is the croissant we’re looking for.

How do you  stand so you’re easy to approach?

The downside to being a unicorn

photo of rainbow vista with quote: Always Be Yourself, Unless You Can Be a Unicorn, Then Always Be a Unicorn

Let’s say for a moment you could be a unicorn. [click to tweet] What would your day be like? Are you picturing rainbows and sunny skies? More likely you’d spend your day hearing, “Wow! A unicorn. I’ve never met a unicorn. What’s it like to…” followed by lots of curious questions.

Many of us have had this experience. We’ve walked into a room of strangers feeling awkward and out of place. We’ve felt like we’re the “only ____” in the room, different from everyone else is some important way. We are momentarily grateful when a stranger approaches us and begins a conversation. We’ve been saved from standing by ourselves! We begin to second guess how fortunate we are when out of the gate, one of their first comments is…

  • “Wow! You’re so tall. How tall are you?” [click to tweet]
  • “You hair is so… can I touch it?” [Hand already entangled in your hair]
  • “You’ve got such great skin. Beautiful mocha color. So lucky.”
  • “I’ve never heard of anyone with your name. So exotic.”

These all seem like compliments, but in practice they are calling out difference. The result is you are more likely to feel “othered” than welcomed. Especially if the feature (height, hair, skin color, accent, name) that they just commented on, is the same feature that always gets commented on by strangers.

Robbie Samuels Day!

Robbie receiving award from Boston City Councelor Felix Arroyo

My expression when Felix
announced Robbie Samuels Day!

Thank you. Tonight was a very special night. At Socializing for Justice’s 5th birthday party, over 120 like-minded progressives gathered together to celebrate what we’ve created together! As the co-founder of Socializing for Justice, I’m was so excited to be there celebrating 5 years, 104 events, 1808 members and countless connections made since we founded this group in 2006.

I was surprised with special gifts 3 times at tonight’s party.

First, Felix G. Arroyo, Boston City Councilor At-Large, attended the event and brought with him, not one, but two resolutions from the Boston City Council. The first was a resolution congratulating Socializing for Justice on our 5th anniversary of building a progressive community, network and movement. It’s great to have the support of the Boston City Council.

The 2nd resolution was a huge surprise! He read the following:

Whereas, Robbie Samuels was born on the 16th of September in 1974; and

Whereas, Robbie Samuels has been instrumental in the work to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity and expression at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD); and

Whereas, In 2006, Robbie Samuels co-founded Socializing for Justice (SoJust), a grassroots group committed to building a stronger cross-issue progressive community, network and movement by putting the “social back in social justice”; and

Whereas, Robbie Samuels, as SoJust’s co-organizer, has been the visionary behind their success; growing the group to almost 1700 members [now 1800+!] and hosting over 95 events [now 104!]. Be It Therefore,

RESOLVED That the Boston City Council, in meeting assembled, does hereby proclaim, Friday, September 16th, 2011 to be

“Robbie Samuels Day”

In the City of Boston; And Be It Further

RESOLVED That the Boston City Council extends its best wishes for continued success, that this resolution be duly signed by the President of the City Council, attested to and a copy thereof transmitted by the Clerk to be made part of the permanent record of the City of Boston.

Wow! “Robbie Samuels Day”! I don’t really have words for what this means to me. The recognition of my work is really encouraging.

Croissants vs. Bagels

At my trainings I suggest approaching groups of 3 or more people and start to hear murmurs in the room as flashbacks to trying to break into a group start to flood the room. But then I tell them it’s all about croissants vs. bagels and a curious silence fills the room. They’re trying to figure out if I really just said croissants vs. bagels and indeed I have.

Most of us have had the experience of trying to find our way into a tight circle of acquaintances at a party (worse than a bagel it’s a bagel with lox!). With the help of a few volunteers I show them how quickly and easily those of us in the circle can use body language to open up space for newcomers to step in. That’s the croissant we’re looking for.

The physical posturing is similar to the way a fencer or boxer would stand. Feet shoulder width apart with weight on the back leg, torso turned slightly toward whichever foot is in back. This simple physical act is one of the best ways to create a welcoming community space. I’ve found that only a small percentage of attendees need to be practicing this and the effect will begin to be felt by everyone. They’ll leave wondering why that event felt so friendly and welcoming.

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