Friendly Faces

In 2000, one of my company investors, Sandy Apgar, invited me to a networking event at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. It was a who’s who – the place was dark, drinks were flowing, and people were shaking hands.

Walking into an event like this, I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

I put on my version of a business suit: dress and jacket, scarf tied around my neck, and heels high enough to look formal but low enough to navigate the streets of DC.

It was my absolute mission when I arrived to locate Sandy, a friendly face. Sandy seemed to pick up on my awkwardness as I introduced myself to others…and he offered me a few important lessons: don’t be embarrassed to own where you came from, and have a few questions ready to ask.

I said, “ I feel uncomfortable saying I’m from inner city Baltimore.” I couldn’t figure out how to convey that I had worked my way up from a very challenging start but that now I was running a hot tech start-up.

He said, “Just say east Baltimore. People want to know who you are, they find it interesting.” Sandy was from a very different family than mine, he was raised in this world. And now he was telling me it was ok to talk about my background, even if it was different from his…or the VIP’s at the event.

The lesson was to not shy away from it. To own it.

Fast forward to a few years ago, I was at dinner in Old Town, Alexandria with a seasoned and very successful colleague. We met through a mutual interest in a young entrepreneur.

As we shared notes and notables over dinner, I mentioned the The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Community event hosted by my good friend, Tien Wong, that was coming up in a few weeks at the Tower Club in Virginia, also a who’s who in tech start-ups. My new friend wanted to go.

The day before the event, he called me and asked if I could reach out to Tien to let him know he (someone new to the event) was coming.

This gentleman didn’t make this request because he wanted special treatment. He made it because he was nervous to walk into a large group of people…not sure if he’d know anyone.

My lesson: most people get nervous. Go in with a few sentences about yourself as well as a few questions to ask and you’ll meet people. You’d be surprised how many are actually quite shy and just as nervous!!

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