Working the Crowds

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A day in the life of a trucker as we all know is not often a picnic.
But a day in the life of a trade magazine editor can also be a trying affair!
For example, when we’re not in the office, which occurs more and more frequently, we’re attending numerous conferences and meetings, etc. where we’re expected to do the networking thing on top of gathering information.
If you’re someone like me who is on the shy side and, when faced with a crowd of unknowns, prefers to hightail it to the bathroom to check your hair for the hundredth time, you’ll sympathize.
Not to mention that the transportation industry can be an intimidating one to work in.
When I first started as a junior editor, it was the junior’s job to go to the truck stops and do a “streeter”, basically accost the truckers and ask them twenty questions, take their picture and run it in the paper as “truck stop question”.
Though I never looked forward to doing this, once I was there I never felt uncomfortable.
In my experience, hanging out at a truck stop to do question and answer stories has often been less intimidating than going to an industry function such as conference or dinner.
When I first started in the industry It was not unusual at some functions to see girls in neon stretch dresses and bleached hair handing out little souvenirs or programmes. Used to wonder if they hated doing that sort of job but now I have been educated and I realize that they are not being exploited at all-they are in fact making more in two nights of work than I probably do in half a year!
Going to transportation industry functions it would frequently happen that I’d stumble upon a conversation between long-standing attendees where they’d be looking wistfully off into the distance, recalling fondly how much it used to be permissible to drink before noon and what sort of salacious activities used to go on at the function (before too many Feminazis got into the biz, I’m guessing!)
I don’t quite know what the problem is, because Feminazis are now an emancipated bunch themselves in more ways than one.
Even busy wives and mamas are now expected to take lap and pole dancing lessons along with their Pilates.
It’s perfectly middle class and mainstream, like hair lice. But that’s another tangent.
Eventually I got more and more comfortable at these functions as I got to know more people and see them again and again. But then my editor said: “Let’s raise your profile more in the industry.”
First he wanted to give me a “special title”.
“Okay, I said, well, I’m into the legislative issues, how about policy specialist?”
“No, that’s taken.”
After going down a whole list, we were no further ahead on things I could pronounce myself “expert” on, but that’s ok, because there’s nothing wrong with being a good generalist, in my opinion.
But he wasn’t done, because apparently, part of raising one’s profile also involved attending seminars where you learned how to “network” better.
I attended one seminar not too long ago with my boss where the instructor had a list of “Five quick ways of breaking into a conversation in a crowded room where everyone is already in a group and half plastered and not at all interested in small talk….” (or something like that.)
One of the suggestions that cracked me up the most was this:
Say you’ve just arrived at a function and there are 300 people in a room, most of whom you don’t know. Instead of maybe sidling up to a little group and introducing yourself, this instructor wanted us to start waving wildly at someone in the room, (as if we knew them), go running up to them and then go “Oh, I thought you were so-and-so,” and then introduce yourself.
I could just picture this scenario applied in reality at the type of function we normally attend.
If that’s what I needed to do to insinuate myself into a hostile crowd the bathroom was looking better and better. Not to mention the bar.
I think, as I’ve thought all my life, there are times when you have to do a little bit of something you don’t entirely like to do, such as working the crowd, doing public speaking and completing “group projects” (which more often than not is either a pooling of ignorance or one person doing all the work).
But I also believe, there are people whose strengths do not lie in this area and if they have other strengths, these shouldn’t be discounted.
From my observations as a journalist, the people who go through a room like wildfire and shake hands with 50 people never know those persons’ names later on, or remember much about them.
But if you have a few sentences of conversation with one or two, and, a favourite trick of mine that has helped me overcome shyness, ask them more questions about themselves than they’ll ever care to ask about you, that’s a guaranteed one or two friendly faces in a crowd next time around.

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Julia Kuzeljevich is managing editor of Motortruck magazine, as well as sister publication Canadian Transportation & Logistics and With nearly seven years’ experience writing for the Canadian transportation industry, Julia specializes in human interest, in-depth news and business articles of interest to the trucking and logistics sectors. Julia has a degree in languages with a postgraduate specialization in journalism, and work experience in the air transportation industry.

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