10 Most Embarrassing Networking Stories

Embarrassing stories from networkingSome people love to network, and it comes as naturally to them as talking to a close friend would. For others, networking can be a far more formidable activity, full of the potential for mistakes and even outright humiliation.

I recently asked readers to share their own stories of networking-gone-wrong. Here are 10 best of the best you shared.

1. Doused in champagne

“I once was asked to attend a dealers forum for our company. This was very early in my career, and I had never attended a conference like this at all. Most of the others attending were all company owners or C-level executives, and I was just a low-level new employee, but the only one in my company who was able to fly out on short notice. I’m very quiet and reserved to start with, plus new to the industry and was surrounded by people who ran companies. I felt completely out of my element the entire time I was there, so I was thrilled when the final lunch was being served and everyone would be leaving for the airport afterwards. I slip in to the luncheon, find an open seat at a table, smile politely, and I’m just counting the minutes to slip out and get home. Part of the final luncheon is a “champagne toast,” so the waiters begin bringing around glasses of champagne for everyone. As the final closing remarks are being made, a waiter dumps the entire tray of drinks he is carrying directly on my head and suit. Obviously the entire room reacts to the crashing noise, and literally 10 hotel staff members rush in to “assist” me. Mortified does not even begin to describe my feelings. To top it off, our suitcases had already been collected and sent ahead to the airport, so I got to fly from the West Coast back to the East coast in a suit drenched in champagne. I shudder just thinking back on it.”

2. “So, are you in high school?”

“Our bank was in the process of merging with another bank. During the merger process, all the teller managers had to attend meetings with people from other banks going through the same process. During the first meeting, I did my best to get to know the other teller managers and branch managers (I’m an introvert and was very shy at the time).

I started talking to the woman who was running the meeting. She was the equivalent of a district manager and was around my age (early 20s). I was really impressed with the fact that she was at this stage of her career at such a young age, because I was aspiring to rise to the same level. I asked her how she got started, what were her responsibilities, etc. During our talk, she mentioned how she was thinking of going back to finish up school (she said “school” not “degree”). Stupid me asks, “Oh? High school or college?”

Thankfully she just said “college” and moved the conversation to another topic. Even though she didn’t acknowledge my gaffe with so much as a blink, I still was praying a sinkhole would open up below me.”

3. At least it wasn’t 50 Shades of Grey

“I went to a conference two years ago when I was just starting my Master’s degree in order to get to know some of the leaders in my male-dominated industry. In between going to talks and walking around and looking at company booths, I had a book that I needed to read for my English class called “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.” It was an interesting book, but I perhaps should have been more careful about where I was reading it.

Sitting in the conference hotel lobby, I was approached by several men I recognized from the talks. They asked what I was reading and there was really no way for me to explain the concept of the book without looking a little awkward. They all seemed very interested, though. But now I’m extra careful about what I bring with me to read at a conference to network; some possible connections might get the wrong idea.”

4. Questionable mentoring

“I signed up for a mentoring program to be matched up with a local executive. I was matched with a guy, and we went to lunch. When I let him know I was pregnant, since it might affect scheduling during the 6-month program, he let me know how much kids ruined his marriage and his wife’s career.

Awesome, mentor.”

5. Name calling

“I am very bad at names. I often recognize people, but can’t remember why. I was at lunch one day with a coworker who usually works at another building, and I said to her something about how she knew So-and-So (an older portly gentleman), who was sitting at a table right next to us. She turned and looked, and said, “That’s not So-and-So.” The gentleman, who had heard me, also turned and said, “I’m not So-and-So.” I had mixed him up with another older, portly gentleman. I was greatly embarrassed, especially because he seemed to find the mix-up insulting.

From then on out, every time I saw this guy, I made sure to say his name, repeatedly, so that he would know I knew who he was. But a year and a half later, I found out I had still been calling him by the wrong name.”

6. Breakfast splash

“I attended a multi-day conference that provided all meals for attendees in an effort to have everyone network during said meals. Breakfast each morning was held in an area accessed by walking down a flight of stairs. I was headed down the stairs, looking into the room to see who was already at breakfast and thinking about who I might eat and chat with. I lost my footing and rolled/bounced all the way down to the breakfast area with my laptop tumbling behind me. Of course, everyone stopped eating and talking and started gasping and staring. Everyone knew who I was after that!”

7. Unwanted dieting advice

“I was serving myself some layered cheese spread at a reception for one of Canada’s top poets. I was chatting with said poet and a couple of professors I hoped to work with in the future. As I scooped the cheese onto my plate, the poet reached over, patted my stomach, and said, ‘Girls like us have to watch how much rich food we eat, don’t we?’

8. Unwanted raffle prize

“I got over my crippling social anxiety and attended a blogging/networking event on behalf of my employer – a children’s educational company. I got in touch with a few people, made a few friends, started passing my business card around. I got invited to an event that evening, and threw my card in the fishbowl for the raffle – a bunch of the sponsors had put in gift baskets.

Lo and behold, I won! Oh, did I win. About $300 worth of sex toys. My name was gleefully plastered all over the twittersphere, along with pictures of my bounty. Needless to say, I was not able to capitalize on my newfound fame on behalf of my incredibly mortified and ‘how can we erase the internet?’ employer.”

9. When your bladder doesn’t want to network

“I had been trying to connect with a very senior member of a field I’ve been considering entering. We were vaguely connected by a friend of a friend, but every time she emailed me, it was to say some variation of “we’ll have to get together, but I don’t have my schedule with me right now.” After a couple rounds of this, I assumed that she was trying to politely dodge me, and I gave up. Then, at about 11 p.m. one night, I suddenly got an email from her that said, “You can call me tomorrow at 4:15. I have 20 minutes.” This was great news…except for the little annoyance that I had just developed an extremely bad bladder infection, and had spent the last two days running between my desk and the toilet.

I debated telling her that I had an infection and might need to step away to take care of business, but I decided that I was unlikely to have a problem with only a 20-minute phone call. Unfortunately, “I have 20 minutes” really meant “I will talk to you for 20 minutes, and if you prove interesting I will happily talk to you longer.” By about 45 minutes in, I was bursting and in pain, and all I could think of was hanging up and running to the loo. We had moved in to the point where she was inviting me to ask any follow-up questions of her, but I was so distracted I could barely even get myself to read the questions I had pre-prepared, much less come up with an elegant way to end the call, or to explain my situation. After several bouts of awkward silence and her encouragingly telling me I could ask her anything, I finally got to the point where I couldn’t wait any longer, so I gasped out, “I’m sorry, but I really, really have to go to the bathroom!”, threw down my phone, and ran. When I returned to the phone, she had hung up. THAT made for an awkward follow up/thank you email!”

10. Pantyhose malfunction

“During my last semesters of college, I was participating in campus interviews, and attending office tours of the Big 6 accounting firms. These events always required proper business attire. I was your typical starving student, completely broke all the time, so to save a few pennies, I purchased a super cheap pair of generic store-brand pantyhose to wear with my one classy suit. The first time I wore them, during the office tour, I felt the waistband of the pantyhose fold over, which is normally a sign that your pantyhose are about to start creeping down and will require an adjustment. Not this time. As soon as that waistband folded over, my pantyhose rolled down like lightning, and I had to quickly stick my hand into the pocket of my blazer and grab them before they ended up around my ankles. The only restroom was out in the elevator lobby, and badge access was required to get back into the office area. So I spent the entire office tour, including a meet-and-greet with various members of the firm, with one hand in my blazer pocket holding up my pantyhose. After that, no matter how broke I was, I would always pay the extra money for good pantyhose!”

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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