A few weeks back I was invited to attend a spring fashion show at the Center Club in Baltimore, MD. Now if you’re not familiar with the Center Club, it’s a premier, member-only, business dining club for Baltimore’s top professionals; situated in the inner harbor with amazing views of the city’s skyline, harbor, and other tourist attractions. An event at this type of establishment was sure to welcome the elite in the Baltimore region. So, of course I graciously accepted the invitation extended to me by my soror-self-appointed-god mom, Anna.
Anna knows all about this nonprofit journey and is one of my biggest supporters and consultants. Per her advice, I need to get myself out there, meet some people, network, and start generating support (and dollars). So that’s exactly what I did. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I put my game face on, grabbed a handful of business cards, and prepared myself to shake hands and mingle with the who’s who of the area.
Prior to the gourmet lunch and fashion show, there was a cocktail hour and boutique shopping – the perfect opportunity for me to “work the room,” meet, greet, mix, and mingle, right? WRONG… I froze lol! While everyone was socializing over mimosas and wine and clearly catching up with old friends and colleagues, I stealthily faded to the background and stuck near Anna, almost like a child that didn’t want to leave their parent on the first day of school. I was soooo overwhelmed, not by the venue, or the people (I’ve dined at the Center Club before and been in the company of other successful professionals), but because I felt like I stood out (as I often do). At most professional events, I tend to be tallest, youngest, and of the minority. Most of the time I hold my head high and take it all in, but this was different. I was presenting myself as a young African American woman, founder and Executive Director of this nonprofit organization that no one has ever heard of. What would people think? Will they take me seriously? How do I even strike up a conversation? How do I promote myself? Just a few of the many questions running through my head.
Thank goodness for Anna, she introduced me to her good friends, many of whom hold senior leadership positions at local corporations and universities. She told them I was starting a nonprofit and all I could do was nod my head and chime in agreement (it was so shameful lol). Thankfully, the time had come to be served lunch. On the way to the dining room, I gave myself a pep talk. “Tonee, it’s now or never. Get over yourself! You can do this!” We were finally seated at the table and it was go time. The waiter filled my water glass and I took a huge gulp. I warmly greeted the gentleman across from me and as others were seated, they too introduced themselves and after no real prompting, they eloquently stated their occupation or position and their company. And what do you know… I had found myself in the company of a realtor, entrepreneur, manager of corporate giving, engineer, and educator to name a few.
It was finally my turn to introduce myself. As I spoke, I passed around my card and said, “Hello I’m Tonee and I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit focused on youth development, where we help the youth achieve their dreams while living above what we have identified as socially-imposed limitations.” There, I said it! (whew) *exhale* Everyone nodded in approval and said wow, very interesting, and one guy who I was sure didn’t hear a word I said, read my card and said “WOW, great business card, very nice!” The hard part was over, the ice has been broken, now I can relax.
Conversations were brewing. I listened and took mental note. The seasoned professionals at the table were discussing their commonalities and how their paths have crossed personally and professionally. In a very casual manner they discussed their associations, accomplishments, their responsibilities, and how one person could benefit the other. It was up to them to make a connection, no one else could speak better about them, about their brand, or about (how well they do) what they do. To an average person, it may seem like they were bragging, but this was networking at its finest!
And the moral of the story… in the words of Donald Trump, “Promote yourself or no one will.” Who better to sell them self than you? Who better to promote them self than you? Who can so passionately and succinctly convey the vision of their organization than you? Work on your “elevator pitch,” and be prepared to immediately grab your listener’s attention and concisely explain your organization’s mission and cause. Bait them with just enough information to be intrigued. Take a deep breath and promote yourself, or no one will.
Anna and I at the Center Club Spring Fashion Show
My business cards were such a hit!