Have you ever walked into a room full of strangers, be it a networking event or a cocktail party, and felt absolutely out of place? That everyone else was aware of your grindingly inappropriate presence, and was judging you for it? We all have, and this blog post will explain why you were probably wrong.
“[Mild expletive],” I murmured under my breath.
It turned out I was the only person dressed in a brilliant blue t-shirt. Everybody else at this 60th birthday party on the top floor of an exclusive London venue was wearing a dinner suit or evening dress. I didn’t know anybody, had not been invited, and had only got past security because I knew the name of the birthday hostess: Lorraine. I was not there to conduct a jewellery heist, but had started to wish I was because it’s a lot easier to feel confident when you have a silenced handgun and a grappling hook in your pocket.
I knew the photographer and he had asked me at the last minute to come to the event since I happened to be in the area. It only occurred to me once I’d already walked in that I was ridiculously, perhaps morbidly, under-dressed. What I learnt from Lorraine’s party, after the initial terror subsided, was that I never again needed to worry feeling out of place in any event. And here’s why:
You are not the centre of attention
When you walk into a room full of strangers it is all too easy to feel that everyone has turned to look at you, like that scene in Inception (but (probably) without the murderous ex-wife). This is almost certainly untrue because even if you are dressed the wrong way, or have inappropriate facial hair, or conducted an extra-marital affair with the host:
A) Everybody naturally assumes you have both a reason to be at the event, and a reason to appear different. If you’re unconvinced, think back to the last time you saw somebody who looked, for whatever reason, out of place at a party. Easy? If it wasn’t, that’s almost certainly because you didn’t pay them much attention (and I can guarantee it’s not because at every single party you’ve been to everybody looked exactly the same). And if you can think of an example, you probably gave it a moment’s thought then carried on with your evening.
B) Everybody is too preoccupied with their own concerns and insecurities to even notice you. As with the blank panel principle, it’s important to remember that this party is just a small part of each person’s potentially-traumatic day and just don’t have time to think about you. This fact not only allows you to act with complete confidence, but also gives you free rein over the buffet table. An extreme example of this is in Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ The Invisible Gorilla, in which they ask the viewers of a recorded basketball game to count the number of passes made by one team. The viewers were focused so intently on their own task that they failed to notice that a woman in a gorilla suit enters court for almost 10 seconds. I am not suggesting you don a gorilla suit for your next networking event, but it’s helpful evidence that, particularly when they’re concentrating on something, actually aren’t capable of focusing on what you’re doing.
Throughout the entire night people were happy to speak to me, simply assuming I had a reason to be dressed as I was and thinking nothing more of it. The key point behind all of this is that whether you have just walked into another company’s networking event or Lorraine’s birthday, you can relax and enjoy it: nobody is going to notice you, at least until you’re engaging them with a warm smile.
Incidentally, if you ever look out of place for a genuine reason you can use it as a humble and amusing conversation starter: whether you’re wearing a brilliant blue t-shirt or have a grappling hook in your jeans pocket. Best not to mention the silenced handgun.
Ever had a similar situation? Tell me about it in the comments below!