How To Shmooze In Thirteen Hundred Words Or Less

I’m not the type of person who attends launch parties or premieres. I like to think of myself as “Dorky Chic” but the truth is: I’m just dorky. Imagine my chagrin, then, when I pulled up to the launch party of a Hobbit themed iphone game in my rented 2007 Toyota Yaris and my cheap blazer and realized this wouldn’t be the dork-fest I was expecting.

I love Lord Of The Rings. I was asked to cover this event two weeks ago and my initial enthusiasm faded as I realized that I had no idea how to cover a launch. What did “cover” even mean? Was I to conduct interviews? Sleuth the party? Take pictures?

You’ve just gotta shmooze and see if you can get sound bites from celebrity guests, a close friend told me.

Shmooze. Oh Gosh. The idea of schmoozing seemed to me totally mystifying. Ari Emmanuel schmoozes. Sue Mengers schmoozes. Mike Rosenfeld schmoozes. Leland Montgomery sits quietly in a corner discussing the politics of Middle Earth.

What if I can’t schmooze? I asked. What if I can’t get sound bites?

Well, I was advised, then there’s really no point in you being there.

You might be thinking, “If you weren’t up to the task, then why’d you go?”

I’d accepted the gig because, given the nature of the game, I thought I might find a like-minded group of people. I knew the special guests included Rosario Dawson, Kristen Bell and a few others, but everyone else there must be a Hobbit lover like me, right?

I figured I’d go and, given my renowned bravery and stunning good looks, fake it. I mean, what was schmoozing other than talking to people.

A botched “Reply All” versus “reply” mistake ensured that I wouldn’t be on the red carpet and thus my task seemed as monumental as crossing into Mordor.

The party was hosted at the Eveleigh, which is a very chic restaurant/bar/lounge with a deceptively non-descript exterior.

The media/guest entrance was in a little courtyard, only a few feet from the red carpet. I spent the first half hour of the party next to a decorative tree, peaking at the guests as they arrived.

As I stood by the miniature cypress, I spotted a petite blonde walking the carpet. She was having her picture taken by about a dozen photographers. Now, a dozen doesn’t seem like a particularly large number, but when twelve grown men are screaming at you, I imagine it’s easy to become overwhelmed. The girl put her hand up over her face, shielding her eyes from the flashes, “That’s really bright, you guys.”

There was something sweet and unaffected about that moment. I was determined to talk to her. Shmoozing seemed more palatable when it was based in a genuine impulse to chat with someone.

As she entered the bar, I peered in to see her warmly greet a well-known commercial actor I vaguely knew and his two friends.

That was my in. I’d met the actor before so it seemed to me totally acceptable to stroll over, casually re-introduce myself and make small talk as if I was an old friend. That was schmoozing, right?

I gathered my confidence, marched towards the group and just as I was within handshaking distance, I lost my nerve and made a beeline towards the bathroom as if that had been my intended destination all along.

As I killed time in the water closet, listening to the sounds of the party outside, my task of schmoozing seemed even more impossible than ever. If I couldn’t get up the nerve to say hi to an acquaintance, what could I accomplish at this party? If I couldn’t get sound bites, what was the point of me being here?

I left the bathroom, determined to go home. This wasn’t my place. I had failed in my task. On my way out, I stopped by the bar to scarf down one of the complimentary mini burgers and spotted the commercial actor again. He looked almost as uncomfortable as I did. The blonde had left him and his two friends. The trio sat in a deep couch in the corner of the room.

This was it. My last chance to make my time here mean something.

“Can I join you,” seems like such an innocuous question, but what if the answer is no? How do you handle that? You could laugh it off and excuse yourself I suppose, or nod brusquely and walk away… I practiced, under my breath as I approached.

The truth is,if you don’t look like a crazy person and your intentions aren’t lecherous, asking if you can join someone isn’t the type of thing that offends people. The actor and his two friends welcomed me, not warmly, but the discovery of mutual acquaintances and my purpose there seemed to put everyone at ease.

The two girls were looking at a picture they had taken with the blonde from the carpet and when I asked who she was, they looked at me suspiciously. Jenna Malone, they told me.  Of course. Duh.

The trio’s publicist appeared shortly thereafter and began to check my credentials. Though he wasn’t nearly as aloof as his client, he was equally skeptical of my presence. I told him I was a writer and his demeanor changed. Suddenly it was all warmth and laughter and asking me if I was interested in covering any of his clients. Was this the point of this whole thing? To network? Is that what schmoozing is?

The publicist asked if I’d spoken yet to Rosario. Dawson? I couldn’t even imagine. My nerves at approaching Jenna Malone had nearly sent me home. The prospect of being a star of this caliber was beyond me.

But then I thought – what would Legolas do? What would Aragorn do? I mean, jeez, what would Smeagol do?

I downed my Probiotic pomegranate Moscow mule that smelled vaguely like foot and approached.

RD was in the middle of taking selfies with a group of teenage girls but as I approached she smiled at me like I was just the friend she had wanted to talk to. I introduced myself, asked if I could ask her some questions and to my surprise, was welcomed warmly.  No schmooze. No insincerity.  We spent a good fifteen minutes talking about The Hobbit, her favorite character (Smaug) and how she likes to dress up with her brother at renaissance fairs.

In the aftermath of my encounter, as I meandered back to the deep couch in the corner of the room, I began to realize that maybe no one here really knew why they were here. Maybe this whole launch party business was an exercise in existentialism.  Maybe all this schmoozing was a defense mechanism, a front that none of the truly confident people in the room needed.

Jenna Malone hadn’t schmoozed when she told the photographers their flashbulbs were too bright, Rosario Dawson hadn’t schmoozed when we discussed the personality traits of Bilbo Baggins. None of the waiters were schmoozing. It was the publicist and the D-list actor and the guests that seemed particularly desperate to appear to belong.

Seated, deep in the couch in the corner by the DJ, the two girls continued to show me pictures they’d taken with their celebrity acquaintances and the publicist kept pitching me clients to write about. At the end of the night, this was the only schmoozing I had accomplished.

After all, if you’re having a real conversation with someone, it’s hard to get sound bites. TC mark

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