Fearless Questions

Following our Questions to Freedom

How Me and Lloyd Dobler Network

Have you ever had one of those evenings out in public that everything you did seemed to be one step more clumsy and embarrassing than the last?

That was my story this past weekend.

I was at a writers conference in Franklin, TN where a number of fairly well-known writers and speakers would be attending and presenting.  At the beginning of the conference was a VIP reception, where attendees with premium tickets would have an opportunity to connect with speakers ahead of the first evening’s group session.

Sounds pleasant enough.  Grab a few veggies…crackers and cheese…a glass of wine…and just mill about.  A nice chance to shake hands and say hi to a few ‘influencers’ in the industry. 

But apparently my alter ego had decided to come out to play and provide a good evening of laughter for a couple of friends who had front row seats to watch my debacle of networking unfold.

Mind you…I was (falsely) under the impression that this short VIP reception was our one chance to not only connect with these speakers, but also to invite them to coffee or a meal over the course of the conference.  Once the main sessions began, I believed, the speakers would be overwhelmed with requests from the masses and the opportunity would be missed. 

I’m not sure exactly what opportunity I was looking for (red flag), but as a competitive guy, I heard a time limit and a goal to beat others to the conversations…so I cranked-up the adrenaline and got right to it.

What followed was a public lesson in ‘How-Not-To’ networking.

First up was Emily Freeman.  I can’t say that I have read all of her books, but being one of my wife’s favorite authors, I can say that I have listened to almost all of her books from Jodie reading me passages that moved her and giving me pages to read as well.  I follow her blog where she provides readers space for their souls to breathe.

I would not be returning the favor this night.

A few friends and I are sitting at a table as folks begin coming in and I spot Emily picking up a few veggies and looking to find a place to sit.  She’s alone (you’ll remember this thing has barely started) and I decide to cut her off at the pass on her way to a table. 

She is either a truly calm person or was completely terrified and speechless from being bombarded so forcefully before sitting down, because she managed to keep her composure while I gregariously introduced myself and all the folks around me to her.  I was talking faster than I knew what words were coming out of my mouth.  I remember doing this years ago as a Youth Pastor when a new middle school student would visit and feel lonely and out of sorts in a big room of strangers.  If I was goofy enough, the new student might find camaraderie with the other students recoiling from my obnoxiousness.  Ill-advised and not pretty. 

So yes…out of the gate…I decided to rescue someone not asking to be rescued (and not needing rescued…of course…as would become increasingly obvious…I was the one needing rescued).

First I asked her to join me and a few of my friends for lunch the next day.  That’s right, I led with that.  “Hi…As a big guy that you’ve never met before blocking you from your targeted table, might I force you to say a quick yes or no to a meal invite with me and some friends?” 

She stalled in the kindest way.

Undeterred, and knowing that Jodie would love a picture of her author-friend (authors tend to become your friend before they realize it) I asked to take a picture of Emily holding a picture of Jodie.  Her picture was, of course, on my phone.  “So Emily…you wouldn’t mind if we use your phone to take the picture would you?” 

Are you grimacing yet? 

You should be, because during this back and forth, I’m also throwing out bad jokes to my friends about giving out Creeper 101 lessons.   

Of course, once the picture is taken…now what? 

“Could you text the picture to me?” I ask…(As I reference my request aloud as Creeper lesson 202.)

She kindly offers to AirDrop the pictures my way…A solid Creeper Countermeasures move and a sure sign this isn’t her first conference experience.


At this point, I can feel that I’m way over my skis and have totally lost my chill.  So I did what any self-respecting guy does when he realizes he’s being a complete dork…I pulled the rip-cord and after a couple more awkward ramblings, bailed out of the conversation completely.  I think I heard a deep exhale behind me as I went to sit at the next table…joining my friend who was staring wide-eyed at what just went down…not sure if it was ok to laugh at me or not.

I acknowledged my missteps to my colleague and determined that I would regroup and give this networking thing another shot.  As someone who aspires to do a little public speaking in the future, I was told that Michael Port was one of the very best coaches around and that I should meet him. 

Say no more.

I scan the crowd and acquire my target. 

He’s standing near the veggie table in a conversation with another presenter and I get up to make my move.

Leaving my remaining food at the table, I casually walk behind the men…grab a single carrot stick and walk back around the table to try and join in on the conversation.

Instead, I walked in front of the two men…carrot stick hanging forward out of my hand…and slowed down like I was a wide-receiver running a hitch and go pattern…making direct awkward eye contact with each guy before I kept going right past them.  I can only imagine the strange looks behind me as I quickly dropped my carrot stick in the nearby trashcan and headed back to the table again…this time my friend is shaking his head in awe and starting to giggle.

If you’ve seen the movie Say Anything and remember the early scene where Lloyd Dobler pauses behind Diane Court to capture a quick photobomb…just imagine him doing the same thing in front of the girls and having made awkward eye contact along the way.


This networking thing was coming off the rails and I was surrounded by brick walls.

Being a former athlete, I’m accustomed to playing through pain.  And this would be no different. 

‘I’ve got this’ I tell myself.

And I take a second to get my composure back in order.

Michael is now talking with Grant Baldwin and Tim Grahl while I ease my way into the circle to say hi.  I’m more composed at this point, but not realizing my alter ego is still playing hide and seek.

A nice introduction…a few simple words…success.

And then I decided to wrap things up by getting a picture of the three speakers in a way that is apparently socially unacceptable.

Understand that until now, Michael and Grant…both sporting shaved heads, had been sharing a light-hearted discussion over razors and scalp care…educating Tim along the way.  In all of my infinite wisdom, I thought asking Michael and Grant to lean their heads over and letting Tim rub their heads would make for a fun candid shot. 

The silence, lack of movement, and the ‘WTF are you talking about’ faces looking back encouraged me to quickly say…”Just kidding…o.k. everyone smile!” 

I got the snapshot…ducked out of there and returned to my colleague…now bent over in laughter, having watched it all go down.


Smiles of relief about to turn to laughter when I walk away!

Mercifully, the main doors opened wrapping-up our private reception and bringing my derailed networking efforts to an end.

Not surprisingly…at the first main session, our host Jeff Goins suggested we all try and connect with some of the speakers…just be kind and not too obnoxious.  I assume he must have seen me at work. 

As the Wedding Singer says: “That information would have been helpful for me YESTERDAY!”. 

I’d like to say this is the first time I’ve ever gone off the rails in a social setting like this…but if you know me, you’d know that’s wishful thinking.

I hope you haven’t had to experience these types of moments yourself, but if you have…I hope that you too will have friends there to laugh at you…and then with you. 

It’s embarrassing to live it…but it’s these kind of moments that keep us laughing for days to come.  Might as well enjoy it 🙂

About Jeff Blackburn

Jeff Blackburn is a Spiritual Coach and passionate Truth-Seeker. An alumnus of Oxford University, Jeff is someone who advocates for Freedom and Fullness of Life for All. He believes Jesus offers good news for people everywhere today…not just eternity. Jeff is the Executive Director of Fearless Questions, Inc. and has spent the past 20 years working with people searching for God.

8 Replies

  1. Amanda

    This is great! So funny…. What i love is that you will always have a memory of this writing conference and possibly those that you look up to will remember you too, no such thing as bad advertising! ?

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      Yeah…I certainly hired ‘Clumsy-Advertising-R-Us’ that time 🙂

  2. Emily Caudill

    Thanks for the literal “laugh out louds”. Your candor is always the most refreshing gift – whether in text or in person. Glad to call you a friend!!

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      Thank you Friend 🙂

  3. A laugh out loud hilarity piece with cathartic empowerment. I wonder who that colleague might have been. 😉

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      Thanks Nicole. And yeah…I try not to throw my friends under the bus whenever possible 🙂

  4. Love this. I laughed out loud several times throughout this piece. Thanks for sharing and putting yourself out there.

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      Thanks David…Glad I could offer a little comic relief today 🙂