Posted on April 29, 2010 by Colin

Penguins, Parties and Personal Branding

 

Penguin’s Gotta’ Dance

I’m staring at the ceiling in the middle of a club in a small port town outside of Christchurch.

The light fixture is really cool…it’s like they built it out of random bits of computer innards, spare wiring and industrial-looking doodads. The light it’s shooting out is multicolored, like something out of a 70′s discotheque, sans the disco ball.

I’m drinking water, trying to get some fluids back into my system after all the dancing and sweating that has made up most of my night thus far. The music’s been pretty good, and really, how can you not dance when you’re dressed as a penguin?

Oh right, the penguin costume. I’m dressed as a penguin. With a giant red bow-tie. That seems like an important point to set the scene.

But fortunately everyone is dressed to the nines in aquatic-themed costumage. There are sexy pirates and mermaids all over the place, plus the spare Snork, seaweed-creature, Japanese whale hunter and member of the Life Aquatic team. Oh look, there’s a seagull. Nice.

The night started on a trio of party buses, hauling this rag-tag collection of young bankers, lawyers, accountants and doctors from the relative quiet of Christchurch to the fishermanly harbor of Lyttelton. From there we crammed all 120 people onto a boat and pulled out into an inlet somewhere nearby, free to engage in our fill of pizza eating, alcohol drinking and dirty dancing.

After a few hours on the boat, this array of oceanic life shambled a few blocks to a bar/club that was full of normally dressed people and, as luck would have it, about a dozen Kiwis dressed as Smurfs. The Snork in our group, I’m sure, was overwhelmed with joy at finally getting to meet his landlocked cartoon brethren.

A few hours and a whole lot of booty-shaking later, here I am, leaning on this table and drinking as much water as I can sip while waiting for the party buses to pick us up and take us back into town.

I’m pulled away from my reverie by a girl that’s been casually flirting all night and start to dance again. What the hell, I’ve got an hour before the buses arrive. Might as well pass the time getting my groove on.

There’s an awful lot of grinding going on, and I’ve come to the realization that this girl is pretty smashed. Attempts to dance normally result in more grinding, and my ass is grabbed more than once in a handful (pun intended) of minutes.

And something isn’t right. Her friends are definitely looking at us strangely. Do they think I’m trying to take advantage of a drunk girl? I’m not the one grinding and grabbing, ladies! I’m even drinking water! What’s the big…oh.

The girl I’m dancing with is pulled away as a guy walks onto the dance floor, entering from the other room. He walks up to her, hugs, kisses, whispers something in her ear. Oh yeah, that’s the boyfriend. It all makes sense now. Thankfully if he did see what she was up to, he reacted a whole lot better than the guy at the gay dance club in Lima.

Personal Branding?

At the end of the night, as the buses drag us back to our normal lives in Christchurch – to the day-to-day workload, to the professional relationships and non-alcoholic drinks – I can’t help but ponder over the fact that I had just met dozens of people for the first time dressed as a penguin.

Style and clothing isn’t everything, but it is SOMETHING. We use visual cues – like the way people carry themselves, style their hair, apply their makeup – to figure out a lot about a person before we say a word to them. This is an ingrained survival instinct from long ago that has carried over to the modern world, and everyone does it to some degree or another (those who don’t tend not to be as proficient, socially).

When you meet people for the first time at a costume party, one of the most obvious and easy to read visual cues has been removed; the usually professional and quiet accountant becomes a party girl, the talkative guy from the law firm becomes a dancing whiz behind a mask.

We’re all able to wear new masks, both literally and metaphorically, and this can have serious implications for first impressions. If you already know someone, it’s not such a big deal, because you already know what to expect. But what if you’re meeting that usually quiet accountant for the first time when she’s a sexy pirate? What kinds of inaccurate assumptions will you make, and how will that impact your relationship with said person?

As someone who seldom goes to costume parties, that’s tough for me to say. What I can say is this: it will be interesting to see how people respond when the dancing penguin they met at the boat party shows up to their meeting next month, sans giant red bowtie, and gives a presentation on networking and personal branding.