10 most embarrassing networking stories

Some people love to network, and it comes as naturally to them as talking to a close friend would. For others, networking can be far more formidable, full of the potential for mistakes and even outright humiliation.

Here are 10 of the funniest and most embarrassing networking stories readers have shared here.

1. Doused in champagne

“I once was asked to attend a dealers forum for our company. This was very early in my career, and I had never attended a conference like this at all. Most of the others attending were all company owners or C-level executives, and I was just a low-level new employee, but the only one in my company who was able to fly out on short notice. I’m very quiet and reserved to start with, plus new to the industry and was surrounded by people who ran companies. I felt completely out of my element the entire time I was there, so I was thrilled when the final lunch was being served and everyone would be leaving for the airport afterwards. I slip in to the luncheon, find an open seat at a table, smile politely, and I’m just counting the minutes to slip out and get home. Part of the final luncheon is a “champagne toast,” so the waiters begin bringing around glasses of champagne for everyone. As the final closing remarks are being made, a waiter dumps the entire tray of drinks he is carrying directly on my head and suit. Obviously the entire room reacts to the crashing noise, and literally 10 hotel staff members rush in to “assist” me. Mortified does not even begin to describe my feelings. To top it off, our suitcases had already been collected and sent ahead to the airport, so I got to fly from the West Coast back to the East coast in a suit drenched in champagne. I shudder just thinking back on it.”

2. “So, are you in high school?”

“Our bank was in the process of merging with another bank. During the merger process, all the teller managers had to attend meetings with people from other banks going through the same process. During the first meeting, I did my best to get to know the other teller managers and branch managers (I’m an introvert and was very shy at the time).

I started talking to the woman who was running the meeting. She was the equivalent of a district manager and was around my age (early 20s). I was really impressed with the fact that she was at this stage of her career at such a young age, because I was aspiring to rise to the same level. I asked her how she got started, what were her responsibilities, etc. During our talk, she mentioned how she was thinking of going back to finish up school (she said “school” not “degree”). Stupid me asks, “Oh? High school or college?”

Thankfully she just said “college” and moved the conversation to another topic. Even though she didn’t acknowledge my gaffe with so much as a blink, I still was praying a sinkhole would open up below me.”

3. At least it wasn’t 50 Shades of Grey

“I went to a conference two years ago when I was just starting my Master’s degree in order to get to know some of the leaders in my male-dominated industry. In between going to talks and walking around and looking at company booths, I had a book that I needed to read for my English class called “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.” It was an interesting book, but I perhaps should have been more careful about where I was reading it.

Sitting in the conference hotel lobby, I was approached by several men I recognized from the talks. They asked what I was reading and there was really no way for me to explain the concept of the book without looking a little awkward. They all seemed very interested, though. But now I’m extra careful about what I bring with me to read at a conference to network; some possible connections might get the wrong idea.”

4. Questionable mentoring

“I signed up for a mentoring program to be matched up with a local executive. I was matched with a guy, and we went to lunch. When I let him know I was pregnant, since it might effect scheduling during the 6-month program, he let me know how much kids ruined his marriage and his wife’s career.

Awesome, mentor.”

5. Name calling

“I am very bad at names. I often recognize people, but can’t remember why. I was at lunch one day with a coworker who usually works at another building, and I said to her something about how she knew So-and-So (an older portly gentleman), who was sitting at a table right next to us. She turned and looked, and said, “That’s not So-and-So.” The gentleman, who had heard me, also turned and said, “I’m not So-and-So.” I had mixed him up with another older, portly gentleman. I was greatly embarrassed, especially because he seemed to find the mix-up insulting.

From then on out, every time I saw this guy, I made sure to say his name, repeatedly, so that he would know I knew who he was. But a year and a half later, I found out I had still been calling him by the wrong name.”

6. Breakfast splash

“I attended a multi-day conference that provided all meals for attendees in an effort to have everyone network during said meals. Breakfast each morning was held in an area accessed by walking down a flight of stairs. I was headed down the stairs, looking into the room to see who was already at breakfast and thinking about who I might eat and chat with. I lost my footing and rolled/bounced all the way down to the breakfast area with my laptop tumbling behind me. Of course, everyone stopped eating and talking and started gasping and staring. Everyone knew who I was after that!”

7. Unwanted dieting advice

“I was serving myself some layered cheese spread at a reception for one of Canada’s top poets. I was chatting with said poet and a couple of professors I hoped to work with in the future. As I scooped the cheese onto my plate, the poet reached over, patted my stomach, and said, ‘Girls like us have to watch how much rich food we eat, don’t we?”

8. Unwanted raffle prize

“I got over my crippling social anxiety and attended a blogging/networking event on behalf of my employer – a children’s educational company. I got in touch with a few people, made a few friends, started passing my business card around. I got invited to an event that evening, and threw my card in the fishbowl for the raffle – a bunch of the sponsors had put in gift baskets.

Lo and behold, I won! Oh, did I win. About $300 worth of sex toys. My name was gleefully plastered all over the twittersphere, along with pictures of my bounty. Needless to say, I was not able to capitalize on my newfound fame on behalf of my incredibly mortified and ‘how can we erase the internet?’ employer.

9. When your bladder doesn’t want to network

“I had been trying to connect with a very senior member of a field I’ve been considering entering. We were vaguely connected by a friend of a friend, but every time she emailed me, it was to say some variation of “we’ll have to get together, but I don’t have my schedule with me right now.” After a couple rounds of this, I assumed that she was trying to politely dodge me, and I gave up. Then, at about 11 p.m. one night, I suddenly got an email from her that said, “You can call me tomorrow at 4:15. I have 20 minutes.” This was great news…except for the little annoyance that I had just developed an extremely bad bladder infection, and had spent the last two days running between my desk and the toilet.

I debated telling her that I had an infection and might need to step away to take care of business, but I decided that I was unlikely to have a problem with only a 20-minute phone call. Unfortunately, “I have 20 minutes” really meant “I will talk to you for 20 minutes, and if you prove interesting I will happily talk to you longer.” By about 45 minutes in, I was bursting and in pain, and all I could think of was hanging up and running to the loo. We had moved in to the point where she was inviting me to ask any follow-up questions of her, but I was so distracted I could barely even get myself to read the questions I had pre-prepared, much less come up with an elegant way to end the call, or to explain my situation. After several bouts of awkward silence and her encouragingly telling me I could ask her anything, I finally got to the point where I couldn’t wait any longer, so I gasped out, “I’m sorry, but I really, really have to go to the bathroom!”, threw down my phone, and ran. When I returned to the phone, she had hung up. THAT made for an awkward follow up/thank you email!”

10. Pantyhose malfunction

“During my last semesters of college, I was participating in campus interviews, and attending office tours of the Big 6 accounting firms. These events always required proper business attire. I was your typical starving student, completely broke all the time, so to save a few pennies, I purchased a super cheap pair of generic store-brand pantyhose to wear with my one classy suit. The first time I wore them, during the office tour, I felt the waistband of the pantyhose fold over, which is normally a sign that your pantyhose are about to start creeping down and will require an adjustment. Not this time. As soon as that waistband folded over, my pantyhose rolled down like lightning, and I had to quickly stick my hand into the pocket of my blazer and grab them before they ended up around my ankles. The only restroom was out in the elevator lobby, and badge access was required to get back into the office area. So I spent the entire office tour, including a meet-and-greet with various members of the firm, with one hand in my blazer pocket holding up my pantyhose. After that, no matter how broke I was, I would always pay the extra money for good pantyhose!”

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I have totally had #10 happen to me too, but it was at a funeral.

    Mortifying – absolutely mortifying.

    And I am really bad with names – so I live in fear of #5 happening to me. I have perfected the art of smile and a bright “hey – how ARE you?” while my eyes say I remember you…all the while my brain is desperately searching for the name you must have, since I doubt your mother put “Oh That Guy” on your birth certificate.

    Weird thing, I’m only bad with names if I’ve heard them only. Once I see them written they are much easier to remember – maybe that’s why I so prefer email to phone calls. It actually makes people more real to me than disembodied nameless voices on the phone.

    1. Marie*

      Me too! If I know I will need to remember someone’s name, I write it down as soon as I can get away from the person. Oddly, the act of writing it down generally cements it for me, so I don’t have to check my note later.

      1. the gold digger*

        When a friend was getting her master’s degree in education, she said that people learn in different ways: by hearing, by seeing, by doing. A good teacher will make sure she incorporates all of those in her lessons.

        I, too, am a writer. Once I have written something down by hand, then I am more likely to remember it.

        It is just the names I can’t remember, though, not the details. I can see a person and say, “You’re the guy who ran the marathon while wearing a tutu! You have a sister in Hawaii and three snakes and a turtle as pets. You know how to make salt from scratch.” But I can’t remember his name.

        1. Jamie*

          Me too – details are there – it’s just the name which runs out of my brain like a sieve. And seeing it in writing is better than hearing it – but absolutely writing it or typing it cements it for me.

          I used to be able to ace tests in school just by copying down certain data by hand because once it went out the end of my pen onto the paper it was in my head forever. It’s weird that way – I’m like that with everything from IP addresses to financial data.

          And typing it is good – but there is something about actually using a pen or pencil that locks it in tighter. Something about using muscles and fine motor skills to engage parts of the brain. I used to teach my son via a multi-sensory approach and it worked in a way traditional methods didn’t.

          1. Rana*

            Jamie – my theory on the writing/typing thing is that, as far as your fingers are concerned, most of the letters on the keyboard are identical in terms of muscle memory. Handwriting, on the other hand (hah), requires distinctly different motions for each letter.

            (It’s part of why I used to encourage my students to handwrite their notes – that, and it helped them build up muscle strength and endurance for in-class essays.)

        2. Rana*

          I absolutely have to write things down. There’s nothing more frustrating than someone telling me something where the details are important and not having an ability to write it down. It just floats in one ear and out the other! (I love email…)

          And I’m with you on the names. I can remember names, and I can remember people; the trick is putting the two together. When I was teaching I used to have the students take pictures of each other with a mini-Polaroid as a first-day icebreaker. I’d then post them next to their names and review them regularly. Alas that you can’t do this in regular situations, though profile photos on LinkedIn and Facebook are a huge help.

    2. Lore*

      I had to stop at a Forever 21 on the way to an office party once and purchase new tights; sitting at my desk all day, the dissolving elastic was not apparent, but the minute we started walking there (it was about 10 blocks from the office), they were hobbling me at the knees. Fortunately, I was walking there with a close friend who was able to cover for me when we entered the very glam location and I had to scuttle off to the restroom to change.

        1. FreeThinkerTX*

          I’ve had the cheap hose that, once having sat in them, continued to retain the shape of my sitting figure … when I stood. Which meant poofy calves, knees, and rear in anatomically incorrect positions!

    3. Sascha*

      That is definitely one of the reasons I prefer email to phone. I can have a phone conversation with someone and go over the same thing ten times, but as soon as the phone hangs up, it’s all gone. I barely remember even having a phone call. But the written word? Sticks in my memory like nothing else. I look up things on Wikipedia all the time, just out of general curiosity, and all those random, useless bits of information are engraved in my mind. It makes me pretty awesome at Trivial Pursuit.

  2. Just a Reader*

    These are amazing.

    My worst networking gaffe was when I made a breakfast appointment to discuss PR services–and the guy I made the appointment with thought it was a date. I was (am) married and the conversation hadn’t gotten remotely personal. Still no clue why he thought a business breakfast translated into a date but the look on his face when he finally noticed my ring brought breakfast to an abrupt halt.

    1. the gold digger*

      Pantyhose (or tights) are a necessary evil for me. Walking the four blocks to the bus stop this morning and waiting another nine for the bus, which was late, in 3 degrees, is not fun with bare legs.

      (OK, I had to put sweatpants on over the hose. And now, in my humble cubicle, I have a blanket wrapped around my tights-covered legs. But it would be worse without the tights.)

      1. K*

        I draw a sharp distinction between pantyhose and tights in my mind. Tights are much warmer and less likely to self-destruct if you look at them wrong. :-)

    2. Elise*

      No, that’s why the old fashioned stockings are better – the ones that attach to garter belts. No depending on waistband elastic or rubber grippers on the thigh-highs. Plus, they tend to be less expensive and if you rip one you don’t lose the whole pair!

  3. Anonymous Accountant*

    #8 has me laughing almost to the point of tears! How embarrassing for that person but I can imagine it happening.

  4. Not So NewReader*

    Why, oh why, would anyone raffle off sex toys in such a setting?

    I will forever think of this person and always look over the raffle prizes carefully before entering ANY raffle. wow.

    I appreciate these folks willingness to share their stories. I feel a little less alone in some of my own experiences now. It’s not just me… hahaha.

    1. Kelly L.*

      My best guess was that someone there was a Pure Romance consultant in her spare time and wanted to drum up some business. Just bizarre!

      1. Jamie*

        Maybe I’m 12 – but I can’t help but giggle to imagine what those production meetings are like in their plants.

        The engineering files, production samples…I really don’t think I’d be able to keep a straight face. I’d be fired for incessant and inappropriate giggling.

        But seriously – someone some where is really bored compiling the production reports for those things.

        1. Rana*

          At my editors’ group meeting this week, the topic of technical writing came up. I am now thinking that there’s some writer out there responsible for the documentation for these items. It makes me wonder how they’d describe their accomplishments on a resume!

          1. Vicki*

            My spouse met a woman whose job included captioning photos for an XXX site. She said it became _very difficult_ after a while to come up with interesting, unique captions.

    2. Sam*

      “I will forever think of this person and always look over the raffle prizes carefully before entering ANY raffle. wow.”

      Sometimes the full list of prizes isn’t advertised. I had the (mis)fortune of winning a raffle at an out of town tech conference. While the big advertised prizes were laptops and iPads, there was also a much longer list of random crap that wasn’t announced until the actual drawing. I ended up winning a cheap-o mini fridge, but it wasn’t feasible to bring it home.

  5. ChristineH*

    These are all great! I definitely remember #1.

    For #8 – I’m surprised the organization didn’t see the contents of all the gift baskets prior to the raffle.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      No one ever thinks they’ll actually win these raffles. I have a friend who won a brand new car, and didn’t believe the person who called to tell her, because she didn’t remember tossing her business card in a fishbowl. It worked out, though, and I bought her 2 year old Grand Prix.

  6. Jenn*

    I’ve always said that anything remotely embarrassing that can happen to a person, has probably already happened to me. ;-)

    1. Jamie*

      My mom always used to say there is no such thing as a bad experience if you either learned something or got a funny story out of it.

      She was kind of a Pollyanna about most things – but that one has always rung true for me.

      Although some embarrassing moments need a lot more time (decades) than others before you can see the humor.

      1. FreeThinkerTX*

        Ah, yes. Walking into the senior prom wearing a floor-length, strapless gown while carrying heavy, breakable objects in each hand … and stepping on the front hem of my dress.

        Thank goodness cell phone cameras hadn’t been invented back then.

  7. Erica - The Raffle Winner*

    Hey, I never said my sex toy bounty was unwanted! I just could have done without the publicity :)

    The next time I won anything, it was a years supply of the worst gum, ever. I was not a popular Halloween house.

  8. Al Lo*

    “Bonk” is a pretty fantastic book. If anyone has mastered the art of being boldly matter-of-fact about awkward conversation topics, it’s Mary Roach.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m reading this book also… and realized there are just some places I can’t take it. And when I read it, I can’t giggle at the writing, because people will ask me what’s so funny. How can I explain what’s funny about a researcher losing a shipment of penises from cadavers?

      1. Michelle*

        wait–some people don’t understand why a researcher losing a shipment of cadaver penises is funny???

  9. jesicka309*

    Eww networking events.
    I had the misfortune in uni to fall victim to one. My company was sponsoring the local sports association, and they wanted me to go with the marketing coordinator to hand out showbags at their yearly launch event.
    I asked what I should wear (as I was coming straight from uni classes) and I was told, oh just wear what you would normally wear to uni.
    So I rocked up in skinny jeans, boots, a purple long sleeved shirt and faux leather jacket. While my boots wear a bit scuffed from wear, it was one of my better uni outfits (no hoodies!)
    I was mortified to see everyone at the event wearing full business atire…but figured that I was handing out showbags and driving their promo car, not doing the networking thing…until my boss dragged me inside and started steering me around the event for three hours until the showbag part started. I was talking to men and women in business suits while I was wearing faux leather! :(
    To top things off, the marketing coordinator was wearing a beautiful business dress, so when show bag hand out time came, all the sports guys flocked to her to get their show bags, and I was left with armfuls as hardly anyone would approach me, though it was the whole reason I was there! :(
    I still feel embarrassed now!

    1. Arts Nerd*

      Given that you explicitly asked about the dress code, I think you’re long overdue to forgive yourself!

      1. jesicka309*

        Well, I think the kicker is that they probably assumed I wore nicer clothes to uni, when they said that. I’m generally not a very fashionable person in my non-work life, and the women of that office always wore beautiful dresses, cute heels, and up to the fashion outfits, being in publicity and marketing. I had only just started as their promo driver that spent half her time in dusty storage sheds loading boxes of promo gear. I definitely stepped it up after that for the office and events, and changed for the driving stuff, but it kills me as it was my one great networking opportunity and I didn’t even know I’d be networking until I got there!

        1. Rana*

          Heh. In my experience the average college student is most likely to be wearing jeans, baggy shorts, or pajama bottoms, with t-shirt, tank top, or hoodie. (Though I did work one place where a fair number of the female students wore heels and pearls; lots of sororities on that campus.)

          1. jesicka309*

            Haha I wavered around the middle of that. My uni was based in the middle of the CBD so no pajamas, but definitely a few hoodies and trackie pants in the early morning classes.

  10. Waiting Patiently*

    Izzy. I’ll never forget his name or me asking him at the end of the interview “by the way what’s your name?” This was years ago before I felt comfortable with repeating back the name early in the interview or in the introduction phase.
    I don’t know why I asked perhaps out of nervousness or because I thought I would forget it. But as I was asking him, I was thinking no don’t…but it was too late.

  11. The Other Dawn*

    Woo hoo! I’m #2. Eh, I probably shouldn’t be proud of the fact that I made the top ten list of most embarrassing stories…

    1. lily*

      You can be proud that you have gotten over it enough to be excited! I wish I could turn embarrassing memories into funny stories faster.

  12. Laura*

    Hey, I made the list! I’m #10. That happened almost 20 years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Chit-chatting with partners like I didn’t have a care in the world, but all the while holding onto those stupid pantyhose with a death-grip.

    My other good pantyhose story happened to my sister. She lived in NYC years ago and did the typical NYC thing of always dressing in black. She went to a business dinner one night, in one of her black outfits, and only at the end of the dinner did she realize that she had a pair of black pantyhose wrapped around her neck. As she put it, the legs were hanging down on either side of her neck, and the back was hanging down her back like a sailor suit. The first time I heard that story is definitely on the top 5 list of the hardest I’ve ever laughed.

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