Monday, March 31, 2008

Humor Me: A degree in schmooze

By MATT WIXON

When you drop a hundred grand or two on a new house, you can bet
that a warranty or guarantee is included. The same goes for the
$20,000 you pay for a new car. Even amazing television products,
usually available for three easy payments of $19.95, have
money-back guarantees.

So what guarantee is offered when you spend a small fortune on a
college degree? A 10-year warranty on structural damage to your
career? A guarantee that you'll get a job within three years or
30,000 miles?

Nope. The only guarantee is that in six months, even if you've
moved four times and left no forwarding address, a letter will
arrive for you that begins, "Dear former student, your continued
financial contribution is essential ..."

No wonder college students spend so much time choosing, and then
changing, their majors. They want their degrees to pay off after
graduation, so that their four or five -- or in the case of my
former college buddy -- eight years in college won't be a waste of
time and money.

In hopes of guaranteeing success, most college students try to
choose a practical major. That's why, when I was in college, I
ruled out ethnomusicology, psycholinguistics and "Colonialism and
the 19th-Century Novel."

A degree in art history also seemed impractical to me, although
art-history majors probably have a great appreciation of the
graffiti on their taxicabs.

But is majoring in business, education or engineering that much
more practical? A lot of math, science and Cliff's Notes are
required for those, and even a "practical" degree doesn't ensure
success.

The problem is, no degree currently available can guarantee you the
big desk, in the big office, next to the big group of jealous
employees pretending to get refills at the water cooler so they can
talk about your abominable ego. That is why today I am proposing a
college degree that will guarantee post-graduate success:

A degree in schmooze.

Scoffers, I know you're out there. "A degree in schmoozing?" you
ask. "What is that all about?"

To you, I offer this:

I like your shirt. My, you look nice today. Have you lost weight?

That's from Layering the Praise 101, a fundamental course in
schmoozing studies. Advanced courses would include Influential Chit
Chat 320 and Slobbering Adoration 410, which would include a field
trip to the Academy Awards to watch entertainment reporters ask
questions such as, "How did you get so gorgeous?"

Another core class would be Business Cards 210, where key elements
of the card would be taught and discussed. Designing, collecting
and filing would be topics, along with proper etiquette for
distributing cards. Lab work: Going to a sandwich shop and dropping
your business card in the fish bowl that says "Weekly Drawing For
Free Combo Meal."

Business Cards 210 must be taken before Networking 460, a class in
which top students could establish themselves as the nauseating,
yet very successful, schmoozers of the future.

The class will ask students, "How welcoming is your smile? How is
your smooth-operator deejay voice? How easily can you turn a
conversation about weather patterns into a 45-minute discussion of
a joint business venture?

Networking 460 would be broken into two semesters because of the
volume of content.

The first semester would tackle the basics, such as developing a
hearty handshake, establishing contacts and feigning enthusiasm for
a contact's story about the wax job he got on his BMW.

The second semester would offer advanced strategies for using old
friends as stepping stones, talking to someone for 30 minutes
without knowing his or her name and, most important, the elusive
talent of hanging out where influential people hang out and
"accidentally" running into them.

Then the schmooze students would be off to graduation.

And what a graduation ceremony it would be! Graduates would gather
in a happy mingling of card-swapping, networking and pleasant
conversation about an incoming cold front. The valedictorian would
give a speech that encourages all to follow their dreams and
remember the class motto:

Confidence, Persistence and "Call me, we'll do lunch."

How's that for a practical degree? I could've done practically
anything in life had I spent more of my college years studying how
to win over my colleagues instead of who won the Franco-Prussian
War.

Well, I can't make any guarantees on that. But I can guarantee
this:

I like your shirt. Have you lost weight?

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mwixon@dallasnews.com. Have a great week.