How to handle our industry’s expectation to drink

How to handle our industry’s expectation to drink

Apart from the Cannes Lions, our industry is full of networking events with free-flowing alcohol. Sober Media Network advises on how to navigate these situations.

There is often an expectation that you have to drink to attend a networking event in media. Events are regularly focused on alcohol and this can make it very tricky for people to avoid drinking and lead to people feeling excluded.

First, it is important to understand that, to some people, sobriety seems scary and different, so this opens the door to questions. When I first stopped drinking, people thought it was a “phase” and it was common for them to ask whether I’d “crack” and start drinking that night.

Would you do this to someone in recovery? Absolutely not. More broadly, it is very common for people to feel uncomfortable attending events due to the scrutiny they may receive for not drinking.

Remember that it is your life, your body and your choice. You do not have to explain yourself to anyone and if people want to judge, that is up to them. The more you open up, the more you open up to questions from people. From my experience, I used to tell people that “I stopped drinking” and this often invited people to ask: “Why?” If you are OK with that, then fine. If not, maybe it’s best to change the approach.

The first few times you attend events sober, it can be scary, so I would recommend having a line ready to roll out. My go-to is simple: “I don’t drink.” It’s short, to the point and there isn’t an invite for further questions.

However, people are intrigued and still tend to ask (ironically, it tends to be when they have confidence from alcohol consumption), so it might be worth having a follow-up answer prepared.

Having these ready to go helps me feel prepared for any questions and I feel confident addressing it when raised. It’s a cliché but, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become, and it gets easier each time.

How to go to your first media event sober

Establish if you’re telling people you’re going sober. For some, saying they’re not drinking is a badge of honour; for others, it can be quite daunting. If you can, tell a close friend or colleague and buddy up with them for the event.

Arrive when it’s in full swing. Arriving early to an event is usually just an excuse to start drinking. Try to arrive on time or fashionably late.

Get a drink in your hand. Go to the bar and find a nice non-alcoholic drink. Just because you’re going sober doesn’t mean you should miss out on tasty drinks!

Have an exit strategy. Media events can be a lot of fun, but they can also be overwhelming — whether you’re sober or not. It’s always good to know that you can leave the venue for a breather or just go home if you’re not feeling the vibe.

Enjoy yourself. Media events are a great way to network, socialise and have fun. Enjoy your non-alcoholic drinks, treat yourself to all the food and have some fun on the dance floor if you’re feeling it. You can do this safe in the knowledge that you won’t wake up with a hangover the next day or worry about anything you did.

Practice makes perfect. Don’t expect your first sober event to be easy. It might take you a few times to truly master the art of sober networking. But, with practice, you’ll realise that you’ve grown in confidence and find each event easier than the last.

Stephen Bullivant squareStephen Bullivant is regional head of sales at Teads and a founding member of Sober Media Network

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