It’s time for a quick primer on the proper way to interact at conferences and other business events. Since I just came back from one of those types of events, this is on top of mind for me.
What’s surprising is how few people get it right and move a conversation towards their business goals. The rest let ego and sloppiness get in the way, usually leaving people on both sides of the conversation frustrated. I’m here to help.
I get approached a lot at technology events (usually entrepreneurs), and I also approach others (usually about a story I’m working on).
A typical frustrating interaction for me: I am being hit on all sides by people saying hello, or trying to pitch me, or whatever. A new person pops up in front of me. They look vaguely familiar. A hand is thrust towards me and they say “hey Mike!”
At this point all I’m thinking about is damage control. I frantically try to remember if I’ve met him/her before. Because if I say “nice to meet you” and I’ve met them before, I usually get a “yeah well we met three months ago, i can’t believe you don’t remember” back with a negative tone. If I’m not sure, and usually I’m not, I say “nice to see you.” It’s a trick I’ve learned that sort of works in any situation. Any anyway, I’m also already annoyed that the person put me in an awkward situation.
Then the person jumps right into whatever it is they want. Often its to step aside for a pitch. Which puts me in bad situation no. 2, because I probably can’t step aside at just that moment. And the middle of an event is certainly not the time to expect me to pay attention to whatever you’re pitching. And since you deserve that attention, why start things off in such a crazy way?
Remember your ultimate business goal. It isn’t to have me listen to a pitch. It’s something more. Like a story on TechCrunch about your startup, or an introduction to someone who can help your project. If you keep the ultimate goal in mind, you won’t screw up by forcing intermediate goals that don’t really help you, and just frustrate the listener.
So here are my tips for making the most of these interactions:
Instead, say “Hey Bob, It’s Mike from TechCrunch, good to see you again” slowly and clearly. You’ve just told them your name, where you work, and the fact that you’ve previously met. Trust me, they are thankful for all that information, and everything will go smoothly from there.
Some of the most well known people I know never assume people they talk to know who they are. Sequoia Capital partner Roelof Botha, for example, introduces himself to me every time I see him, and asks if now is a good time to talk. I’ve known him since 2006, and it’s far from necessary. But I always appreciate how polite he is.
Want to be like Roelof someday? A good start is basic business etiquette. Just because someone can’t register your face, name and workplace in less than the second it takes for you to say hello to them doesn’t mean they don’t want to help you out. Just help to avoid that awkward moment by giving them all the information they need. And then watch body language for your cue to wrap things up.