WARNING: Today I get a little ranty about the bad form I see all the time at live events.
It’s not really their fault. The vast majority of people learn about live events in one of three ways:
Following the crowd
Trial and error
The problem is…
Conventional advice is largely outdated or just plain wrong.
The crowd you’re following is working off said bad advice.
And embarrassing yourself sucks.
So, let’s dispel some myths about forming relationships at live events.
BAD TIP #1: Prepare an elevator pitch.
No. You should not be “reeling off” your elevator pitch at a cocktail party. Especially one that sounds like you rehearsed it in the mirror beforehand.
Reason it doesn’t work: Most elevator pitch templates are awful. They are filled with buzzwords and confusing phrases because people are scared to just answer the question, “What do you do?” in an honest way. My answer? “I’m a copywriter that helps people outsource their voice.”
(Shoutout to Clay Hebert and the 6-word intro.)
You don’t have to go further than that. If you do, people will start to tune out.
Pro tip: You’ll notice high-status people don’t talk a lot, and they talk slow. The reason for this (like the reason for most things), comes down to behavioral psychology. When we feel “lower status,” we subconsciously try to get everything out at once — because we’re scared this is our only chance. The intro is just that– the beginning of the conversation. Of course I have more to say than, “I’m a copywriter”…. But that doesn’t have to happen in the first sentence.
BAD TIP #2: Avoid meaningless small talk.
If you want an immediate eye roll, ask some weird “spicy question” to someone that you’ve never met.
Reason it doesn’t work: Small talk is important. It’s how we as humans get a feel for each other and you can’t shortcut it. We can find out quickly, are they enthusiastic? Funny? Shy?
Jumping right into, “what’s your most formative childhood experience?” sometimes leads to amazing conversation, but also completely shuts down a large subset of people. Small talk is a subtle way to create a connection and find out what someone is about.
Skipping small talk is a lot like that first time you tried Tequila in college. Drinking the whole bottle is not a good substitute for taking a sip to see if you like it (and a great way to ruin an otherwise pleasant evening).
Pro tip: Like the intro, you don’t have to get crazy with small talk. It is perfectly acceptable to ask, “What’s your story?” or “I loved XYZ presentation earlier… what did you think?” It feels natural and safe. Your “spicy question” will often come off as inauthentic and invasive.
BAD TIP #3: Give out business cards to everyone
I hate this tip so much and it will never end. I’m not a believer in conspiracy theories, but if I was, I’d say that the business card industry has created and fueled an addiction by promising us riches all so they can secretly take over the world.
Reason it doesn’t work: Think about what you did with the last stack of business cards you received. If you’re like most people, you probably had every intention of putting the info into a spreadsheet and contacting people, only to throw the stack away a few months later. Business cards are lazy, and giving them out to random people like street flyers is a waste of money.
Pro tip: The only reason I have business cards is because my husband KC ordered them for me. I may have given out 4 of them. If I have a connection with someone and want to follow up, I pull out my smart phone and get their info. Then I take the initiative to follow up (more on that in a moment).
I assume every card I give out will end up in the bottom of their laptop bag or accidentally washed in the pocket of their jeans. You should assume that, too.
BAD TIP #4: Use every moment you can to talk to VIPs
There is no debate! Do not approach people in the restroom.
Which leads me to…
The speaker line.
Repeat after me: “I will not stand in a line to meet someone. I will not stand in a line to meet someone.” Do not stand in a speaker line (or “on line” if you’re from Jersey).
Reason it doesn’t work: You do not want your intro to someone to be in a situation where their sole goal is to get away from you. In a speaker line, the speaker wants to get through the line as quick as possible so they can eat/drink/pee/breathe…
Pro tip: The magic happens in the bar after the conference. I cannot stress this enough. I got my first deal with Agora publishing at 2a.m. I already told you about how I met Ramit Sethi. I could list at least 20 other deals that came from a cocktail. You don’t have to drink. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) pitch. Just hang out. (more tips on that here).
BAD TIP #5: Have very specific goals about who you talk to and what you want
Do not be that guy. Do not have an agenda when you meet people.
Reason it doesn’t work: People can smell ulterior motives a mile away. If you’re gearing up for a pitch, they’ll feel it. So don’t have an agenda.
Pro tip: Be strategic about who you get in front of, but not how the relationship will look. I am a copywriter. But I rarely approach someone with the intent of writing copy for them. What happens instead is you form a friendship and sometimes down the road they need copy help. Sometimes they don’t.
But the relationship starts out the way it should: By relating to one another. Which is always more valuable in the long run.
BAD TIP #6: Try to follow up with people you meet
To this, I will turn to Yoda:
Follow up is one of those things that everyone knows they should do. And nobody does. Nobody. If you mess up everything on this list, but follow up, you can still have a great relationship.
If you do everything on this list but fail to follow up, all your hard work will be wasted.
Again, you don’t have to be too “strategic” about this. There are 100 articles about the best time to follow up or exactly what to say… but I’m telling you, if you write a mediocre follow-up email, you still win.
Because 99% of people aren’t writing one at all.
Phew. This post turned out A LOT longer that I expected.
What all this comes down to is acting like a person with other people. Don’t make it weird. Just be human.