Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Here’s a helpful way to futureproof yourself against whatever the hell is in store in the decades to come. Even if your job is mostly online, going to conferences and industry gatherings is really productive long-term insurance as the nature of work changes.
Even though it can take years to break through your shyness and start to enjoy it. I’m a natural introvert. I’m really happy on a stage, but I find rooms full of people who all seem to know each other pretty terrifying. Strong first-day-of-school vibes. Just the word “networking” creeps me out.
We’ll get to a plan on how to reduce the pain shortly.
Important point: you’ll tell your boss you’re going for the presentation content so they approve the expense, but your main point should be the conversations.
Will your future employer, or the customers of your future business, care that you’ve learned from some presentations? Not really, you can get it all online any time.
Will they care that you’re known, trusted and influential in your industry? Oh yes indeed.
Those are qualities you can take to any situation and be useful. Technical skills go out of date fast, personal skills don’t.
Bonds formed in-person are stronger than online ones
Your conversations may not lead to direct business. My instinctive ratio is about one in 50 chats leads to any form of commercial activity. It doesn’t matter. You’re building awareness that you exist.
Awareness that your brand exists is the biggest task in marketing. Marketers spend tons of time finessing their plans for the multi-dimensional character of brands. But the reality for all but a few industry whales is that most people have never heard of you.
The same applies to you as an individual.
Obviously you can, and should, build that awareness online as well. You need both. Online awareness is easier to do on a larger scale, but there are risks. Algorithms change. Your expertise on what’s hot right now may make you a “remember when” irrelevancy in the future.
And bonds formed online are just weaker than personal ones. Sorry it’s just animal instinct and it ain’t changing. I’m sure plenty of people would argue with me on that. But if you used their reasoning elsewhere, there would be no need for salespeople in any field and I’m not seeing a lot of businesses adopting that strategy.
Personal accountability = Trust and reassurance
The in-person conversations you have now deliver payoffs in work and referrals far into the future.
The value of people speaking well of you is yet another of those things like exercise and investment planning. It’s easy to put off the networking till later because you’re busy. If present-day you doesn’t work on it, by the time the results of your inaction really start to hit home, it’s too late.
I think the main benefit of face-to-face contact is instinctive accountability. Because they know you, if they use your brand and there’s trouble, they can contact someone they trust who can sort it out.
Everyone has experience with suppliers where all the contact is via an endless succession of anonymous, powerless customer service drones, a different one each time, and that lack of accountability is a Code Red risk. Your relationship takes that risk away.
People think brands are like a layer of sparkly gloss you can spray on your company to make it cool and desirable.
That’s a small element, but the main benefit of brands is reassurance. That their purchase will not turn around and bite them on the arse after they commit their funds. Big brands deliver soothing herd-animal reassurance. Safer to do what everyone else in the herd does.
People think they have to be charismatic to win others over, but being reassuring is more effective in the commercial world.
Don’t do a pitch. Ask for advice
It’s easier to face that scary room full of people with the goal of “just seem like someone they can trust” rather than “find five qualified leads and book appointments with them”.
So you don’t have to pitch your product at these things, despite the advice from the hustle bros about elevator pitches. It makes you look needy, rude and a rank beginner.
If you are a rank beginner, you can’t pretend you’re not that. Yes, you’ve read all the fake-it-till-you-make-it tips, and you think you’re coming across as a player.
Sorry, people experienced enough to be influential can tell you’re a newb in about five seconds. And they’re mostly ok with that, if you don’t give them a cheeseball pitch.
The most productive approach is to ask them for advice.
Everyone, no matter how senior, loves to be asked for guidance. Many of them will go out of their way to help out someone they regard as a nice up-and-comer. You’ll remind them of what they imagined themselves to be at a similar stage, and you’ll have a nice conversation that might lead somewhere.
If you’re not new to the industry, just ask yourself: what can I learn about people? Ask questions, let them talk. Ask them questions that don’t relate to work, few others do that so you get top marks for being charming and trustworthy.
Then, if it’s appropriate, ask them for advice on some topic anyway.
They’ll come away thinking: damn what a charming individual.
How to ask for advice
Do your research in advance where possible. Know who’s who in the room, work out who you want to speak to, and know a bit about them that you can drop into the chat.
When you ask for advice, ask something specific, about a real situation. If it’s weird all the better, it makes it an interesting puzzle for them to solve. Asking “how can I make my startup bigger?” is basically saying “can you give me a free training course?”. It’s a boring question they won’t enjoy answering, and makes you look lazy.
Do not say “can I pick your brain?” because it is a horrible expression. It’s a line you hear from greedy flea-ridden jackals looking for free ideas.
Likewise, don’t say “can I buy you a coffee?” like it’s a generous offer on your part. Pretty sure if they were charging for their advisory time it would be more than $4.50 an hour. It’s all in the phrasing. You’ll get better results with something like:
“I know your time is really valuable and you don’t have to say yes. But if we could have a quick catch up some time to ask a few more questions, I’d really appreciate that.”
Send them a note afterward thanking them for their advice. That’s all you need to do. Next time you see them at an event, it’s a whole different experience.
My life is much better for this stuff
I don’t want to make this sound too easy, you’ll rightly point out that you meet a lot of freaks and clowns at these gatherings. Believe me, I’ve met more than you.
But I’ve also met a lot of people who are an absolute joy to talk to, whose opinion I value, who have taught me a lot. There are people a generation younger than me who have become good friends, who I can catch up with and have long conversations that have nothing to do with work. Now there’s something you rarely read about on LinkedIn: the tricky task of making new friends as a grown-up.
Even if there was no commercial benefit, my life is so much richer for it . Fasten that name tag, you can do this.
Got a comment?
Also, if this story was useful or entertaining for you, why not help me out by sharing it? It’s a ton of work getting these stories out, and more readers really helps me justify the insane effort each week. Thank you.
Why not buy this nice book?
Want a book on how to break free of a job that sucks and set up your own business that you don’t even have to work in? We did that, and here’s the story: Undisruptable: Timeless Business Truths For Thriving In A World Of Nonstop Change.
Zoë Foster Blake said:
“Ian is a cheeky, funny, disruptive (and proven: important) business rascal and thank goodness for that.”
Every week since it came out two years ago, it’s the #1 Review-Rated biz book on all of Booktopia. On paper, electronic or audio book with me reading it. Get it here:
Also I write a story each Tuesday, drop your email here to get it in your inbox.
For those of you in geo-blocked countries, here’s your non-Spotify audio: