I Don't Want to Meet You
I had a great time at yesterday's Open Coffee Club, where investors, entrepreneurs and wild cards (like myself) came together at AlphaLab for some quality face time. The catch? Although I met 3 or 4 new and interesting people, I spent most of the event talking to folks I already know.
Why do we do this?
Why do so many of us attend "face to face" events and then spend the bulk of the event talking to the same people we knew yesterday? Isn't the entire point of a social event to meet people you wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to talk with?
And yet, when faced with the prospect of cold-contacting a complete stranger -- even at an event where everyone allegedly has multiple overlapping interests and is ostensibly there PRECISELY to make new contacts -- most of us who don't already have an elevator pitch burning up our tongues opt for the woobie of familiarity.
I think the reason why is 3-fold:
* The known payoff from talking with a friend is preferable to the unknown outcome of talking with a complete stranger. Especially at an event where you're not sure what everyone's area of expertise is, and you're afraid you won't be able to extricate yourself from a conversation with someone who offers no direct value (in your opinion).
* We have no idea what our true value is. So instead of trying to explain why we think we're valid to a complete stranger (who, we presume, is automatically judging us and comparing our net conversational worth against that of everyone else in the room), we'd rather talk with people whom we already know appreciate us in some capacity.
* We have no game plan. Sure, the concept of being surrounded by "interesting people" is alluring, but once we're in the situation, we immediately presume that everyone else who's there has a much more specific agenda. If WE don't, we wouldn't want to waste anyone's time (or our own), so we aim for the low-hanging fruit of familiarity instead.
All of this usually results in small clumps of conversations among people who obviously already know each other OR, in a variant, people of a similar age / gender / dress code, who gravitate together because they imagine that they must have something in common. And if you've come to such an event alone and aren't wearing a popularized "uniform," you're probably floating along the fringes, eating the free food and conspicuously pretending to check your text messages, so no one knows you're privately terrified of making contact.
If so, here are 5 tips for breaking up the monotony at your next "live" event:
* Pre-set one goal. Maybe you want to meet one prospective collaborator. Or bounce a vague idea off 5 people. Or collect 20 business cards. As long as you have a concrete goal, you can focus on accomplishing that first, and then any chatting among your friends won't feel so guilty.
* Talk to the loner. Immediately beeline for the nearest person who appears to be floating adrift and engage them directly. As you've probably noticed, small groups tend to be where the loners will eventually wash up anyway, so you might as well cut out the middleman and form your own small group right from the get-go.
* Bring people together. Chris Brogan is the master at this, usually because he's swamped with conversations and needs an elegant escape clause. Following his method, start by engaging someone you DON'T know. Find out their story, in a nutshell. Then rope in your nearest friend by asking the new person, "Have you met my friend [NAME] yet?" and physically deposit them in a conversation. This allows you to then step away without leaving the new person alone, which is probably how you found them.
* Make a scene. This is where talking with your friends actually comes in handy. Once a pack of you are talking about something, get contentious / absurd / offensive / funny, and raise your voices. Move around. Draw attention to yourselves. Because nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd -- especially one where a wallflower can expect to linger and observe without being drawn into the fray because the fray seems self-contained. But here's the catch: once you've attracted some spectators, then draw them directly into the spectacle. Ask them a question, use them as an accomplice in a recreation -- whatever it takes to incidentally break the ice and help them feel like they're now a part of the fray. (Because they are.)
* Refuse to leave until you're out of business cards. This means you're forcing yourself to meet new people until there are none left. It also means you probably want to arrive with fewer than 500 cards in your pocket, or you'll be making friends with the caterers and janitors, too. (Which, depending on your pre-set goals, may not be such a bad idea after all...)
NOTE: Dropping the cards in a stack near the coffee cups doesn't qualify as dispensing them. Man up, people.
This image of Woycheck trying unsuccessfully to frighten Jim Russell into fleeing was taken at a previous AlphaLab event by Michael Fulk.