Getting Comfortable with Networking and Demos

Last night I attended the NYC Fashion 2.0 meetup where four startups showcased their products and goals. It got me thinking about networking and demos, so here are some thoughts / tips:

NETWORKING
For many people, networking with strangers is like jumping off a high diving board for the first time. Your animal brain says “noooo we won’t” and your conscious brain overrides with “screw it, yes we are!” After you have jumped once, it gets easier and more fun.

Stick out your hand
Most people are not comfortable walking into a room full of strangers and mingling. Here is one thing to remember: everyone else is there to meet people too, and they are typically no more comfortable than you.  If you stick out your hand and introduce yourself, it is actually a relief to other people. You are doing the hard work. Of course, it is essential to introduce yourself concisely (see below).

Sidle up
Sometimes you walk into a room and it feels like everyone is already paired off.  People stick to their comfort zones by bringing a wingman or talking to people they already know. As long as you are polite about it, there is no reason why you can’t sidle up to two or three people already in a conversation. Make a judgement as to whether the conversation seems interruptible. If so, wait for a pause, introduce yourself, and let the conversation flow again. Remember, it is not like you are interrupting two people at a private dinner table. This is a meetup and most people are appreciative that you are doing the hard work, as long as you have decent manners.

Exit gracefully
You are not there to talk to just one person, and you can spoil a promising connection if you make *them* feel trapped talking to you, so you need a polite way to move on.  Do what feels right and polite at the time, but there is nothing wrong with saying some form of: “It’s been nice to meet you. I want to meet a few more folks before I have to run, but I will send you an email and let’s connect again soon.”

Help others
If you meet two people that you think should connect, help the connection happen.  If you are talking to someone and a third person sidles up to your group, make them feel welcome.

Have your “high concept” pitch ready
I learned this term from film people. Examples of high concept movie pitches: “Die Hard on an airplane”; “L.A. Law for doctors”.  Have your own 1-sentence intro prepped and practiced.  Mine varies depending on audience, but for tech-savvy folks, I’ll usually say, “I have a young startup. We’re making a Pandora for shopping, focused on the long tail of e-commerce.”  Then do your very best to STOP and let the other person react and ask questions.

Sometimes the best place to learn how to describe your business is from other people. I did not come up with “Pandora for shopping”. Chip Meakem, a VC, did on a call a while back.

Mark Suster just wrote about the art of the intro. Go read it if you have not.

ON DEMOS
I found myself cringing in three of the four demos last night (note: I thought Source4Style did a good job). I know that these are not the easiest thing to do, but entrepreneurs need to get more familiar with the basics of a good demo.  Just Google “how to give a good demo / pitch“. On the first page of results, you can find solid advice from Suster, Calacanis, and McClure.

Your exact approach needs to vary based on audience and context, but here are some basics for giving a short demo to a group:

  • Start with the problem and then go into the solution, ideally showing product as quickly as you can. There are different ways to highlight problem/solution — just don’t get too hokey.
  • Have a 1-sentence way to introduce you & team wherever it fits best into your flow (unless the pitch *is* the team).
  • Do not try to jam everything you can into 5 minutes. Prioritize.
  • Get to the product fast, and try to show the coolest stuff first.
  • If you get questions, do not get defensive or feel you have to give a detailed defense against every critique. Investors respond better to an organized, concise mind.
  • Have a backup plan ready in the event of technical or connectivity difficulties.
  • Practice. Get feedback. Iterate. Practice.

It takes a huge amount of work to figure out how to showcase and explain your startup in as few words as possible. This is as true for a 4-sentence intro or a 5 minute demo. Do not leave this to the last minute.  The words, talking points, examples and analogies you choose have great import. They can take people in good directions or bad. They can illuminate or confuse. Don’t expect it to be magic the first time.

Practice. Feedback. Iteration. Just like your lean startup 🙂

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  • Your points about networking I’ll describe as “necessary but not sufficient.” There is a lot more to making a success of such events, with perhaps the most significant thing being having a specific purpose and measurable goal for the event, without which you cannot declare success for the night. Such lack of credible success is a large part of why so many hate going to networking events — they’re uncomfortable and don’t get anything out of them.nnVery soon, we’ll launch RainmakerVT, interactive virtual sales training. Think of it as a flight simulator for sales. Our public demo lesson is a simulated networking event in which the user manages an avatar to make decisions about what to do at a dozen or so decision points. With your permission, I’ll send you a URL and invite you to make comment.

  • Your points about networking I’ll describe as “necessary but not sufficient.” There is a lot more to making a success of such events, with perhaps the most significant thing being having a specific purpose and measurable goal for the event, without which you cannot declare success for the night. Such lack of credible success is a large part of why so many hate going to networking events — they’re uncomfortable and don’t get anything out of them.

    Very soon, we’ll launch RainmakerVT, interactive virtual sales training. Think of it as a flight simulator for sales. Our public demo lesson is a simulated networking event in which the user manages an avatar to make decisions about what to do at a dozen or so decision points. With your permission, I’ll send you a URL and invite you to make comment.

    • I can see how some people might benefit by giving themselves a target (“tonight I’m going to meet at least 5 interesting new people / generate 5 new prospects / etc”) to overcome reluctance and keep themselves moving, as long as one maintains a certain rational flexibility to embrace different but good opportunities that might come up during the event.

      Curious to see what you come up with. I do think training/simulation is one of the better applications of virtual world technology — not sure how deep it can go for sales, but will take a look.

  • I can see how some people might benefit by giving themselves a target (“tonight I’m going to meet at least 5 interesting new people / generate 5 new prospects / etc”) to overcome reluctance and keep themselves moving, as long as one maintains a certain rational flexibility to embrace different but good opportunities that might come up during the event.nnCurious to see what you come up with. I do think training/simulation is one of the better applications of virtual world technology — not sure how deep it can go for sales, but will take a look.