At Least Make Eye Contact
Last week I took a much needed vacation with the family to San Francisco, CA. As it turned out, the O'Reilly / Techweb Web 2.0 Expo was happening on the final day we were in SF, and because we were taking a red-eye back to Florida that evening at 11:00 PM, it gave me a chance to crash the party and spend all morning and afternoon to attend the Expo Hall, listen to Keynote Speakers, and well... network with thousands of people in attendance.
The event seemed very well organized and turnout seemed good given the current economic situation happening around the world (I just read a report that said the tech industry has seen a 45% drop in hiring... Ouch!). As is with the case of most conferences, the speakers were in my opinion average... always talking at 35,000 feet about slick technology, platform interoperability, etc... but never really giving people what they need (i.e. specifics on how to make money). But hey, this is a conference... and most of the people attending are there to get out of the office and have a good time. So, it is what it is.
What was shocking to me... and maybe this is a sign of the times, maybe it's a West Coast thing, maybe it's the tech industry in general (i.e. introverts)... or a combination of... but, during the 'down time' when people had an opportunity to really sell themselves and their company (i.e. NETWORK)... they chose not to. As I walked around trying to network with people it seemed as if almost everyone at the conference had their head down in their laptop, iPhone or Blackberry... Texting, Twittering, Emailing... rarely ever taking the time to look up and make eye contact with other people around them (let alone actually having a conversation). The experience seemed so 'empty'...
I was so taken aback by this that at one time I scanned the lobby just outside of the Expo Hall where there were about 1,000 people sitting at round tables furnished by the conference for the purpose of networking... and I estimated that maybe 10% were having conversations... while the other 90% were in their own world, pecking away. That's 900 people who in my opinion, missed a huge opportunity to put their company and themselves on the map by simply looking up once in awhile and having a conversation or two which could lead to new business.
What was happening on that little LCD screen that was so important that it couldn't wait until later that night or the next day?
Now, I understand that for many, the need to deal with day-to-day operations while out of the office is important (particularly small business owners who are juggling multiple tasks and managing people back at headquarters). I'm one of them! I also understand the instant gratification that comes with communicating using technology... the feeling of accomplishment that comes with firing off email after email... and how it feels when someone wants to connect to you. Heck, my entire business is at the forefront of this. I get it.
But, I also understand that relying almost entirely on technology, social networks, and social media in general to communicate your message and form relationships is a direct path to failure. Nothing can replace human interaction when it comes to being able to explain what you do, answering questions, and most importantly establishing trust. Your goal should be to find a happy medium and combine the use of technology with good old fashioned networking.
Let technology get you to the starting line. Use your personality to get you across the finish line.
In fact, part of the reason why Fast Pitch! has succeeded where thousands of other networks have failed is not so much because of our technology but because of the real-world networking events we did during the years leading up to our tansformation into an online business network. Nearly 10,000 people around the country had interacted with company founders... shook our hands... had conversations, etc... All of which helped us establish trust, which in turned made these same people comfortable with referring us to their friends and so on...
So, the next time you attend a conference, make sure you look up once in a while... or at least make eye contact. Your next customer might be trying to talk to you.