Editors Note: One of the things I loved about attending SxSW Interactive (and really a myriad of other tech, social media and communication conferences I attend), is meeting new people whom I would have never have met otherwise, like Laura Williams. I had the pleasure of meeting Laura when she had dinner with a bunch of othertech, cause- and non–profitbloggers and friends.
At this dinner, Laura told us this story, which highlights the reason I HATE these types of conferences – which is namely chest pounding, myopic focus, stargazing and general narcissism. But there is hope for redemption, and Laura offers up her advice in spades. Read on…
By Laura Bond Williams (@laurabwilliams, @momentumpr)
The hashtags have settled on South by Southwest 2010, and I’m reflecting on this weeklong celebration of capitalism and creative expression. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by creators of everything from companies (like rockstar entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck) and multimedia content to technology and social change.
With so many “stars” of social media and entrepreneurism, it’s a wonder they don’t put sunglasses in the swag bag.
But I attended one event about social media and social change that was not very … social. I walked into a room where an interview was about to happen, and I sat down to watch. I waited for the speakers to be introduced.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, the room was shushed and the recording began. We sat there like well-mannered children. The interview began with an exchange of mutual adoration: “I’m so glad you’re here, I’m such a huge fan.” “No, it’s all my pleasure, really, I’ve been following your work for years.”
Ironically, I turned to my iPhone to figure out who they were. I felt rude, burying my face in my phone while they talked 10 feet away from me.
As the interview ended and the men stood up, a woman in front of me politely asked the interviewee: “Can you please tell me who you are?”
I waited eagerly to hear his answer.
I’m just a guy, he says off-handedly, who thinks about stuff.
Really? I thought. You sit on stage as an expert, and in 30 words or less, you can’t politely tell people why they should listen to you?
She pressed him for more information, and he confessed, awkwardly, to having created a very large company that I recognized immediately. And what happened next was kind of bizarre.
The nice woman who asked for the introduction apologized to him — for not knowing (divining?) who he was.
At that moment, I felt sorry for both of them. The opportunity to connect turned into mutual embarrassment. Old-fashioned etiquette would have gone a long way to prevent that awkward encounter.
So whether you are big fish in a small pond, a big fish in a big pond, or just a fish like me, here’s three simple ways to ensure smooth socializing at industry events:
- Insist on introductions. Whether you have an audience of one or 1,000, a short introduction is an act of courtesy, not egoism. Apply this rule universally – whether you are speaking from a stage or standing on line – and you will improve the experience for yourself and those around you.
- Explain who you are. This sounds so easy, but I saw a successful entrepreneur fail at this request. Have a 30-second bio ready to go. My own SXSW “bio” was simple: I have a PR business that supports artists and entrepreneurs, and I like to learn how people communicate so I can serve my clients well. That’s why I’m here.
- Embrace inclusiveness. I admit this is a personal mantra. I believe in the power of inclusiveness to build stronger connections. I’m not saying to ignore your invitation-only VIP opportunities. But balance them with other engagements that include a wide range of attendees.
To its credit, SXSW is designed to engage the most hyperconnected personalities and businesses. As I met people in conferences and in line, we exchanged business cards AND scanned each others’ badges AND then sent follow-up tweets. With social media and technology, it’s easy to stay in touch with new people. Just remember that a social attitude works well IRL (in real life), too.
Laura Bond Williams is a (usually) sociable PR pro in Austin, Texas, and co-founder of Momentum Public Relations, serving clients from artists to entrepreneurs.