If you go to a startup event to network, don’t play on your iPhone

If entrepreneurs go to startup events to network why do most people play on their iPhones the entire time?

One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make at these events is that they expect something to happen just because they are physically at the event. Just being present won’t get you anywhere.

Entrepreneurs often mistake proximity for action.

If you’re not genuinely interested in meeting new people your time would be better spent building your business instead of pseudo-networking. In my interview with Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary reminds us that people have insanely high B.S. radars.

A lot of good can come from networking events if you are an active participant. Entrepreneurship is very much a “pay it forward” community. Most people want to see you succeed. However, it’s a two way street. If you’re not interested in someone else, why should they care about you and your company? Be polite and curious. It will take you a long way.

What else have you found to be helpful when attending conferences?

P.S. Live tweeting the conference (hash-tag) doesn’t make you an active participant.

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  • Neofliplay

    I’m guilt of this 🙁

    • Alex4444

      I assume you mean “guilty”, and so am I.

  • What, you’ve never pretended to play on your phone to cover the fact you’re actually lurking, watching who’s talking to who about what, or used it as an excuse to hover a few metres from someone so you can listen for a convenient opening to enter a conversation gracefully, or simply to spot who’re the obligatory nutters in the room to be avoided ??

    Sure – don’t waste time playing on your phone, but it can be a handy prop…

  • When I attend a conference or event, if it’s just a couple of hours, I hope to find one or two people I can make a meaningful connection with. If it is a day-long or multi-day event, I ought to be able to connect with at least one person at each break time.

    I like to get a business card and then email them something meaningful after the event – maybe a link to an article that might be of interest. I might also follow-up with an invitation to lunch if I’d like to connect more.

    If I know the hashtag of the event ahead of time, there have been a few times where I have followed the pre-event Twitter stream, noticed some people who seem interesting, then connected with them at the event.

  • Couldn’t agree more! I can’t stand when people are at conferences, networking events, etc. (in physical places next to real people) and they spend a majority of their time on their laptops, iPads, phones, etc.

    It’s sad when you’re more interested in the activity of people online thousands of miles away than interacting with the people within feet of you who you came to meet and connect with.

    I do agree with Tim M though, it can be a nice prop. 😉

  • This “staring at a screen” phenomenon is way too common at so many of today’s events and it definitely negatively impacts many of the informal opportunities for networking. I can explain this best by describing what I call “connecting scenarios” that have typically always been available and recommended in the past:

    Waiting in line to check into the event or conference
    Being seated in the room before a session or workshop begins and chatting up your nearby neighbors
    Sitting in a lounge area while folks are done checking vmails between sessions
    Waiting in line to chat with one of the presenters or panel hosts
    Waiting in line for the restroom (usually only applies to women since there always seems to be a line) or coat check
    Attending and working the room at the end of day networking activities (happy hours or mixers, etc)

    In all of the above scenarios the typical modus operandi TODAY is for many to “lean forward” into a screen to: text, check email, look at Facebook (chat with friends online), check-in on Foursquare, look-up someone on LinkedIn, scan a Twitter stream, check blog comments, check in w/the office, etc. You get the idea and I know I can sometimes be guilty of it.

    Even during breaks at a conference there might be 7 or so people around a round table all sitting together and no one is speaking to each other — they are all leaning forward into a screen.

    What’s the solution? I think hosts or event facilitators should make a point at the event to remind people that one of the reasons they’re there is to network and to find at least one stranger as soon as you get settled and introduce yourself to them. I usually approach it as a goal and make it about seeing what other people need help with right now. For example, a goal might be: meet 3 new people and offer an assist in the form of a resource, introduction or knowledge share.

  • Thomas

    I’m certainly guilty of this, to some extent. I can’t speak for anyone else but I would venture to guess a lot of hacker types are less sociable in general, perhaps having more social anxiety than most.

    Combine that with the fact that “networking” boils down to strangers continually judging your ability, company, and personality (more or less) in a very small time window, and to me it’s fairly obvious why the comfort of a familiar screen is an easy retreat from that kind of stress (even though we signed up for it)!

  • Well, let’s be honest — a good chunk of the nerdier entrepreneurs may also have a bit of social anxiety 🙂 Playing with our devices is merely a way of remaining somewhat comfortable. With that said I’ve done the same and met lots of people via a few hash-tags that later on turned into good connections 🙂

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  • Gemma Weirs

    I never go to networking events, but I can understand why people play with their phones. It’s either a) social anxiety which can be crippling, b) lurking or c) ignorance/lack of social skills, etc.

    Really, those with social anxiety shouldn’t force themselves to go to these events just because they think it’s necessary. It’s counter productive anyway if one has social anxiety severe enough to interfere with interaction.