How to avoid being awkward at a startup event
Emotions. Everybody has them. Some people get more emotional than others in certain situations. Sweating, over-thinking, or panicking are just some of the reactions your body might encounter over the course of a couple of days just before that big startup event that is coming up. Let’s take it step by step and see what you need to do in order to avoid awkwardness when meeting potential investors or business partners.
A little bit of planning never killed anyone
- First thing’s first. Do some research about the event you will be attending. Browse the events you’re going to go to. You don’t have to attend ALL the startup events that are out there. Find those that match your field of interest. That way, you’ll be more likely to connect with people that could be potential business partners, and also get the most out of them. I personally wouldn’t attend an IT or tech event, where programmers is the targeted audience. I’ll most likely get bored, and I will not be able to find any topics to talk about with the people that are there. The Squirrly team went to Techsylvania recently, and it was really nice. The nice thing was that the conference was not that geeky as I expected. I actually understood most of the topics the speakers debated. Research is always a good idea, because it also avoids the awkwardness that may occur when you want to approach someone, but don’t know how and what to say to them. It will be a conversation starter, if you know at least a little bit about the background of the person that you’re about to start a conversation with. Before any event, I look on the website to see how the speakers look like. But if you somehow forget to do that, in most cases, you receive a map at the event where there’s the program and pictures of the speakers. You definitely don’t want to get in that position where you talk bad things about someone, and it happens that that someone is right next to you.
- Define your objectives. For inspiration, you can look up some examples of other startups, and how they actually prepared for a certain event. You need to know why you attend that event. You want people to test your product? You want to meet some new potential investors? Answering these questions beforehand is crucial. I attend startup events to get to know more people, as I am new in this world. Also, those people need to know me, and it’s better to do that in person, than on social media. For now, that is my objective. Oh, and also to spread the word about Squirrly, of course.
- Set goals. Two or three goals should be enough. What is most important, is to actually achieve them. Approach a random stranger, maybe a participant that also came alone, or even that guy/girl you’ve always wanted to meet, and now you have the opportunity to do so. Also, it would be great to approach the organizer of the startup event and say to them a few words, maybe thank them because they brought some of your favorite speakers. It would surely mean a lot to them. I like to take a look at what speakers are going to be there, and decide to whom I want to go to. Yesterday, I went to Business Days, a 2-day event in Cluj, and one of my goals was to go and talk to Mihaela Tatu (I know you don’t know her, but she’s a well-known TV figure). And I did, and I was very proud of myself. Another goal I make is to remain in contact with at least one person that could be a potential business partner or investor.
- Connect with people you’re interested in before the actual event. That is why social media is golden. You can follow them on Twitter, favorite their tweets, mention them, and then, after they’ve seen you around there, you can send them an e-mail and ask them if they want to set a meet up at the conference. This will guarantee that you will have at least one person to talk to, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Twitter is where the people I’m interested in have the most activity. I follow them, and try to establish some kind of engagement with them. Most of the times, people will respond. It’s an easy to use tool, that’s also free, and doesn’t hurt to try. This reminded me of a funny story. I was at an event with a friend, and some guy took the “follow” part of Twitter literally, and adapted it in the real life. The guy followed my friend all over the place, an managed to creep him out. Well, that was an awkward moment.
What to do the morning before the startup event?
The day you’ve been anxiously waiting has finally come. It’s time to face your fears, go out there, meet some new awesome people and network the hell out of that startup event you’re attending.
Fancy some coffee? Start your morning right, by preparing your favorite coffee (or just buy it, whatever works for you). This will instantly give you a boost in the morning, and also make you feel good. Habits usually make us feel safe in situations where we may feel stressed out. I usually drink my coffee at the event, because it’s better than the one I make.
Coffee? Check. Time to put on your favorite suit. Looks matter, and also, if you look good, you feel good. Confidence is the key ingredient that will help avoid awkwardness. A smart-casual outfit should do the trick, and I’m out the door.
Frankie says “Relax”
Planning never works. Not for me a least. I mean, you can’t expect to rehearse in front of the mirror, and the conversation to go as smoothly in the real world. The research you’ve done before the event, and also the connections you’ve established with some of the people that will be there, should be enough. You’re a human being and you shouldn’t act like a robot. That will indeed be awkward.
You arrived at the conference. A lot of people, some familiar faces, plenty of food and drinks, alcohol too. Even though you may feel like you need to loosen up a bit, try not to drink too much. Know your limits. You definitely don’t want to make a fool of yourself or create a scene, because that is NOT how you want to be remembered. I get tipsy quickly, so I avoid drinking at events where it would be a good idea to be sober.
For all of you introverts out there, here are some tips and tricks for you, right from a graduate of the Startup Institute New York.
Coffee breaks – everybody loves them
It’s time for a coffee break. This is the time to approach some people. But remember, don’t initiate a conversation , if you’re not sure of it, because you don’t want to waste anybody’s time, especially if you are not sure what you’re going to say. You can introduce yourself by letting people know what to do. Ask them questions, so you can avoid the awkward silence, especially when you feel like you don’t have anything to say. This will help keep the conversation going. Also, ask them for their advice regarding an issue that you’re dealing with. It’s important to make them feel that they can help you, and you’re not just chit-chatting.
As I was saying, I attended Business Days. After a workshop for startups, I approached a guy that asked some guy that asked some questions about his business. I thought I had the answer, so I went up to him and said who I was, what I do, and what can I do to help him with problem. Opportunities are everywhere. Don’t miss them!
Coffee break is also the right moment to approach those speakers that totally inspired you. Go up to them and congratulate them. Exchange business cards, so they will be able to have your contact info.
The thing is, most of the time, our awkwardness comes from over-thinking. We forget to just be ourselves, and instead we worry too much about what others might say or think about us. I know, this “be yourself” thing is such a cliche. Many times, the situation seems to be bad, because that is how we create it in our mind. It’s OK to make scenarios, but try not to live in them.
I’m a scenario diva. I can’t help but thinking “what would happen if I…”. And the stupid thing is, that rather than making I move, I just stand there, waiting for some rocket to crash the world or something. This over-thinking is contributing also to the emotions I already have, not in a good way though.
Fake it, until you make it
You know what they say: even if you’re sad, but you smile, your body will send signals to your brain that will make you happy. The human body is amazing! But be careful: I am not saying to fake who you really are. By trying to do something you’re not usually used to, the chances to feel more comfortable doing that will increase and you will get used to that. Smile, be friendly to the people around you. People that smile are more pleasant, and this will most likely make other people approach you at the conference.
Thank Godness I like to smile and laugh! Though some people say about me that I’m an anti-social person, I’m actually really friendly. You just need to come up to me and say “Hi!”.
When in doubt, use your smartphone
Chances are, that at some point, you will be awkwardly standing there, with nothing to do, when there’s a break between speeches. Thank God for smartphones! Am I right? I sometimes think that smartphones were invented for lonely or socially awkward people. Scrolling through Twitter of Facebook while you wait for whatever it is you’re waiting, you make you appear busy. There are a bunch of situations in which a smartphone can save you from being awkward.
I usually write to a friend and tell them what’s going on. Their words will help calm me down, relax, and keep on scrolling on that Twitter with more enthusiasm.
And if all else fails…
…remember that at least you showed that beautiful face of yours at the event. Or imagine a t-rex making the bed. The thing is, if people don’t see you, they will assume you don’t exist. How else are they going to know who you are and what you do? Every step you take is important, no matter how small it is.
Assuming that you managed to get out of that comfort zone of yours, it’s time to take advantage of what you accomplished so far.
This is where social media comes in handy, too. If some specialist helped you with some advice with a problem you had, it’s best to email and thank them. Also let them know how their advice was able to solve the issue you had. Keep an ongoing conversation with them. That’s what’s great about social media. The connection that you managed to establish does not end after the conference.
Networking is the best thing you can do if you are an entrepreneur, or you already built a startup. These type of events are perfect for this, because you can relate to the people that come there in a more informal manner, and even establish some friendships. Networking should be an important part of your professional life.
What are some awkward moments you dealt with at startup events? I am curious to know what are your tips on how to overcome awkwardness. Let me know in the comments below.
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