Everything you need to know to be the ‘Person of Interest’ at a startup eventSonal Mishra
Flight - Check! Passes - Check! Presentation - Check!
If you’ve been lucky enough to participate in a startup event in the past, it is likely you know all the rules by now. But if this is your very first time, you need to prepare yourself both mentally and physically to make the most out of it. Techsparks is a place where you get the chance to exhibit your business, meet other cool startups, connect with loaded investors and start new partnerships. You really do not want to come out empty handed or empty minded, do you?
“So many people are programmed to be commodities, that they come out of the gates and say what they do, which is usually uninteresting. Those are not the people you remember at the end of the day.” – Michael Burt, Author of ‘Changing Lives Through Coaching’
It is important to have a competitive advantage in the startup industry, to differentiate yourself from the norm and be a ‘Person of Interest’ who attracts opportunities rather than chasing them down. One of the main challenges is having an edge over others in the room. You might feel you are getting passed up in terms of opportunities and promotions and that there are just too many others out there doing the same, exact thing that you are doing.
Assessing your capabilities
Being attractive is the key to attracting others. To become attractive, a Person of Interest assessment must be done every thirty seconds, right there. But how do we assess ourselves? Every entrepreneur should take a look at his incoming and out coming demand. Your incoming demand would indicate the people that are interested in your product or services. If the out coming demand outweighs the incoming demand, then you are not yet a Person of Interest.
You should be attractive to a person in a way that makes them feel good about themselves. Make it be so that people would seek you out for clarity and inspiration. Essentially, you do not want to chase people. Instead, you want to attract them.
Irrespective of your reason for attending a startup event, there are a few must-dos that will make you stand out in the crowd of thousands. The bigger question is: What do successful people do when compared to what normal people do that make them different in the same ‘room’?
Does your swag count?
Let’s accept it here — most swag is horrible. Justin Bieber inspired baggy pants? Definitely no. You must understand that this is a business jungle where professionals meet and connect. Even if you don’t intend to impress anyone, showing up in a pair of casual ripped jeans, a baggy t-shirt and slippers comes with an ‘at your own risk’ warning. Yes, millennials are changing the concept of the dressing game at workplaces, but this is not the place where you want to experiment. The only impression you will leave is that of irresponsibility and carelessness.
Boast a distinctive appearance that others can easily recognise. Pull out your best attire — it could be casual, semi-formal or completely formal. If you really wish to be experimental, try teaming up your formal attire with colourful footwear or bold accessories, such as a collar pin, a tie pin or a belt with an interesting buckle, to jazz up the whole look. For women, while there are too many options to explore from a khadi saree to a chic western pencil dress and a knee length skirt with a formal shirt, teaming up your attire with bold jewellery or multicolour accessories like a scarf, a waist belt or even a medium sized bag will do the trick. The idea is to look sharp and different at the same time. Keep in mind that people at such events start analysing you the minute you walk in through that door.
Be the storyteller
This is the era of storytelling! Nobody is going to pay attention if you just go up there and start talking about the facts, figures and your knowledge about a particular topic. At such events, you must utilise your six senses to adapt well to the environment. A startup event is a place where competition thrives and everything changes at a fast pace. You really do not want to be someone who refuses to adapt to the changing landscape. Simply put, don’t be the person who stands in a corner waiting for others to come over and talk to them. One way to ensure that other people find you interesting is to make yourself helpful to them.
As rightly said by Marcus Geduld, author of After Effects Expressions, “You don't just dump whatever is on your mind into the conversation; you purposefully shape it to make it interesting…Start thinking of your life as a gift you can give to others. Wrap it in the finest paper you can find.” Remember, people will only feel interested if you start your conversation with something that they can truly connect with. In fact, you don't need to say much about yourself to look interesting. Instead, engage them in deep conversation about their interests, work and lifestyle. Ask thoughtful questions and follow up with more thoughtful discussion. By the end of the event they will remember you as one of the most interesting people they have ever met.
For starters, you can always strike an interesting conversation while sharing a table with others over lunch. For instance, if you want to go an extra mile to build good relationships, be polite and ask them for a refill or ask if you can get something to drink with the meal. This is an excellent way to ignite the essence of mutual admiration.
Mind your body language
Body language can be extremely powerful in networking and building relationships at business driven events. Remember to make the best use of your body language. Recall the pool of all the articles you have read about body language in the past. This is the right time to put them into practice. Use hand gestures while talking to people. Make sure you do not discourage people from approaching you with your body language.
Although you might not realise it, your body language could be the reason people previously didn’t approach you at networking events. For instance, a person who has their arms crossed and body slouched is less likely to make contacts compared to someone who keeps their arms at sides and their elbows away from their body. Various psychological studies have shown that human brain tends to pay more attention if the person in front is more interactive with their body.
A quick takeaway to start a conversation with strangers
A simple introduction can transit into a meaningful conversation if you’re willing to share a bit about yourself right off the bat. Don’t be afraid to ask someone candid (but not prying) questions after giving some background on who you are and why you’re interested. Here are some good conversation starters that you can try after you have exchanged introductory gestures, or best, your business cards.
Introduction: Hi, I’m Arvind, and I work in the PR and Marketing department at XYZ India Pvt. Ltd. I’m here to explore new opportunities and make industry contacts that can be beneficial for my company. Sometimes, it gets super challenging because of all the new regulations in paid advertising. Are you also representing your company?
The 10 seconds takeaway: Start with your name, position at a company or introduction of your business and emphasis on how important your role is in the given scenario. Without any further delay, shift the same set of questions on the other party for them to answer and show your intent to know them better. People like it when someone shows significant interest in their whereabouts.
Continuing the conversation...
To make a friend: Have you been to the auction table yet? I’m heading over there now and would love some company.
To get advice: I see that you work for XXX. I've always been interested to work with them. Do you have any advice for me? How’s the work culture there?
To get your bearings: This is my first time at Techsparks. You look like a regular—any tips you could give me on what to expect next? What are the best sessions to attend?
People of Interest are always in the transformation business and never in the transactional. For instance, in the former case, I may come to you in one way, and you leave in another way. In the latter case, you discard the person that you are dealing with as soon as the transaction is over.
Pretty much every person who attends comes with the intention of making good connections that can help foster their professional life. That said, people who appear to be helpful are well-received by everyone. Follow these tips and put yourself at par with the ones who take away all the attention.