Last night, I attended a NYC VIP shopping event for a store opening. The event was sponsored by a reputable magazine and the magazine’s style editor was in attendance. I went, armed with a purpose. Pitch startup idea, make an impression, smile and conquer.
<<< I also shopped a lot. Though in retrospect, I wouldn’t suggest pitching while wearing green pants. People may not take you seriously.
Easy in theory. Here was the reality:
1. Unless you personally know the owner, an event is never as “exclusive” as you think. I arrived 15 minutes after opening and the store was packed. With doors wide open, people were pouring in because…everyone was invited! Receiving a forwarded email from a fashion friend with the word VIP in fancy font had fooled me into believing that this was an actual exclusive high-brow event. Apparently I’m naive enough to believe everything I read. Reality check #1.
2. Upon finding my target, I froze. What was I actually going to say? I had rehearsed the pitch a million times only to realize that you can’t just go up to someone and begin pitching. To be a smooth criminal, you must determine how to start a conversation with someone who has far more better things to do than talk to you. Reality check #2.
3. Once you finally begin to pitch, everything that’s been rehearsed goes unrehearsed. Words sputter and things you swore you’d never say come out. Rambling commences. The perfect elevator pitch is not what you need because the circumstances for a standalone elevator pitch to thrive don’t exist. Instead, proper cushioning and social grace are more effective. Reality check #3.
4. Leaving with 3 new business cards, I’m quite satisfied. Only to realize later that I’ve lost them! Alas, I remember their names! A simple search reveals all the necessary contact information…and Google saves the day! So wait, was all that networking anxiety even necessary?
In summary: if you’re a startup or someone trying to win hearts and minds, note the following:
1. Your pitch doesn’t matter. Context does.
2. What is advertised is not what you get, usually.
3. Brevity, transitions, and cushioning are gold.
4. Contacts, shmontacs. Schmoozing doesn’t work. Be genuine and people will respond. (Dressing well helps a little too.)
5. Try hard, but not too hard. Nothing is ever worth the anxiety.
I was at a networking event the other day, mostly for the tasty hors d’oeurves and the opportunity to imbibe free drinks, but figured I’d entertain some awkward conversation so my freeloading wouldn’t be so conspicuous. When someone approached me, I’d hurriedly finish my chewing (lest the silence be deafening) and begin talking mouth full with a load of quiche crumbs tumbling out. I’d chirpily extend my hand, “Hi my name is Lynne! Nice to meet you. What’s yours?!”
Nothing like an overly enthusiastic greeting that labels the “new girl on the block!” title square in the face.
So be it. I’m a Florida girl at heart and if my sunny disposition makes people squint, get some Ray Bans. Being from Florida in a cold city actually works to my advantage because it immediately creates an easy topic for conversation: weather. Inevitably, weather talk leads to the ultimate ‘elephant in the room’ question “What do you do?” which subsequently triggers an incessant chatter up in my prefrontal cortex on how to explain who I am, what I studied, and what on earth I think I’m doing here in the city. I panic, realizing I have no lucid way to introduce myself. So I usually start with, “Well, I drink a lot of wine…” (true story)
I’m not in any position to bestow wisdom on how to create your perfect elevator pitch and I’m not writing this post to pretend like I’m close to figuring it out. I probably won’t ever know how to describe myself in a witty one or two-liner and the day I can, my life will be officially pathetic. We are more complex (and interesting) than titles allow us to be.
That said, all this weather talk reminds me of another time not so long ago when I partook in a lot of chatty mingling, albeit in a less classy environment. Memories of a frenzied freshman year of college when I rushed to sign up for every organization offering community, value, and free food flood my guilty psyche. “You’ll find your best friends here!” “Make an impact!” Back then social situations were more beer pong and club meetings offering free pizza, less wine and cheese with keynote speakers from [insert reputable global organization].
I’m about 9 months out of the old stomping yard (college) and while it’s fair to say I’m no longer a college student, I still feel endowed with a somewhat privileged collegiate mindset. Perhaps even more than I did during my four lecture-sitting years.
I don’t roll out of bed and spring to class anymore, and I don’t bump into people I try to avoid every five minutes. Instead, I dress up, hopstop to work among suited up strangers, and carry a brown tote that looks slightly like an old man’s briefcase (it was the only one at the thrift store that could fit my dang laptop!). During my subway ride, I whip out my cranny nook and read up on design. Trust agents. The digital sphere. Or “how to get rid of that gut!”, which just conveniently happened to be on the latest cover of Shape.
After graduation, the learning doesn’t stop. My current line of work forces me to think digital, social media, and e-commerce while tasting new products and writing about them (which involves wine…what a bummer). It keeps me busy, but the knowledge appetite is still not satisfied. Curiosity widens like the mouth of a hungry child with a bottomless stomach. Now that I don’t have professors to direct my questions to (ironically whom, I barely spoke to when I was actually in college), I am more curious than ever.
As a newcomer to the city, I am still trying to determine the activities and people that are worth my limited time and energy. Of course, in order to play the game, you have to put up with some ‘small talk’. Slowly but surely, in this so very refined adult life, you whittle down the prospects to your truest, deepest interests, one glass – escargot – smooth talking schmooze-at a time.
Tomorrow I begin a wine tasting class called ‘Raise Your Wine IQ’. (Shameless plug- my boss is teaching and you can register here!) I’m also enrolled in a month-long online course called “How to launch your startup idea for less than $5000” which sounds gimmicky, but I’m getting information far more valuable than what I sat through in college without spending a penny. The class is being offered through the education startup Skillshare, a cool company that is trying to revolutionize education. I’m very interested to see how I can apply what I learn to a possible venture. Throw in my dance class and bible study, compounded with the professional life, and I have my own class schedule! I’ve never been more excited to learn in my life!
The Florida sunshine is probably blinding you but before you put on your blockers, keep this in mind:
“Your 20’s are your ‘selfish’ years. It’s a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little, and never touch the ground.”
|Kyoko Escamilla (a.k.a Brain-Food)|
Even without a bell tower or quad, the collegiate mindset stays for however long you allow it. I am experimenting and exploring more now than the past four years. Do I regret not doing more of this when I was actually in college? Yes and no, but it’s never too late.