Earlier this week, I had one of those toe-curlingly awful, network event encounters. You know the ones, where your ears end up hurting and you get sweaty with embarrassment for someone else?
It was a nice event, thoughtfully geared to bring together like-minded people to share business learnings, expand horizons and just make great connections. And to be fair to the organiser, I did meet some great people- including several who had started up really fascinating businesses and who had great stories and experiences to share. It was really great to just listen and learn and share ideas.
And then came that moment.
There's always someone, isn't there?
That person who cannot resist the 'in your face', wholly inappropriate and badly-timed sales pitch.
As far as he was concerned, it was all about him. He barrelled his way through the room like some kind of misdirected missile, leaving about as much devastation in his wake, breaking every rule of good networking etiquette:
1. Elbowing his way into a conversation and interrupting rudely, rather than joining the group, listening and gradually participating
2. Immediately launching into a pretty aggressive sales pitch, without getting to know any of those in our small group and with no 'sound-check' as to whether we might even be the right audience for what he wanted to pitch at us. (One of my fellow attendees later described his approach as predatory. It's a good description, it felt like being stalked and corralled)
3. Loudly and pretty rudely assuming that because we were attending this particular event, we were a certain type of person that in fact, none of us were, (e.g. a lot younger than him, naive in business, childless(!), relevant to his business). Which meant that (I like to think unintentionally) he came across as pompous, overbearing, arrogant and prejudiced
4. Telling horror stories in order to set a context for what he'd designed: all these awful things were about to happen to us (which he elaborated in great and gruesome detail), but lucky us, here he was with the perfect solution
5. Not explaining his product clearly, so that when, to our alarm and serious discomfort, he started rummaging around in the front of his trousers (which we only later learned was part of his product demo!), we'd become so disengaged and distracted that we'd each mentally written him off as a bit of a nutter, which undermined all his efforts and intentions.
At the point where he mentioned there was an equivalent version for ladies, one member of our group actually started to choke into his drink. It was so uncomfortable that I could see each of us starting to shift our attention to elsewhere in the room, to look for opportunities to politely excuse ourselves and escape
6. Suddenly and finally realising who we were, extremely late in the conversation, and then going into overdrive, excitedly demanding access to our respective networks and assuming, after subjecting us to 15 minutes of torture, that we would simply hand it over. At one point, he even told us that we could 'make some pocket money' as he'd give us 10% commission on every unit sold.
Never once did he read the body language or lack of engagement in the four of us on the receiving end of this 'attack'. By the end of the conversation, I noticed that our group had moved over 6 feet backwards and had ended up pinned against a wall and a doorway - in other words, without being conscious of it, we'd been backing away.
In hindsight, and now that the torture is over, it's easy to laugh about it.
Except that it isn't really funny. For several reasons:
1. I'm pretty sure he would never have intended to make us feel this way; and that he'd be mortified about this outcome
2. The product that he'd created had really good intentions and who knows, whilst it wasn't for us, maybe it could really make a difference. Certainly, some of the points that he made in support of his proposition were not bad or untrue ones. He could have used the conversation as an opportunity to get product feedback, which might have helped him to improve the product. Instead, while we all briefly shared our thoughts with each other after he'd finally moved on to new and unsuspecting victims, none of that feedback, some of which was very constructive, actually reached his ears
3. The sad truth is that such a terrible start completely turned off those who he'd spent his personal time earnestly trying to convince to help him.
I don't think he even realised that his efforts were not succeeding.
We all need help from time to time. Having a great and supportive network can make all the difference to our prospects of success. Sometimes, it's just that one special person who says 'I believe' and 'I can help you' that can change your prospects forever.
I know this well, both because I've personally benefitted from others generously saying that to me, and because whenever I am convinced in what I hear, I will always say them and I will do whatever I can to help fellow peers. It's my default and something that I take very seriously.
But please, please, please do not make these same mistakes. All it takes is moments like these to trash all your vision, creativity, hard graft and investment. Don't stamp on your own feet. Building a business is hard enough and there will be plenty of challenges and obstacles along the way. Make sure that you don't make yourself one of them.
Networking is a learned skill, not one that you're born with. The same is true of pitching. Invest the time in getting it right. It's not difficult and anyone can do it well if they prep properly.
If you're interested in either of these topics, take a look here at these free materials - both blogs that I produced while setting up a previous business, elXtr. They contain my own learnings and easy practical tips ,as well as a whole raft of advice from great experts from whom I have learned: