A few days ago I was at Launch Festival in San Francisco, hanging out around the Product Hunt AMA stage. I was with a friend speaking on that stage later in the day. This friend is a guy that is legitimately famous, which means a certain group of people either idolize him or really look up to him.
Naturally, famous people get approached all of the time, especially if they're hanging around in a place where a lot of their 'fans' are - and Launch Festival was one of these places.
We were sitting on a couch drinking some non-GMO, gluten-free, watermelon-flavored water - yes, those words were actually printed on a bottle of water - and a guy walks up to us from the side:
Random Guy: "_____? You're _____, right? I've been following you for years!"
They talked about business for a minute or two before the guy asked my friend for a picture, saying, "You're like...my idol, man."
I grabbed the guy's phone and snapped a couple of pictures of the two of them, and we sat back down.
After about ten more minutes of slightly awkward and forced conversation, another guy sat down on the couch next to us and introduced himself to my friend. Here's how he did it:
"Your name is _____, right? I'm Matt, I think we're speaking together."
My friend turned to him and they started to engage in a natural conversation.
Guess what happened?
Matt and my friend talked up until they both went on stage to speak. After they were done, they hung out for the rest of the day at Launch Festival, introduced each other to more interesting people, and ended up partying together the next night.
So what happened here? Why did one guy succeed at 'networking' and the other fail? There are a lot of factors at play - some controllable, some not. As the fly on the wall in the situation, I'll try to break down what I think happened and what I learned from the interactions.
- Could not explain in clear, concise words what he did in under 15 seconds
- His main reason for approaching my friend was out of idolization and hero-worship
- He mentioned he wanted to work together or 'help out', without a clear idea of what he could contribute when asked
- He 'over-laughed' at statements my friend made that weren't intended to be funny
- Responded to a lot of my friend's statements with "that's cool / that's amazing", which doesn't give my friend much to go on conversationally
- Is objectively not an equal in status and knows it, but makes it painfully obvious by signalling in very obvious ways
- Introduced himself quickly, with a clear reason for why he was talking to my friend
- Didn't signal lower status or idolization verbally or with body language
- May have known exactly who my friend was, but introduced himself in a neutral way
- Conversation was give and take, not question and pitch
The uncontrollable factors here are that the random guy is simply lower status than Matt, so is starting from a worse position than Matt. Random guy can't fix his objective status while in conversation, but he could have shifted the conversation and his approach in a way that allowed him to talk to my friend on a level playing field.
The controllable factors are all of the verbal and body language signals that the random guy gave off to make it clear that he thought of himself as lower status, and thus approached my friend in a different way.
Conversationally, he could have shifted the topic to something that both he and my friend knew the same amount of information about - something where the playing field is level.
He idolized my friend in business, but maybe they had a common hobby that overlapped. If he happened to have more value to give about this hobby, all of a sudden he'd be contributing something to my friend rather than constantly taking away.
This would raise his perceived status for the interaction and make it much more likely that the context switches from "fan/hero" to "friend/friend", or at least gets him closer to the type of interaction that Matt had with my friend.
You're either a giver, taker, neutral, or a mirror. When trying to meet interesting people, try to be interesting, give value, and act like a friend - that's really the only guiding principle behind successful networking you need to follow.