A year and a half ago I was invited to sit at a workshop and be a guest expert at a conference. The event was Hardware Con, and because I had just been invited briefly before, and have never been a “guest expert”, I had no idea what to expect. So, because I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t think much of it until I got there. While sitting in the room 5 minutes before our workshop session started a small feeling of anxiety began to creep into me.
Thoughts popped up like: What kind of answers would I give that would even be helpful to these guys? Am I gonna tell them what camera to buy or what the difference between a grip and a gaffer? Would it benefit them for me to give feedback on the videos they’ve made?
Nothing out of the ordinary happened. They didn’t ask me questions that we’re related purely to the technical aspects of video production as I had initially worried about, but instead asked me to give feedback on some video ideas or to give feedback on their video strategy. This is all good and logical enough, but for some reason I felt like the advice I could in this domain wasn’t enough and wanted to give higher level advice, so I asked them about their overall marketing and what their funnel looked like. This was 2014, mind you, and internet marketing was still somewhat an obscure thing to learn, and because I was so interested in it at the time (still am) I felt like there was a lot I could give input on.
As so, when I transitioned the conversation to talking about internet marketing, things started to go south. People started getting uninterested and confused. One person even felt provoked by his skepticism and and asked, “Wait, what expert are you a field of again?"
“So why are you talking to me about internet marketing?"
“Um. Because your internet marketing determines how you should strategize your video and what kind of concept your video should have depending on what channels you’re promoting it on"
This sounds like a good answer because its true, I still believe in this answer that I gave him, but he didn’t like my answer.
“Okay, but, what makes you an expert? Why should I listen to you?"
“I don’t claim to be an expert. I could know less about this stuff than you, I was just invited to be here"
He let out a sigh of dissatisfaction and left the room.
After this incident I had an older gentleman ask me about my services, but as I left the conference, I still couldn’t help feeling like I f’ed up somehow. I drove an hour and a half to get to this conference, and now I felt like a fool. Am I regretting this? I thought to myself as I drove the hour and a half back home. The entire rest of the week I would think back to that event and feel embarrassed. This feeling slowly, slowly dissipated as I comforted myself telling myself It’s okay, you will realize something important one day and it will be because of this failure.
And finally, a year and a half later I did realize something important. I can accept that people will label you and box you in to the domain that you’re in. And this makes complete sense because this is the domain you’re known for. If you try to force your expertise on them outside of your positioned domain, people will be thrown off, so you have to connect with them where they’re at first, earn their trust and then transition to a different domain.
Very tactically, it looks like this:
To take this post full circle and tie it to the story, it was because of that experience at Hardware Con that emotionally compelled me to pay attention to this stuff. Had I not been as embarrassed as I was at the time, I’m not sure this concept of “being boxed into my domain” and “transitioning out” would have really stuck out. So I’m glad for it. And I write this hopefully to inspire you to keep faith in the failure experiences you’ve had and to encourage you to keep an eye out for the revelation that that experience can give you years down the road.
I find normal conversations pretty boring, its just that its the same getting-to-know-you fluff. I want to get straight to saying and talking about what’s interesting, however, this leads to breaking rapport and sometimes people will think you’re weird.
So an easy way to keep the conversation congruent and I don’t know why I never realized this, is to tell the person you’re conversing with of any anticipated breaks in rapport. Basically, tell them ahead of time if you’re going to act a little different from the norm.
Say you’re at a networking event. The question you answer most is “What do you do?”. Say your ideal answer is something elaborate like:
I help tech excutives that are focused on company growth fine tune their project management, and work with their UX/UI team to make their product more scalable.
First off, let me say this: BOOM! I got Tynan.com! YES!!
Okay. So back when I was in high school, I had the idea that maybe this internet thing was going to work out, and I might want to own Tynan.com. I put www.networksolutions.com into trusty old Internet Explorer 3.0, searched for tynan.com, saw that the domain was available, and then balked at the $70 price for two years.
I'll just get it later, I thought.