Embarrassment does not accurately describe what I felt after a botched networking event that I was ill-prepared for. I was invited as a guest to attend an angel investor meeting at a local innovation center. As a competitor in a business plan competition that was about four months away at the time, I was working hard on my presentation and business plan, but I had overlooked the ability to make my business relatable to anyone and everyone. This mistake made for several awkward moments, missed opportunities and plenty of embarrassment.
Angel Investor: So what is your business?
Me: Umm…so are you familiar with Facebook Events?
Angel Investor: No…
Me: Well you know event websites that list different things going on in a community?
Angel Investor: Not really. Does it list events?
Me: um….It’s hard to explain.
“It’s hard to explain”!? Did I really just tell a very intelligent, well respected, millionaire angel investor that “it’s hard to explain”? I saw the smile quickly disappear from his face as he walked away; I immediately felt my temperature rise and I wanted to leave and hide for a while.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that every message needs to be relatable to who you are speaking with. It does not need to be so generic that even a 5 year old would understand, but you need to make your message relatable to your specific audience. If I had a second chance, I would have said; “We are building an online application that helps people find events and activities like this meeting, that they are interested in.” It would have been that simple. Obviously this message is simple and doesn’t tell all of the details, but anyone at that meeting would have understood it.
How to Make it Relatable
Making it relatable requires you to know or at least have a good idea about your audience. After figuring this out, use an example that directly relates to them. If you are at a conference, use something that relates to that exact event. If they are wearing a t-shirt that is from a specific university and you know nothing else about them, figure out a way to tie it in with that school.
Let’s say that you are a shoe salesman and I come from a country where no one has shoes. We both have feet. Tell me about a time you stepped on something or ask if my feet ever hurt. You may not think it’s that simple, but it is.
Don’t let something as small as a flaw in your message or pitch hold you back. If I would have communicated my message effectively, I not only would have spared myself embarrassment, but I may have landed a new friend, connection, or even an investment. Be conscious of the message you are delivering and find a way to include the person or group you are communicating with in a way they will surely understand.
Note: I did win the competition, but never had the chance to correct my mistake, only to learn from it and not make the same mistake again.