“Who are you with?”
The man asked me this question as I was in line for the fruit platter at the Mashable Media Summit yesterday. It was the first thing he said to me, his way of breaking the ice and starting a conversation. I don’t know why I find this phrase so off-putting, but it’s one I heard often both at both the Summit and Internet Week Headquarters in New York City yesterday. It’s as if more people were interested in my business or someone else’s brand than me.
Do I have to be “with” someone?
When I’m at a conference such as BlogWorld or South by Southwest I generally introduce myself by holding out my hand and saying, “Hi, I’m Deb.” The party on the other end of the handshake will generally respond with a name and chit chat will ensue. If not, I’ll ask that person to tell me about him or herself. I want to know about this person and I’m not sure yet if who he or she is “with” is relevant to our conversation.In fact, I find that having a conversation about anything in the world other than business, makes the business conversation less stuffy. We’ll get to the inevitable eventually, everyone knows that.
I realize that we’re at conferences to network and do business but someone walking up to me out of the blue and saying “who are you with” never fails to throw me for a loop. Does he mean the person I came to the conference with? My husband? My job? Stupid?
What if I’m not there with anyone, is that OK?
I tried an experiment. A polished P.R. person walked over to me at one point and said, “who are you with?” I told him I was an independent contractor and he couldn’t get away quick enough. Yes, I could have told him (as it clearly stated on my badge) I was there on behalf of BlogWorld, but I wanted to see if he was still interested in having a conversation with me even though I claimed no affiliation. He wasn’t.
I’m finding a big difference between social media and blogging conferences and more schmoozy conferences. When it’s about conversation, the conversation is front and center. When it’s about who you’re with, that takes precedence over everything. In fact, a couple of people who wanted to know who I was “with” didn’t tell me their names, they handed me business cards. So being affiliated “with” a brand is more important than names.
Please say hello to me…not my affiliation
I get why I’m at a conference. I also get why other people are at conferences. That doesn’t mean who we’re with is more important than who we are. If you see me at one of these shindigs, please come over and say hello if I don’t do so first, because I really do want to meet you. I want to know about you, your passion, and yes, even your business.
But please don’t ask me who I’m with.