“Are You Fifteen?” and Other Wonderful Comments I Hear at Business Conferences
This is a guest post by Kelsey Meyer, the Senior Vice President of Digital Talent Agents. Digital Talent Agents is a niche PR company that helps experts and entrepreneurs improve their online authority and credibility while creating a pull strategy to their brand.
Attending a conference is intimidating. Being female at a predominantly male conference and appearing much younger than your actual age doesn’t help, either. I recently attended an extremely valuable conference in Phoenix; I learned many tactics that I took back and implemented in my business, and I connected with people from many industries who will be great to work with in the future.
Along with these strategic and knowledge-based lessons, I also learned a few things about how to deal with people’s perceptions (and quirks).
Lesson 1: Act flattered when people call you young.
On the first day of the conference, I was engaged in a conversation about how to wow your customers. I mentioned that we’d sent a desk heater to a client living in New York, and how well it was received by him. The man standing to my left aggressively asked, “You have clients? How old are you? Are you fifteen?” I looked him straight in the eye and simply said, “Thank you, that’s very flattering.” I wanted to defend myself and scream, “No, I’m not fifteen! I help run a successful personal branding company!” Instead, I acted flattered and continued discussing the topic at hand. I realized that many people at the conference may have been thinking what this man voiced, and it did affect me. I learned quickly not to let others’ perceptions of my age, sex, or appearance control how I would conduct myself; I needed to exhibit the confidence that proved I had just as much right to be there as they did. This confidence allowed me to meet more people and absorb more information because I wasn’t scared to ask questions and engage with the seasoned vets in attendance.
Lesson 2: Don’t be offended by the guy looking for someone more important to speak with.
It happened at least two times a day. I would be speaking with someone and see their eyes go past my head, peering around the room for someone they dubbed more important to speak with. This conference had its fair share of “big shots,” and I’m not embarrassed to say that I wasn’t one of them. I was, however, someone who may have been able to offer great referrals to these “over-the-shoulder” types. I might have been able to help them with their online authority or help establish them in their industries, but the quickness with which they dismissed me let me know that they were, in fact, not worth my time. The people I connected with the most throughout the conference were those who were genuinely interested in learning about all different industries. They didn’t discount me because I was female or young, and I’d be happy to help them out in any way possible. It’s easy to be offended when someone appears uninterested, but I learned quickly to let them search for the big shots; I would be perfectly content speaking with the real people. (Besides, if they were this status-seeking in our first encounter, how difficult would they be as actual clients? Yikes.)
Lesson 3: Make it clear that giving your business card is not the same as giving your phone number.
At a conference, a typical conversation goes something like this:
Person #1: “Are you enjoying the conference?”
Person #2: “Yes, it’s very helpful for my business.”
Person #1: “Oh, what business is that?”
After about 5 minutes of learning about each other’s companies, the conversation ends with an exchange of business cards. Obviously, not all conversations follow this pattern, but the point is that giving someone your business card at the end of a conversation is a normal occurrence. Here’s a problem we face as women (and I’m sure some men encounter this as well): giving someone your business card is not the same as giving a prospective suitor your phone number. However, the card has your cell phone on it, and texting has become more commonplace in the professional world, so it’s not far-fetched to imagine that some people get the wrong idea. After giving someone my business card earlier in the day, I was shocked to receive text messages that were far from professional. It upset me that someone would take advantage of what I thought was a perfectly normal business conversation and try to turn it into a romantic rendezvous. After calling a co-worker and expressing how extremely uncomfortable I was, I chose to respond to the texts with a short sentence about how I was busy meeting with a client that evening, but he was welcome to call our office number to set up a meeting to discuss business. I didn’t hear from him again.
The three lessons I learned at the conference don’t just apply to me because I’m a young female – they apply to all conference newbies. Regardless of age, sex, or status, every person should be prepared to walk into a room confident of his or her abilities. Others’ perceptions of us shouldn’t prevent us from getting what we need from conferences – or anything else. Ignore their bad manners and prove you know much more than any fifteen-year-old they’ll ever meet.
Kelsey Meyer is the Senior Vice President of Digital Talent Agents, a niche PR company that helps experts and entrepreneurs improve their online authority and credibility while creating a pull strategy to their brand.