Every second counts

Oli Barrett on how to excuse yourself from a stale networking conversation

“The name is Tony, and the game is personal branding.” With this game-show introduction, Tony offers me a tattered business card and looks me squarely in the eye. Well, as squarely as it is possible to transfix someone, when you are quite severely cross-eyed and have two large, greasy thumb prints on your specs.

Intrigued, I study the guru’s dog-bitten calling card. For a not very small fee, it turns out, Tony will share his pearls of wisdom with you too. And if you are very lucky, he might even brush his teeth.

First impressions, as Tony knows, are important.  I have colleagues who are more than happy to share images of their more sociable moments through Facebook. “Who cares,” they cry, “if someone sees me pretending to be a dolphin in my niece’s paddling pool?”

And much as I can see that this graphic image might contribute to a balanced picture of my accountant, it might not work quite so well if this was the first image I ever saw of him. 

You never know who might be following your online antics these days, as I found this week when both Sydney’s Consul General and a Channel Four board member complimented me on a video taken while promoting Global Entrepreneurship Week, and, perhaps unwisely, uploaded to YouTube.

Some people are paying closer attention than you might think. “Excuse me,” writes a colleague, “but I have noticed you are NOT following me on Twitter.”

Now I’m sure people (Tony, for example) have been accused of following people before now. But NOT following someone? Be warned, the attention economy means every second counts, and some are clearly taking this a little more seriously than others.

Readers of this magazine have recently been alerted to the fact that Barack Obama is following me on Twitter. Along with thousands of other people who take the time to follow his updates, by the time you read this, we’ll both know whether he’s standing in the Oval Office, or splashing about in a far-flung paddling pool.

I’ll be Stateside on election night, at the annual meet of the British American Project, on the future of pop culture. Famously secretive, although actually rather friendly, BAP, as it’s known, is a rare chance to find the founder of the Erotic Review locked in conversation with the creator of game-show QI, and even a (not so secret) senior policeman.

We’ll be trying to separate fact from fiction in the wake of the Big Vote. Expectations are high this year for one particular contributor: Aaron Sorkin, the writer of A Few Good Men and creator of The West Wing.

A rich mix of guests converge at Cranfield School of Management, where business leaders meet with Europe’s top academic boffins at the EABIS Colloquium. One guest shuffles over and quizzes me on the finer aspects of my networking technique. He turns out to be the senior vice president of a $10bn firm! You see, you never can tell who’ll be good at what these days.

His question concerns how to politely excuse oneself from a conversation at an event, which I answer relatively swiftly. But is he bold enough to deploy his new tactic in my direction? Or could I justifiably demonstrate its power in a parting flourish? Er, no, we end up chatting for almost an hour.

Oli Barrett MBE, is a founder of Cospa , the co-sponsorship agency that helps to create and deliver social action projects, such as Tenner, Missions, Build-It, and Speed Mentoring. He is also a founder of StartUp Britain and can be found on Twitter

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