Signal To Noise

The other evening I attended a technology industry event at a somewhat-trendy bar downtown.  The event was intended to foster networking between newer entrepreneurial startups and more established tech companies.  I eventually found myself comparing notes with a guy I’ll call “Sam.”  Sam is responsible for sales at his company and as with most sales professionals; the conversation with Sam wasn’t too difficult.  He clearly wasn’t trying to confuse anyone.  As I watched Sam interact with others I began to suspect that he was an expert at getting his message across with an optimal signal-to-noise ratio.

Shortly after Sam and I began speaking we were joined by another individual.  I’ll call this guy “Ted”.  We made introductions around and then I asked Ted what his company did.  Ted seemed to struggle with his description of his business.  After Ted circled the bulls eye for several minutes Sam asked him to boil his business model down to the basic value proposition. Ted seemed to struggle with this too and so Sam helped him through the short conversation with some prompting.

I found the conversation about a basic value statement interesting.  Once we’d arrived at Ted’s business the conversation became less interesting.  Ted began expounding the benefits of his favorite flavor of technology.  Before I wandered off I heard things like “no viruses”, “lower cost of ownership” and “a true Unix operating system…”.  Not much real information and not much in a message structure that I found entertaining.

Here are a few quick tips for the “Teds” out there:

  1. Always be ready to quickly describe your value proposition. You should practice that statement regardless of your position in the company.
  2. Keep the value proposition short and relatively non-technical. It doesn’t need to be so simple that Uncle Joe could understand it, unless Uncle Joe works in your industry, but it does need to be basic enough that others in your industry understand quickly, with minimum effort.
  3. If someone asks you what you do and you are able to respond with a concise answer then by all means also give them your contact information!  Hand them your business card; provide them with a URL or something else memorable.  Write that information on a matchbook, cocktail napkin or just scratch it into their forearm with your car keys.  Don’t assume that someone will remember your business contact information after a casual conversation, especially if that causal environment also includes libations.
  4. Read your audience.  Be cautious about providing too much detail unless you are confident the person you are speaking to understands your topic and wants to dive into it.  There are some people I just don’t get into elevators with.  Zealots are always near the top of that list.


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