How to ‘Prime’ Your Next Event – because intro requests are so last year…

(A not very subtle way of priming your brain)

(A not very subtle way of priming your brain)


I’ve been transient the past few weeks, starting in the US (beautiful La Jolla, CA), then Italy, Ireland, and Spain, and I’m writing this on my way home from Germany.

As I sip my Easyjet tea and snack on some delicious popcorn, I’m realizing each of my trips was for a specific event. The largest being Web Summit with 42,000 other tech folks and the smallest was a group of potential Startupbootcamp program investors (1).

Yesterday I gave a talk to 20 startups about making the most out of mentor-focused events. One tactic I suggested is connecting with mentors prior to an event to increase their interest during the actual meeting (2). The word I use for this pre-event reach out is to ‘Prime’ someone (like priming a pump) – borrowing the term from the homonymous cognitive bias known as ‘priming’ in the psychology realm (3).

Prime on your own?

If you missed the shitstorm prior to Web Summit, it surrounded startups being told they ‘won’ exhibit space, while later being hit with a bill (I think €1,000 or so). Although Web Summit was called out by seemingly everyone (and Web Summit messy response) I generally think they run a decent show.

I joined in the conversation of course:

As you can tell, I’m a big believer in putting in effort to Prime. However, I’m just now noticing that during each of my recent trips the amount of priming SOMEONE ELSE did for me were my most impactful priming outcomes.

It’s like dating, for business

Not only did someone else priming for me lead to better results, I’ve found the best possible outcome was not directly connecting with someone prior to a meeting. Instead it was exponentially more valuable having the person primed by someone else LOOK FORWARD to meeting me.

Of course a friend saying to a contact “can I connect you with this this great person” has a bigger impact than introducing yourself. But taking this a step forward, even better might be “you’ll really enjoy meeting this great person tomorrow” without any offer of an intro.

It’s like word-of-mouth marketing (“you should really try this”) before meeting someone. Put In practice, instead of a typical intro request you might ask someone to speak favourably about your company to an investor… in hopes that the investor can’t help but reach out to you directly.

How to increase recommendations prior to an event where you’ll likely meet someone? Probably the same tactics work as asking for an introduction, the ‘pitch just needs to ask for an endorsement instead of an intro. Something like this may work for you:


I’m heading to <EVENT> next week, and I’ll likely bump into <CONTACT> who I know you’re close with. Any chance you could ping them a note with a quick endorsement like below? It would mean a lot and I’m hoping more valuable than me asking you for an intro.

A friend of mine <YOU> just mentioned he hopes to connect with you at <EVENT>. I just wanted to say they’re working on something really interesting and definitely going somewhere – I hope you two have a chance to connect.

Much appreciated!


Give it a try?

There’s no doubt in my mind that reaching out directly prior to meeting someone (i.e. ‘Priming them’) leads to more personal connections. Even better is having a mutual connection introduce you.

What I’ve experienced is that having someone speak favourably about you without an introductory offer results in the best possible outcome. Although I’ve never actually tried to ‘manufacture’ this type of endorsement, I’ll likely give it a try (what can it hurt?). If you do as well, I’d love to hear the outcome.

(1) The new program is still a ‘secret’, but let’s just say it was successful and we’ll be launching soon 🙂

(2) Instead of suggesting startups prime their mentors just before the event, I really should send that suggestion well before the event, so they at least have a chance to take my advice…

(3) I know, it feels a little dirty to exploit cognitive biases (aka mind loopholes) in business – but heck, it’s not the worst thing you can do!

Don’t judge a book…

As I get older (1) I find myself judging others more harshly… especially during a first conversation. Which is funny, because throughout my life I’ve prided myself on being open-minded and leaving a positive first impression.

Recently with just a few negative signals I have a greater tendency to A) consider the person a moron, and B) try to promptly exit the conversation.

Surely this combination of being quick to both judge and exit hasn’t ingratiated me to some, but subconsciously the time/effort savings outweighs a long and boring discussion.

If I break down my first interactions over the past year they would broadly result in the distribution below (2):

Dislike to like spectrum

The Switcheroo

Something strange has been happening recently. If I interact a second time with someone I initially strongly dislike, I tend to be completely wrong and end up strongly liking them…

Strong dislike to like

Late last year I met a US VC at a European tech conference. Long story short I considered him to be a typical arrogant American and I ended up actively hating his guts.

A few months later I met the same US VC again, spent some 1-1 time getting to know him and his perspective, and ended up strongly liking the guy.

The same thing happened twice recently with people I’ve met in London – a strongly negative first impression, months later a chance second interaction, and now I not only respect the person – but both have becoming good friends!

I hope I hate them?

My complete love/hate flip-flops have occurred often enough that I (strangely) now look forward to a strong initial dislike. Yes some people are jerks I’ll never enjoy. Yet if a high percentage of strong dislikes are likely to convert into good friends, to me that’s a good investment of time.

These thoughts leave me wondering:

1) Is there a correlation between my flip flops and the relationship advice “the more you love someone the greater they can hurt you?”

2) What are ways I can improve my ability to defer judgement and quickly understand someone’s perspective?

3) How does the time between first and second meetings affect my flip flopping?

4) Of my initial strong dislikes, how many also dislike me? And is their feeling toward me correlated with me flip flopping?

Overall the lessons I need to remind myself often are to keep an open mind, continue meeting LOTS of interesting people, and make every attempt to understand the perspective of others.

If you have any advice or tactics on the above, I’m all ears!

(1) I’m 31, so not that old

(2) Despite my increase in harshly judging, I’m lucky to have a positive outlook that still results in a positive impression of 95% of the people I meet.