Listen

Listening is louder than it sounds.

Most entrepreneurs like to talk and the more obsessed we are, the more vociferous we seem to get. Idea machines must be willing to share compelling stories, but listening is a key part of any transmission. This may seem obvious, but with precious air time up for grabs and knowing so much about our own interests, listening can devolve into feeling like a required distraction.

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Hearing is passive. Listening is active.

As we guide people through the layers of understanding, active listening forms a bond much faster than forcing yourself to be heard. The fear of not having time to deliver your message will linger, but when we truly tune into what another person is saying, it shows we care. It also helps us better harmonize our thoughts within the moment and counters the common mistake of overloading others with too much numbing details all at once. Knowing each conversation is part of a broader relationship and community-building journey, good listeners are almost always given a chance to make a bigger impact.

Ready for an experiment? The next time you meet someone new, embrace your inner scientist. Set your introverted/extroverted mindset aside and focus your attention on asking as many thoughtful questions as you can. The less you talk, the better. This will feel awkward if you just fire question after question, so be concise with each response, then return to more thoughtful questions for a more natural interaction. Consider expanding this social experiment by purposely doing this throughout an entire networking event. Remember who you talked with and track how the listening-focused conversations evolve. Over time, how do these relationships built on listening, compare to others where you’ve been more outspoken? Here are a few tactics to support your practice.

  • Center your internal attention.
  • Stay engaged with eye contact.
  • Use jarring questions to dodge small talk.
  • Don’t interrupt or jump to conclusions.
  • Occasionally paraphrase what was said.
  • Avoid the urge to make it about you.
  • Ask curious questions to go deeper.
  • Exit gracefully, without a sense of rush.

This type of active listening will extend your ability to hear more, but also make your responses more in-tune with what others are thinking, versus always trying to prove your point. Selflessness may keep a conversation from landing exactly where you want in that moment, but as you move from one topic to the next, you’ll learn how others work. When done well, an unspoken bond forms. This synchronization creates space to explore more directions you’d like to take future conversations, but now with the priceless ingredient of shared enthusiasm.

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Listening within a support network ignites optimism, connection, and motivation. A healthy balance is to also listen to your challenge network, which keeps us intellectually humble and rooted in reality.

Online Event Management

Live event management is a handful. Virtual events should also be well thought out. How can we create a memorable experience when everyone is participating online? Let’s teleport into this topic together.

First, consider what must be accomplished. What cannot be achieved without this time together? Determine how long the virtual experience should last. It’s usually less than you think. Next, line up the right technologies to ensure it fits the needs of your virtual experience. As tech is selected, use security tactics to avoid unwanted distractions. With objectives and logistics in place, it’s time to flesh out the experience.

While our connected era has unlocked the next level of efficiency with these virtual interactions, a drawback to online gatherings is the lack of time before and after a meeting. This means there’s less serendipitous interplay. Stay efficient, but it may be wise to weave in random value through manufactured moments that still feel natural for participants.

As attendees arrive, use your opening remarks to set the tone. Generate cohesion with jolts of genuine energy as any rules of engagement are quickly confirmed. If there’s a meeting agenda, run through that and connect it with meeting goals so attendees know what to expect.

After a welcoming attendees with a concise, energizing, and clarifying introduction, have fun unpacking the primary discussion. Stay on task and try to avoid distractions, but leave time for interactive dialogue. With less open dialogue due to the limitations of a virtual experience, this is one way to create space for those manufactured moments of serendipity. These conversational buffers help to avoid having the loudest voice be the only one that’s heard and invites an inclusive environment with deliberate space for everyone to participate.

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The term “hybrid” is hard to define. There’s value in weaving tech into in-person events so that others are able to virtually feel the experience. There’s also value in keeping things simple so the focus remains on your attendee’s engagement. Experiment with what works for you, but one interesting combination is to go all-in with live events, and then add strategic online events into the mix. This avoids fragmented coordination, eliminates the hollowness of virtual content within an in-person experience, and creates ease for organizers who benefit from both types of environments.

As you bring your online events together, you want interactivity so it’s not talking heads with attendees pretending to listen. Do this by including icebreakers, musical moments, pop-up polls, breakout discussions, scavenger hunts, doodling exercises, physical activities, and scheduled breaks. Encourage note taking and grab screenshots as artifacts to share later. Leave time for questions before wrapping things up.

As you bring things to a close, it’s important everyone feels a sense of accomplishment. If ramblings drag on before the meeting abruptly cuts off, people will leave feeling empty. Keep the virtual energy juicy, review key takeaways, and encourage action to tie a bow on the efficiency of all your online events.

Live Event Management

There’s something exhilarating about bringing people together to enjoy an experience you built. Anyone can bring a few friends together. Creating an environment for the public to connect requires more attention.

Controlling the chaos of an event is easier with solid planning beforehand. First-time events are always the hardest, but every event has unknowns. The more thought put in before people arrive, the smoother your attendees’ experience will be.

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I’ve developed and managed countless events throughout North America. More tips and tactics, as well as, insight from my own experience is layered into the Event Management section of YDNTB.

Basic details include the venue, time, and guest list. Who’s the audience? Based on those you want to attend, how can the venue support the right vibe and is it accessible? How will transportation and parking work? Looking at community calendars, will your event compete with other related events?

With basic event details in place, how can you promote this event so people you want to attend notice it? Will a website be needed or is social media enough? Is it free to attend or will there be a cost? If it’s free, how will you cover costs? Speaking of costs, how could sponsorships work? What’s the plan for food and drinks? Is there a registration process? If not, will you still be able to gather attendee data? Is security staff needed?

Think about your own goals for the event and how you want attendees to feel when they leave. Beyond the basics, what’s the agenda look like? Will there be any sort of programming? What about special speakers? As the host, if you plan to say a few words, what are the key points you want to make? Are activities planned or is casual conversation enough to keep everyone engaged? Will you be able to capture enough media while still managing the event? If not, does it make sense to hire someone to capture photos and video to use later? Can you rally attendees by connecting them on social media before, during, and after the event? Could showcasing live social media activity boost awareness for those unable to attend? Where’s a good place to send everyone interested in the after-party?

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Stay tuned! Next week we’ll shift focus to online events.

One common mistake is assuming an event is over when the last guest has left. Detailed planning leads to smooth events. Concerted efforts to commemorate events lead to future opportunities. Finish strong with thank-you notes, tagged photos, video highlights, recap articles, and follow-up conversations.

Event management is challenging and stressful, but super energizing. The more you bring people together, the more effective you’ll become. As the basics become second nature, it’s easier to get more creative. This leads to larger crowds, more memorable experiences, and longer-lasting engagement. Like everything, the more you practice, the better you get.

Import Knowledge

The focus on a local business environment allows small businesses, startup communities and entrepreneurial ecosystems to support the people they are closest to. This concentration allows available resources to be optimized, but overextending “local first” can devolve into close mindedness and groupthink if it is not accompanied by imported knowledge, global connectivity and inclusive collaboration.

Thanks to the efficiency of our connected era, increased proficiency is just a click away. Regularly inviting outside perspectives into local conversation normalizes fresh feedback and bolsters intellectual awareness. The sense of abundance paired with this shared experience adds confidence within a community. This emerging confidence can illuminate purpose and attract more of what an ecosystem needs, by leaning into what it already has. Over time, this adds cultural elasticity and opens fresh conduits for collaboration.

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Be quick to invite outsiders into the insider’s conversation.

As a local entrepreneurial ecosystem invites more outside perspectives, it also manifests itself to visitors from all over the world. This can grow the community, diversify the ecosystem, and boost the local economy.

These intellectual branches and societal bridges also give more people a chance to export knowledge as they interact beyond the local environment. This extension broadens our range of understanding and overall potential.

Can we stay committed to those we love and take pride in the place we live, while also reducing the limitations of our own location? I believe the answer is almost always yes. With a positive-sum approach to importing and exporting knowledge, we can lean on each other to all accomplish more with less.

Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Social architects around the globe have worked to establish frameworks that can be applied to support long-term, generous, and community-driven collaboration. They have done this alongside government, educational institutions, entrepreneurial support organizations, and economic development groups. Along with societal constructs to guide economic development rooted in entrepreneurship, innovative community builders have stabilized our ability to communicate by adopting a common language that makes universal collaboration possible.

To communicate how a community collaborates to support entrepreneurship, the term “entrepreneurial ecosystem” was coined to describe the people, organizations, resources, conditions, and, most important, the complex interactions between everything in a business environment. The scale of an entrepreneurial ecosystem can be local, statewide, regional, national, or worldwide, but the primary focus must remain: the success of entrepreneurs.

Like an ecological system found in nature, each part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem plays into the continuum of economic development. As a conglomeration of interdependent parts, changing one aspect can affect other features. With so many moving parts, complexity science helps us understand and communicate how entrepreneurial ecosystems work.

In their 2020 best-selling book The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway use complex adaptive systems to explore how a systematic, holistic, inclusive, positive-sum, and long-term mindset unlocks entrepreneurial ecosystems to thrive as one. There are many other thought leaders (e.g. Johannes Pennings, Daniel Isenberg, Victor Hwang, Greg Horowitt, Lolita Taub, Dell Gines, Steve Case, Naval Ravikant, Wendy Guillies, Philip Gaskin, Andy Stoll, Cecilia Wessinger, Arlan Hamilton, Yancey Strickler, Marc Nager, Scott Resnick, Laís de Oliveira, Seth Godin, etc.) and exceptional organizations (e.g. Kauffman Foundation, Techstars, Revolution, Center for American Entrepreneurship, Forward Cities, Right To Start, Global Entrepreneurship Network, etc.) that continue to guide this collaborative approach to economic development. In short, when you win, we win. The sooner a community comes together to support what works while leaving outdated ideas behind, the sooner it can flourish.

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Have you seen Brad Feld’s remarkable contribution inside You Don’t Need This Book? Brad inspires us all to think big and it was an honor having him riff on such an important topic within my new book!

As you’ll read more about in YDNTB, a genuine commitment to inclusivity is where the magic happens within an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Complex systems rely and thrive on diversity. Identity diversity (e.g., gender, race, and sexual orientation) paired with cognitive diversity (e.g., experience, background, and perspective) invites everyone to participate. Along with radical inclusivity, equitable policies provide an environment where entrepreneurial traction is easier to find. As expanding connectivity diversifies, the ecosystem matures and long-term growth becomes more sustainable. When members of the community are successful, they are free to give back and this cycle continues to fuel positive change.

With enough people who care, healthy ecosystems can exist anywhere. No matter the environment, thriving ecosystems trust that a rising tide will raise all ships, allowing entrepreneurs and the people who support them to prosper. Such an inclusive and collaborative approach sets a tone for the broader business environment, strengthening economic development and our society overall.

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Wanna geek out on this together? Perhaps your ecosystem is thirsty for a fresh perspective? Let’s pour some virtual coffee and explore innovative ways to collaborate!