In Praise of That Weird Old Guy at Conferences

He’s usually an older gentleman, out of place among the young people at the conference you’re attending. He’s wearing some odd combination of suit and Hawaiian shirt. He’s terrible at social cues, but he’s entirely unfazed about that. He was probably a millionaire serial entrepreneur at one point, but you wouldn’t be able to guess it.

He is Weird Old Guy at a Conference (WOGC for short). Admittedly, he’s an archetype. But you have met him someone very much like him.

He will confidently come up to you and tell you he is an important investor, even though he doesn’t look like he has much more money than you.

He will try to corner you for 30 minutes to give you advice or tell you about a weird new technology or give you investment advice.

If you’re going out with colleagues you’ve just met, he will tag along. All of you will assume he’s with someone else in the group. He isn’t. But you just sort of nod and go along with it.

He will tell you jokes that might have been funny 40 years ago. They probably weren’t. He will share unsolicited opinions. He will drink too much and get even more gregarious.

WOGC is usually just an annoyance for people who attend conferences, but I have a different take.

Sure, WOGC misses some social cues. He can come across as overbearing or odd or even occasionally creepy. But he does have something to teach us.

The WOGC is the perfect teacher for how to not give a damn about what other people think.

Learning how not to give a damn about what other people think is one of the most important skills you could possibly learn in life and business (preceded by giving a damn about what your customers think, giving a damn about life in general, and knowing how to give a damn to the right things).

People who give too many damns about what people think let social anxiety about their position or income keep them from talking to someone important at a conference.

The WOGC doesn’t give a damn. He will walk right up to Bill Gates and start pitching.

People who give a damn about what other people think never stand up, ask good questions, give good answers, and get noticed.

The WOGC is always first in line at the mic. He doesn’t give a damn about what you think of him or his question. He doesn’t give a damn about thought leaders or their “status.” He’s going to ask his question.

People who give a damn about what other people think stay inside their comfort zones, cling to the familiar, and follow the conference agenda.

The WOGC doesn’t give a damn about agendas or the familiar. He’s making friends (or trying to, at least) with everyone he runs into, drinking the CEOs of five Fortune 500 companies under the hotel bar, and hosting an impromptu speaking session at the hotel pool.

You get the picture. WOGCs truly do not give a damn. That’s what makes them WOGCs. They’ve already seen it all. They’ve learned that, while they might be burning a few social points by not giving any damns whatsoever, it’s worthwhile to them to check social anxiety and conformity at the door. They seems to have more fun that way.

I wouldn’t recommend their strategy for overcoming social anxiety – at all. But I do think that extremes like the one embodied by WOGCs can teach us quite a lot about the unexpected value of not giving too many damns. They throw a wrench into our tidy, neat, rules-bound business world that stops us and makes us think “Oh, could we be maybe do this thing differently?”

So keep on being you, Weird Old Guy at a Conference. You may not be the hero the business world wants, but you are the hero it needs.

Stay in the know.

Get my best new essays and other occasional news, ideas, or projects delivered in nice, tidy packages once weekly.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.