Face It Silicon Valley, You're Socially Awkward. Now, Fix it.

By Kym McNicholas , written on August 20, 2012

From The News Desk

I remember my first networking event in Silicon Valley back when I'd just started at Forbes in 2008. I was standing with the only two people I knew when we were approached by a tall, handsome entrepreneur, whom I will not name. He said, "Hello" to the men I was sitting with but didn't acknowledge my introduction or even my existence. I thought, "What an ass!" I finally was fed up after a couple more attempts to chime in and simply became persistent, trying every angle. I finally struck gold...a topic he was passionate about. He quickly warmed up and became engaged. A mutual friend observing our conversation later approached me. She asked, "How did you get him to open up? He's shy."

From that moment on, I no longer made snap judgements about people. Particularly after I've been on the other side of them. After doing a speaking gig I was very nervous about, one of the attendees later said to me, "My first impression of you was a bitch." He went on to say, "You just seemed arrogant and full of yourself." When I asked what made him think that, he referenced the sound of my voice and the look on my face. My voice? I felt like my voice trembled. My face? I was trying to hold my face still to prevent my cheeks from shaking.  I was incredibly nervous and insecure. Perception is not reality. He and I are now great friends.

Look, we're all insecure. And in a place like Silicon Valley that insecurity can make us all socially awkward. Especially me. Sure I can be on camera will no nerves, but talking to a roomful of strangers is another matter. Even 1:1 can be a bit awkward, unless it's on camera. So, I've  hidden behind my work over the last 13 years, not allowing myself to develop long term personal relationships. How can you develop anything personal when it's all business all the time.

Recently, I met someone who has changed that: Devon Ash, Co-founder of Social Fluency. We met at a Summit Series event. His start-up helps techies get over their social awkwardness.  I've always been skeptical of any class, seminar, or any type of self-help books. But he designed his program to appeal to entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs love high-level theoretical explanations of how the brain works, combined with practical tools they can use immediately to get the edge in any situation. He almost makes a game of it, complete with accountability for results.

Devon and I sat down for a quick conversation on camera to talk about class one.  He provides a few tangible things that you can apply right away.

You might wonder why Devon would get into the self-help business. It almost seems that many get in it for the fame. You see the Tony Robbins of the world splashed across bookstores and television screens every day. But for Devon it was not about fame, it was about necessity. Ash was diagnosed with skin cancer on his face at age 23. Doctors had to remove a half dollar size chunk from his ear to his nose which left him with severe scarring. It caused him to fall into a depressive state. He distanced himself from everyone and had to find himself again.

“It was a scary time for sure," recalls Ash.

But during his soul searching he realized he didn't have anything to lose in facing the world again. He felt like it was just like in high school when he hopped from town to town, school to school, with his hippie parents who loved moving around year-after-year to explore new places. He handled the constant change in stride, using each school as a new opportunity to take risks and push his boundaries. He didnt have anything to lose. Back then, if friends turned on him, he was gone within months anyway. Now, he figured no pain from rejection could be worse than what he'd just gone through.  So, he analyzed his past successes and spent years researching how the brain works.  He tested theories and practices.

"I put myself out and there and did stuff I never thought I would do and I got amazing results," exclaims Ash.

Now, he's committed to helping others feel the same social freedom through Social Fluency, particularly in Silicon Valley, an area known for its tech savvy, not social savvy.

Ash says, "It takes more than great code to sell a product or service anymore, you have to sell yourself, and I hope I can help people get over their fear of approach and  conversation, finding success success both inside and outside the boardroom."