Stop Chasing Away the People You Meet That person you thought you hit it off with at a conference won't answer your calls? The Iceberg Theory will fix that for you.

By Leonard Kim

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I avoid all conferences where the sole purpose of the event is for entrepreneurs to network.


Because every time I go, I always end up meeting people who pitch me their ideas, but have no idea on how to gauge my interest. They continue to talk and ramble on, even after my eyes start to wander, because:

  • They just don't get it.

  • They don't get how to pitch.

  • They don't get how to catch my interest.

  • Worse yet, they don't get how to build a relationship.

So, I end up suffering at the cost of my evening.

Even when I don't go to events, many others are forced to suffer to hear these gut-wrenching pitches.

Then the entrepreneurs goes home, thinks they made some successful relationships, but slowly begins to realize that everyone starts hiding from them like the plague.

But, wait. There's a solution to all this.

If you have an idea, or a business… You need to know this theory.

This theory will revolutionize the way your audience treats you. Especially if there's someone important in the crowd listening, such as myself, an investor, or a potential business partner. Someone you don't want to chase away.

That concept is called the "Iceberg Theory."

What is the Iceberg Theory?

It's all about the what verses the how.

Ninety percent of the time, people ask entrepreneurs what they do. The other 10 percent of the time, people like me are avoiding them.


Because 99 percent of time, entrepreneurs never answer what they do. Instead, they try to tell their audience how they do what they do.

When you answer a "what" question with a "how" answer, you run the risk of having the person you talk to never want to talk to you again. Or, if they're a bit nicer than me, you'd just be confusing your audience right out of the gate.

But how does the Iceberg Theory work?

I talked to Ryan Foland, Partner at InfluenceTree and Director of Digital Strategy at the University of Irvine. Somehow he has a bigger attention span and is able to deal with all these horrible pitches all day. Regardless...

Related: Failure Is Not An Option, Or Is It? The One True Way To Achieve Success

These are the five tips to understanding the Iceberg Theory and implementing them into your business:

1. Answer the question

There is value in answering a "what" question with a "what" answer. Ryan feels this prevents any and all confusion when sharing your idea for the first time. Plus, it lets your audience decide if they want to continue asking questions or move on.

It is important that people share what they do first before getting into the details of how they do what they do.

Ryan mentioned that there is a huge difference between the words "what" and "how."

"What" begins at the surface level, and usually describes things in a general sense.

Think of "what" as the very tip of the iceberg that you see above the water's surface.

For example, when people ask me what I do, I say I build personal brands. When they ask Ryan what he does, he says that he's a communication strategist.

Start with the what.

2. Don't Assume Anything

Entrepreneurs have a tendency to think that their audience knows everything. The problem is, they don't.

On the contrary, the audience is usually another entrepreneur who only wants to pitch their idea.

People don't care what others do, they only care about the problem that others solve.

But it goes deeper than that.

They only care about the problem others solve if it is a problem that they have.

The best thing you can do is to stop assuming that your business idea is providing the solution to everyone's problem.

It is crucial to find out if people have the problem trying to be solved first.

3. Understand What the Solution Is

Entrepreneurs must have a crystal-clear understanding of how their business operates. They must be able to reference the individual points that are relevant to the customers. Ryan feels that simply telling people what a company does instead of getting into the details of how everything works has more potential to spark a conversation.

Most startup presentations and pitches have too much information, leaving the audience feeling bored, overwhelmed and wanting it to be over. Filled with redundancies, inefficiencies and excessive detail, entrepreneurs more often than not, lose the interest of their listeners.

Related: Try This Exercise in Giving to Grow and Strengthen Your Network

When being told an idea for the first time, keep it short. Don't give up all of the information. If the idea is at all interesting, people will naturally be curious and want to know more.

They'll soon be asking questions such as, "How does that work?" or, "How do you do what you do?"

Think of this as the iceberg below the surface, which is much larger and contains specific details on your product or services. This is the livestock for the rest of your conversations, but not your introduction.

4. Create Connections With Problems and Solutions

Once you know what is of interest to the person you are talking to, it is time to deliver relevant elements of how your business works. Don't be afraid to give less information initially, because it creates the opportunity to make real connections between the problem you've already identified and how the solution can benefit the listener.

As dialogue continues, the "how" information can be added a way that allows your audience to connect the dots of your problem and how your solution works, for them.

5. Put Your Ideas in Their Head

Ryan stated that the most difficult task requires getting an idea into someone else's head. Spilling all of the beans out of the gate results in less to discuss and less for the audience to learn.

Ryan has seen this endlessly, in those awkward moments after an entrepreneur opens up a fire hose on someone's face. When the water is finally shut off, everyone is soaked and there is nothing left to talk about.

Start with sharing information from the tip of the iceberg, then let them discover everything else beneath the surface as the dialogue continues organically.

Ryan understands that the more entrepreneurs talk, the less people listen. The less entrepreneurs talk, the more people ask questions. Questions are what highlights points of interest, and helps to guide a productive and meaningful exchange of ideas.

Entrepreneurs who start with what they do, and not how they do it, will ultimately say less, have people listen more, and spark more valuable questions.

The magic happens when entrepreneurs dig deep into answering specific questions about their ideas to others.

Related: Before Asking to Meet an Investor Know Why the Investor Should Talk to You

Wavy Line
Leonard Kim

Managing Partner of InfluenceTree

Leonard Kim is managing partner at InfluenceTree, a brand accelerator where Kim and his team build and develop your (personal or business) brand. He also spearheads digital strategy for USC's Medical Enterprise. On the side, Kim is a keynote speaker and blogs at He currently resides in Los Angeles and loves cupcakes.

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