I recently attended the fantastic Startup Grind SoCal Conference. There were great speakers, awesome people that I met from all walks of life, and just a fantastic vibe to the whole event. Oh yeah, and there were terrible networking sins being committed left and right. I want to highlight these “sins” for you, because I’m sure you don’t even realize that you’ve probably committed a few of them in the past. Let’s begin.
Sin #1: Following a speaker right after his or her session has ended.
This is by far the worst sin of them all, and it’s easy to see what your goal is. You want to make an impression on the speaker by introducing yourself and telling that person all about your company.
Here’s the problem: There are 51 other people who have the exact same intention. Truth be told, when you step back it looks like a pack of vultures (that includes you) circling a dead carcass (the speaker). It’s quite comical.
But I feel bad for both you and the speaker. Why? I feel bad for you because the speaker is not going to remember you from the 51 other people. Without fail, that speaker will tell you to email him or her, email their assistant, or email someone else on their team (and I can almost guarantee no one will get back to you).
So what should you do instead? First, write down or make a mental note of pearls of wisdom that the speaker said, or some things that you liked about that person (outfit, shoes, commonalities with you, etc.). Second, find the speaker later on in the conference. You know, when people have moved on to the “next shiny object.” Start off your conversation with a compliment and a question before saying anything about your startup or business. This demonstrates to the speaker that you actually listened to what he or she said, and are interested enough in him or her to probe further with an insightful question. This will help you earn serious brownie points with the speaker. Maybe even a business deal or funding will come from your new relationship as well.
Sin #2: Giving out your business card.
I’ve written about friendworking before, and I repeat: If we were friends, would you ever give me a business card? Of course not! Giving a business card to someone you just met feels cold and impersonal. It is pretty much the equivalent of a receipt for your networking transaction. I beg of you, please avoid it at all costs.
So what should you do instead?
Brace yourself. Actually take out your phone and exchange contact information with the person you just met. Take down their phone number and email, and find a way to keep the conversation going after the conference is over. The one caveat to this is if you are talking to someone that is clearly five rungs above you (or more) on the power ladder. In that case, it’s probably better to ask for their card as that person might be a little wary giving their number away.
If high-powered-honcho doesn’t have a card or asks you for one, then you have free range to pull out your phone and input their name and email into your contacts. I recommend sending a follow-up email a week after – not the day after. Way too many people will try to follow up immediately after an event, and it is easy for your email to get drowned out by others. Play the long game and wait patiently for the chatter to die down before you send an email.
Sin #3: Tooting your own horn.
I get it. The only reason you’re at the conference in the first place is to tell the world about your startup or business (if you have a booth at a conference, ignore this sin).
But pause and think about this. At every conference, people are unconsciously trying to get the same message across: LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT MY STARTUP/BUSINESS! AREN’T WE SO WONDERFUL? PLEASE WORK WITH US! Now this is not to say that conference attendees don’t have the best intentions. However, I’m sure you have felt this “me, me, me” attitude in others who talk to you at a conference. And hey, let’s be honest, you probably have done it too.
Now imagine for a second you are single at a club. If a member of the opposite sex came up to you and started talking about how great they are and how amazing you would be if you dated him/her, would your first thought be:
- Wow, I’m so lucky that I met this person. It’s a match made in heaven! or…
- Yikes! Please get me away from this cocky guy/girl immediately. He/she clearly doesn’t care about me at all.
It’s often the latter, and the same applies to meeting others at conferences. When you are constantly self-promoting your startup or business, you come off as needy and selfish.
So what you should do instead? Strike up a genuine conversation. Ask people about their startup/business, their challenges, and their goals. When people feel like you actually care about them and are not just treating them like a transaction, they will ask you about what you’re up to and how they can help. Remember: The goal here is to treat every new interaction like a first date. Take your time to get to know the person, and I promise you will go a lot farther than if you immediately blurted out random facts about your startup.
I’ll leave you with three DOs that I have picked up over the years:
1. Get to know the people who are a part of the host organization(s).
Fun fact: the best way for you to make connections with high-profile speakers is to make friends with the people who put on the conference. These people also have a treasure trove of information and advice, and are usually ignored or avoided (so you won’t have much competition).
2. Ask this question to high-profile people you want to connect with.
“Assuming I don’t have a connection to someone you know who can make an introduction, what is the next best way to get a meeting with you?”
3. Take advice from the author of Four Hour Work Week.
Set aside an hour to listen to Tim Ferriss: How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time. And take furious notes. You won’t regret it.