These days, we are seeing a massive rise in conferences, from the more renowned events like SXSW and Forbes’ 30 under 30 to the micro-community events that TechCrunch runs. I’ve been attending these events since I was 15 years old. I quickly realized that everyone at these events is in “networking mode”. You show up and are instantly flooded with questions: Tell me your story. Who are you? Who do you work for? Why are you here?
This networking mode involves constantly talking to people and mentally qualifying them to see if they fit within a useful category. It’s like a high-stakes version of speed dating. I wish people would cut to the chase, walk up to me, and say, “Hey, how can you make me money?” or “What value can we provide each other?” I am a hard person to network with because I read between the lines a little too much. I believe that there is no way to fully connect with someone in a conference environment unless you spend a lot of time with that person, which can reduce your ability to network further. I have made a few incredible connections with some fascinating people in conference settings, but these usually tend to just be connections, rather than an opportunity.
Here Is Some Advice When It Comes to Networking:
- Speak at or Panel an Event. I recently spoke at my friend Casey Adams’ event called Build Your Empire. The biggest power move you can make is establishing credibility, and the best way to do that is speaking or paneling at an event. That way, you get to share your story with a large ocean of people, and then those who want to connect with you will naturally come your way.
- Pick 3-5 people to connect with instead of everyone. Deeper connections are more meaningful than shallower ones, and following up with people is easier when you can recall a longer conversation.
- Do your research on the speakers and reach out to them prior to the event. That way, you can approach them and make the best use of the conversation.
- Listen. Don’t talk. Ask questions. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, so give potential connections every chance to do so! Empathetic listening is a crucial skill, so try to do it for the people you are networking with.
- Qualify events. Develop a hierarchy and establish key goals for each event you attend, whether it is to learn something, to relax, or to connect with key people. Your time is valuable and it matters, so allocate it accordingly.
- Ignore the noise. Fancy words and nice clothes don’t mean anything. Sometimes, the quiet guy in the corner of the room tends to be the person you should spend the most time with. Sometimes it’s hard to detect these still waters that run deep, but it’s often easy to see who is just a showman (or woman).
- Follow Up. Send an email a few days after the event thanking people for their time. Consider asking a follow-up question if they spoke or presented. Get a conversation started. If they don’t reply, you have something to point back to when you meet that person again.
Go against the grain while networking at conferences. Successful networking follows a targeted approach, rather than a blizzard. Some people are less outgoing but have an enormous amount to offer. Targeting a few people instead of everyone, and then adjusting your time/effort ratio accordingly, will result in better connections – and a better event experience for you.