Getting the Most out of Conferences, Events, and Meetups for Your Startup
One of the most important elements of growing a startup, is developing and nurturing potential partnerships and professional relationships that can help your company succeed. Whether you are building relationships in pursuit of investment, seeking talent, creating a sales channel, or enabling deal-flow, these critical tasks are dependent on developing relationships with other professionals.
In today’s world, there are numerous ways to pursue relationships including online options such as social networks. Yet there is no substitute for real-world interactions with people. All things being equal, nothing beats a one-on-one meeting over coffee. Sadly, no one has time to sit around drinking coffee all day.
That’s where networking events come in. Whether these are meetups, conferences, or any other type of event, there is no better way to maximize your networking potential. Now you may be saying to yourself that going to events can be exhausting, and it can be. It can be draining even for the most energetic and people friendly professionals. But you still need to go.
Think of events as an opportunity to flex your network. Like a muscle, your network needs exercise. Your professional contacts may need only a quick touchpoint, a brief interaction, to keep them engaged with you and a quick conversation at a conference can help serve that goal.
What to Look for in an Event
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure your goals are a good fit for the event. Are you trying to meet clients, attract investment, learn a new skill – whatever your goal is, it’s important that a given event help you accomplish that. You can make sure the event is a good fit by looking at the marketing language for the event, but also by diving deeper.
Look for specific names of attendees, companies, and the roles of speakers. Try to get a sense of whether the organizers are fudging on some of the details. Beyond that, look for events where you know the organizer and they know you and the unique value you can provide by attending.
It’s also important to look at who invited you and how. Were you featured on a monster mailing list, or was this a personal invitation from a trusted friend? Was the invite sent in an apropriate notice, or last minute because the RSVP list is short and the organizer wants to fill the room? All of these details can help you paint a full picture of the opportunity.
Building and Executing a Game Plan
Networking starts with prep ahead of time. Make a list of targets of who you want to talk to and what you want to talk about. Make sure you have a short pitch ready in advance and that it fits the event, your goals, and the people you want to meet. Oh, and don't come hungry. You're there to work, not to shove food in your face. The food is nice but that's not why you’re there.
The same goes with alcohol. You need to know yourself and keep your professional goals at the top your focus. One drink might be ok but be aware.
You’re There, Now Go Talk to People
The bottom-line reason you’re attending an event is to meet people, and to do that you need to actually have a conversation with them. Doing this in real life isn’t as simple as clicking like. So, stay mindful, keep track of time, and be prepared to step away from one conversation to go start another if you see one of the people you want to meet.
And what if the person you want to speak with is having a conversation themselves? Well, in that case, work up a little chutzpa, and find a way to – politely – interrupt. Simply step in, explain what and why you’re doing it, and show that you would like to speak to that person. Give them a chance to finish their conversation but be available for them when they are ready.
When to Bail
So let’s say you’ve come to the realization you’re at a bad event. Like most things in life, there comes a time when you need to cut your losses. Try to salvage the opportunity first, see if you can’t find someone worthwhile to speak to, or if there is a lecture that may teach you something. Maybe there is someone else there who has also realized the event isn’t worthwhile and that might be a chance to strike up a productive talk. But keep in mind that the event is a business opportunity, and if the ROI isn’t there, it’s time to leave.
But maybe take a bite or two of the food before you go, it can’t hurt.