Events are about networking!
They may be about a technology, or about entrepreneurship, or an excuse for marketing a specific platform of product.
But, for most of us entrepreneurs, they’re always about networking as well.
Yet, most of us – at least the less marketing-types amongst us – turn up at these events, seek out a few familiar faces that are inevitably around, and “hang around” with them, “catching up” and making the same old jokes.
How in Seth Godin’s name is that networking?
But then, we’re shy/introverted/tongue-tied techies and don’t necessarily like reaching out to too many people to make pointless small talk about this, that and everything else. So this is not only expected, but pretty ok with us.
You’re an entrepreneur. And you’ll need to get off that chair, out of office and meet more people. Different kinds of people – not just the ones who could have been a reflection of you in a mirror. Vendors, customers, PR folks, investors, media, influencers, those who appear dumb to you, and those who appear arrogant. So its totally the smart thing to try and figure out how to break – the – ice. Capisce?
Ok. Will do. So – Breaking The Ice For Dummies.
While dressing smart is nice, but being comfortable in what you wear is way more important. If you’re not comfortable in your skin, it’ll start to show very very soon in contrived, shallow conversations.
Turn up early
Nothing like a little time on your side. Get the hashtags for the event right, seek out a volunteer or two and see if you can get a sense of who’s expected amongst the audience. Being prepared helps.
Do not sit next to folks you already know
Hey, nobody’s asking you to go anti-social on the world. But once you’ve said your “Hi, wassups” – go mingle even as you find your place amongst the audience.
If there’s a question, ask it
If there’s a question in your head during the Q&A after a speaker’s done, don’t shy away from asking it. Interesting questions help spark conversations not just during the sessions, but in the breaks as well. A smart question about how much funding makes sense for a bootstrapper will appeal to all the bootstrappers in the room for sure!
Don’t shy away from reading a name tag/T-Shirt and asking what someone does
It’s ok – you’re NOT expected to know people. Ask them about what they do, why they’re there and then offer information about yourself.
Butt in – but gracefully and politely
You may sometimes find everyone’s already busy in an animated conversation with everyone else. Nevermind – if the conversation/person seems interesting, butt in and ask if you may join in – with a smile – and just ….
That’s the biggest art. To introductions, opinions, and pitches. Helps get to know people, their ideas, products and helps you offer meaningful inputs. More than anything, people are willing to listen to people who listen to them!
Evangelize! Bitch! Crib! Bond
Pick talking points that you’re passionate about. Or something that’s a pain that you and folks you’re talking to share. Or a good tech debate – about a programming language, framework, or religion (all pretty much the same thing, no?) True zeal shows, and folks gather around interesting discussions, and the people involved in them.
Carry branding, or an interesting conversation starter
Other folks will find it easier to start a conversation with you if there’s a visual aid. It could be a T-shirt with your brand on it, a sticker on your laptop/backpack, funkily coloured wigs (be prepared for interesting conversations!) or – at least in my case – a cycling helmet.
Don’t get too focused on the ROI of every conversation
Nothing kills conversations than ROI focused networking. Of course, you need connects with potential customers, partners, employees, but do remember its more like harvesting than hunting, and you’re just sowing seeds.
Don’t bury yourself into your device
Many folks tend to use the screen either to “look busy/cool” or to merely escape the effort of having to face other people and make real conversation. So keep that phone on silent (not in the vibrator mode) and the iPad tucked away where you cannot see it. Whatever it is can wait till you choose to check it later.
Once you’re home, pull out those cards and send folks a simple email with a “Hi!”, and connect over LinkedIn right away. Relationships take work and time and this first step says you’re looking forward to one.