Networking is the simple art of making friends to do business, and doing business to make more friends.
Attending conferences and events is essential to nurture your network of contacts, either to find customers, investors, partners, or mentors but during massive conferences and events, we tend to get lost, waste time, and miss opportunity. The preparation for the event should be as serious as preparing for a product launch, and I’ll show case here the method I used that made me close with people like Dave McClure the CEO of 500 Startups, Thomas Andrae the Director of 3M new ventures, David Marcus the president at Paypal.
Intuitively it folds into 3 stages:
1. Before the event
2. During the event
3. After the event
1. Before The Event
You have two categories of people mainly you will want to network with:
- Busy Attendees: usually the speakers, the VIPS, the investors, etc.
- Normal Attendees: attendees like you who may interest you.
Catching busy attendees in large conferences is troublesome. So here is the methodology that I use:
- Information gathering (Stalking and Gossiping)
- Emailing (Approaching and Contacting)
- Recording and Rehearsing
These steps are meant to deliver a great first impression, build strong bonds, and have measurable progress. Below I will showcase the tools and methods I personally use.
Tools & Hacks
First up, you will need to get the full list of speakers.
I personally use kimonolabs as a web scraper.
Most conference websites have their speakers listed.
Kimono Labs should give you an CSV file that you can open using Microsoft Excel (or any program that can read CSV files) to edit it and add the personality traits to the speakers.
When you are done with your scrapping, you can view the Data as a CSV.
The CSV file can be viewed and edited in Microsoft Excel.
Annotate the order of priority of each speaker, and how they are relevant to you. Then, you will need to find specific personality traits of each speaker, so you can approach her or contact her, in a very good way. For this purpose, you will mainly use: Twitter, AngelList, Quora, Slideshare, Facebook interests, their personal blog, Foursquare, Instagram, and any other social media platform you find relevant. Look for to answer these main questions:
- Personality type? Humorous, intellectual, formal, philosopher, etc.
- What’s their topic of interest right now?
- What’s their weakness?
Secondly, find the speakers' friends first.
Mostly in conferences, summits or conventions, a portion of the speakers will know each other and they likely will come with people they know. To be social-proof, you should not only approach the speaker that you are interested in, but also approach their friends, it makes it more comfortable to build a sustainable relationship.
So even if you can not reach the person of your interest (busy, or hard to access) if you befriend one of their friends, they can introduce you later.
How can you spot these connections?
Method 1: Use AngelList and Crunchbase to see who shares the same company or invested in the same startup. In AngelList, follow the speaker, then check out other speakers profiles and see how are they connected.
Let's say I want to know who are the speakers connected to Kevin Rose.
I go to Dave Goldberg’s profile, then I see “the connected people”.
Method 2: Use Twitter, by looking up the speaker's mentions. Usually speakers who come with each other mention each other in the tweets if they are traveling together or are willing to see each other.
In this example, you can notice that Kevin rose and Tony conrad, two speakers at the Web Summit are connected to each other. Even traveling together to the Web Summit.
Method 3: If you have a strong background and knowledge about your domain you can start matching things up, without the need for tools. Add a section in your spreadsheet: “friends and connections”.
Find people who “can interest them”, as a good networker, you should be of value to your new friends. If through you they can discover new people who may make their business or life better, better be the bridge who connects people and it will increase their liking you more. There is nothing as good as sitting with good people sharing a meal on a table. So, add a section in your spreadsheet labelled “people of interest”.
Third, once you have compiled the list of speakers you may want to meet at the event, asking them ahead of time for a meeting is actually good. If they don’t have time, that is okay, you wouldn't even have time during the event either. If they have time, good.
- Chose a topic that you want to discuss with them.
- This topic should be of their interest
- Teach them something you learned, you know, or they can benefit from.
- Host an after-conference event and invite them to it.
Last point is key especially in big events where there are thousands of attendees, host a small after-event, like a “developers coffee” or “sharing economy fans” where you invite normal attendees, so that you can invite that person to meet “other interesting people”. It works like a charm.
You will be perceived as a leader, a mover, a doer, a connector. All these aspects are positive for your image and your relationships.
Then I add the valid emails to the Excel Sheet.
Then after finishing my Excel Sheet, I save it as a CSV file and I export it to Intercom. Intercom is a great CRM tool, and its super useful to manage your networking (if you can’t pay the 50 dollars) use the 30 day trial before and after the event, export your CSV and Data, then hasta la vista baby.
With Intercom you can manage the development of the relation and the messages you exchanged (and also massively sending emails).
Sometimes you need to send special emails to each category of people you want to meet. Beyond Email, you can reach the attendees through E-mail and Twitter, or Facebook inbox. you will have higher chances of them replying back.
After contacting and setting up meetups with the attendees. Record their pictures, information, and any special information about the speakers in "score cards", so that you can rehearse them as if you are passing an exam.
Why rehearsal is important, so when you meet the person, you can easily recall their name and their information, without the need to look at the badges. and this has a great surprise effect. Especially if the person is not wearing a badge, and is not that famous. He will love your introduction by uttering his name.
A super effective hack some people tend to underestimate, I would advise you to contact the event organizers to know “where they are hosting/housing their guest speakers”, or to look it up on the interwebs.
So you "bump into them" in the hall or the lobby of the same hotel, the morning of the event, after the event, or the day before the event when guests are coming in.
Most hotels they offer dinner and breakfast services, that you can pay for independently. Meeting at breakfast or at the lounge or at dinner, gives you a great opportunity and enough time compared to during the conference.
Also the set up makes it more intimate and less formal. Sometimes the hotel is expensive, but its worth every penny if you can meet the speaker with more time and with a better environment.
Now remains the most important part.
2. How Should You Network During The Event?
This what you've been preparing all along for, you can't mess it up at this stage.
Your Pitch (To A Speaker Or VIP)
Dave McClure & Leila Gregory | Tech Hub
Don’t ask for money, partnership, or a job.
Don’t talk about your idea/project/profession.
* i.e. Talking only about your technical stuff (even if you are in finance, its called technical)
The speaker or the potential investor/partner is overloaded during that event with information noise. You will also likely be noise in his ears.
Your goal is not to showcase yourself, your goal is to make a friend with that person. Your goal is to become good friends, why not best friends, you should break the social barriers with that person, all the masks, all the anti-walls.
Ask Questions like:
Excuse me, I’m a big fan of yours, and I would like your opinion on a special matter. I’m getting married currently, and launching a startup at the same time? What can of troubles do you think I can avoid?*
* Your guest will burst into laughter for a second, and he will likely start getting intimate in his advice.
The question you will ask is just an opener, then use that to jump to personal level discussions, life souvenirs, family names, etc. You will be astonished how much level you will get more intimate with the speaker, especially if you go with further questions (that you can use also as opener) such as:
What are the mistakes you made that you regret, that you don’t want anyone to fall trap for, and how can I avoid them or spot them?
What is your purpose of life? Why do you wake up every morning?
What is so special about what you do? and why wouldn't you change it for anything else?
Look curious, interested and be mostly “open” talk about your personal opinions, your memories, be as much open as possible, the other person will befriend you. If you start then talking in the thread of the discussion about your project or your work, start talking about what makes you passionate, your vision, how it relates to your life, how it relates to the world. rather than talking about technicalities.
Don’t exchange business cards: business cards break the relation, and makes it “superficial”.
Do exchange phone numbers: give the other person your phone to type their contact information.1
Call for Action/ Call for Followup: you would rather have a specific date or request to ask at the end, so you can follow up and meet with the person after the event. If you leave it unspecified, you will end up never meeting again.
3. How To Keep In Touch After The Event?
Don’t send emails emails are lengthy and time wasters.
Do send SMSs to keep the relationship real, and you have high chance the other person reads your message and replies to you.