It was about a year ago. A few months into the startup experience a friend texted me at around 11pm saying I HAD to go to with him to an event organized by one of the leading startup incubators in Israel and meet some of the guys.
When we arrived I literally felt like I was crashing someone’s bar mitzvah. The place was crowded with people I didn’t know alongside their friends and some of the local startup scene “celebrities”.
There I was, holding my jacket, watching the action around me, completely lost. Approaching random people just seemed inappropriate and interrupting a conversation seemed way too rude.
Don’t get me wrong, I can be a very talkative person but this whole setup made me feel way out of my skin. So I thought I’d put together 5 hacks to networking in events so you can keep them on your superhero toolbox the next time you attend an event.. and hopefully make life a little easier!
Hack #1: Suit Up!
The idea behind this hack is quite straightforward. You basically act as a giant business card. Wearing your startup’s branded shirt plus your name tag provides people with a real good excuse to approach you and ask questions about what you do. It also makes you much more approachable. Don’t have a shirt? not running a venture? –no problem the basics are the same. Suit up, wear a funny hat or whatever you feel comfortable and makes you stand out.
Hack #2: The early bird catches the worm
This one was really helpful for me. I try getting to the event 15-30 minutes before the scheduled time. If you are really lucky, the host is already there, all set up and available to chat. If he/she is busy you are guaranteed a conversation with the next guy in. When someone else comes in they will probably join your conversation as well and there you go –you already know 3 or 4 people in the room and are probably in a better mindset to start new conversations.
Hack #3: Share your networking goals with a friend
Showing up to an event with someone can be a double-edged sword. If you and your partner stick together, you can easily get through the event without talking to anyone else. On the other hand, if you are well prepared it doubles your chances of meeting interesting and relevant people. Whether it’s about finding a partner, a potential client or just making your first steps in a new community –update your friend with your goals and study his/hers. That way you can both introduce each other with relevant people you’ve just met.
Hack #4: Ask a question, make a statement
Use the keynote, the panel or any talk on stage to ask a question. Introduce yourself, share details about what you do, things you’re interested in and even issues you struggle with in relation to the question. That might very well attract followups and introductions from people during the next networking session. It also increases the relevance of the interactions and, once again, makes you much more approachable.
Hack #5: Do your homework
Preparing for an event is much like preparing for an investor meeting or running a research about a potential client or partner prior to a meeting. Try and find out who is attending the event, what they’re looking for, what they do, and figure out whom you should approach. The cliché says knowledge is power. In this case, relevance, confidence, and ammo are power. Let people know you’ve heard about what they do, they’ll be flattered and will listen more carefully. You’ll get the chance to convince them to collaborate. Failing to prepare yourself means you might miss an opportunity to get actual business done instead of just chewing the fat.
Even if nothing else works –take the straightforward approach. I found out that just saying “Hi, I’m Maayan” will get a conversation started. You really don’t need anything else. Listen, let your conversational partner tell you what he/she does, ask followup questions –don’t worry, sooner or later the conversation will turn to you. Now that you know someone new, share your networking goals with them. They might be able to make a valuable introduction.