I’m the first to admit: Conferences aren’t the best use of a founder’s time.
That time is better spent on things like product, chatting with team members, or talking to users.
However, if you are at a conference, you can still “win”. This meaning— optimizing your time and capturing value.
There’s two buckets of value you can tap into at conferences: intellectual growth and network growth.
Plenty can be gleaned from sessions and speakers. But talking to people hits on intellectual and network growth at the same time.
So, as a general rule…
Talking to people > Attending every session
With that in mind, here’s how to win at conferences and build a healthy network…
So, you’re shy. That’s okay. Start with something light and non-committal for the other person. A favorite is…
Hey — do you know the WiFi password?
Even if you know the answer — play dumb. Let them fill you in.
Thank them and follow up with another light question. Where they’re from, if they’ve been here before, etc. Make it simple to engage while showing you’re genuine and easy to talk to.
Too many people approach networking thinking, “what can they do for me?”.They quickly believe a person is a waste, dismiss them, and leave.
This is the worst.
It’s amazing the number of times someone said what they do, it sounded irrelevant to me, and 10 minutes later we discover they’re friends with someone strategic to my business.
Super important: DO NOT jump at this point. You’ll come off as needy, disingenuous, and one of those transactional folks you don’t want to be.
3) Learn Something.
This clocks in at 3 but it’s far-and-away #1 in terms of importance.
“Learn Something” should be your mindset every single time you meet someone new.
Seriously — every time.
When you’re in this mindset, people can sense it. They see you’re engaged and legitimately interested in what they have to say.
It’s a positive approach because 1) you continue to learn new things from new people and 2) they get to teach it to you.
People love that. They love being the expert and telling others what they should do (see: blogging 😉). It makes them feel smart, valuable, and liked. That’s primal shit right there.
4) Interview Them & Shut Up.
Take the focus off yourself. Comment when necessary but, otherwise, keep your answers short and your questions plenty. Listen.
Ask people about their lives and opinions… and then shut up. Nobody cares about you. Let them talk about themselves. They like that topic way better.
Extra Credit: Spot Other Connectors.
If you spot others around you deploying similar tactics — seek them out.
- The probability of them engaging with you is high.
- They are clearly interested in making new connections.
- It’s likely they already have an extensive network that you can soon be a node in. Network effects are beautiful.
Your Healthy Network
So you met great people and you’ve left the conference. Now you need to translate that work into active members of your network…
The post title describes the network as being “healthy”. Indeed, that is the operative word. But what does it mean?
They are truly part of your network.
It wouldn’t be weird to message them and say “what’s up”. To ask them for a favor. Or to make an intro (double opt-in of course!).
Connecting on LinkedIn doesn’t count. “John and I follow each other on Twitter”, isn’t a true network connection.
Create meaningful relationships where you can learn from one another, be friendly with each other, and leverage both networks for mutual benefit.
A healthy network is only built by treating nodes like personal relationships rather than business transactions.
Finally, when your network is healthy and growing…
Leverage it when needed but always take care of it.
Make it a goal to give more to it than you take out of it.
Your reputation, your business, and your relationships depend on it.
So win conferences. Build a healthy network. Care for, help, and protect that network… Now go!