Getting to know the right people is one of the single most important things in making your company successful. And since the best way to build relations is meeting people face to face, its important you know how to make the most of the events you attend.
Luckily there are some rules to how you do this.
Rule no 1: Your immediate goal is to come across as a likable person.
(also called ‘don’t come across like a muppet’)
This is the first and immediate goal of all human relations. Strangely many people think other rules apply to business relations, but these are actually also human.
It is not your goal to get in the press, get a business deal or get invited to the VIP dinner. That may come later, but these are near impossible to achieve on first contact. Instead you should invest in getting to know the person you’re talking to and create a long term connection.
If you’re in startups this is in particular true when it comes to journalists and investors. These guys get inundated with eagers founders pitching them left right and center. Build a relationship with them and get to know what they are interested in and looking for, perhaps you can help them.
Rule no 2: Avoid seeming desperate, networking is like dating.
If you can get introduced to someone by a mutual contact, this is the best. If you have no alternative but to approach someone you really want to talk to out of the blue, then be brief and professional.
Don’t interrupt them in the middle of something, and dont expect a long conversation. Just walk up when they are not busy and say something like “Hi Peter, I’m Tine from Everplaces. We’re a mobile travel company, we’re doing something quite new which I think you’d be interested in. If you have a card I’d love to tell you more about it one day” This gives them an easy out of the conversation and you’ve achieved your goal, namely coming across like a likable person instead of a pushy sales person.
Rule no 3: Listen, don’t just talk
If you can engage in a real conversation that’s either fun or interesting that much more valuable than you pitching your company. Bear in mind they are not going to buy anything anyway (at least not today) so ask what they are interested in and about stuff that interests them. You can talk about your company once you’ve established a connection. They will probably even ask at that point.
Meeting someone at an event is just the first step of many in building a lasting relationship, so you can hold your fire and just focus on having a good time with the interesting people you meet there.
When you get home then you follow up with an email or a LinkedIn invitation. Make sure it includes a reference to who you are, where you met and what you do. And that it isn’t too long. If the person receiving it is an important person, they are busy and meets lots of new people so this will be helpful for them.
Insider tip: The best spots to strike up a conversation.
There are a few places at an event where striking up a conversation seems more natural.
- at the bar or coffee stand. Here’s it’s more natural to engage with a light comment to the person standing next to you. This you can turn into a conversation.
- The person sitting next to you. Always choose a seat next to someone you dont know. Both for talks and food, it’s a great chance to get to know someone new. This is in particular true for sit down lunches and dinners. These opportunities are as good as they get in networking, so don’t waste them sitting next to your mate, you can meet him in the bar afterwards.
More? Mike Arrington did a good post about this. You can read it here