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Making the most of networking events

Aspiring Startup founders and leaders get invited to hundreds of events a year. Especially in the tech startup space, the number of events hosted has increased exponentially. Every major (and minor) organization wants to host conferences, meetups, fireside chats, and pitching contests.

Choosing to attend an event is the first step and below are a few tips to help you on that front:

● Know exactly why you are attending the event and what you hope to get out of it

It is mind-boggling to see founders waste time and money on events where they have nothing real to gain. Examples of proper reasons to attend an event include - to meet potential employees/employers/co-founders, to pitch to angel investors, to meet a potential mentor/advisor, or to spread the word about your venture among others.


● Check if there are other options

Will there be live streaming of the event? Will the videos be recorded and posted online? Essentially, check to see if your presence is truly necessary at the event.

Check back with your answers to the previous point and decide if it is worth your time and commute.

Once you’ve gone through these filters, your decision will be made. Now, if you’ve decided to go ahead and attend the event anyway. The below tips will help you make the most of the event.

Below are seven of the most effective habits and tricks that have helped me make the most of my time at events. I hope this helps you up your game.

1. Do your research
I’m appalled by the number of people I meet at conferences or events who haven’t conducted some basic homework about the event. If you’re going to be spending time commuting to an event and meeting people there, please invest at least an hour on some background homework. Find out who the speakers or panelists are. Learn more about their companies, organisations and their past. Basically, check to see if you have mutual connections or friends. I know that this may seem like common sense to you, but it is surprisingly rare to meet people who have done their homework.

2. Get to know the organisers
Your homework and research must not be limited to the speakers and panelists. The real heroes of the event are the organisers themselves. These folks usually toil hard for several weeks and interact very closely with the speakers, panelists, and guests who make it to the event. I’ve often seen people rush towards the speakers after a panel or event reaches its end while completely ignoring the organiser or moderator who is usually standing right there. A trick that has worked for me is to walk up to a friendly-looking volunteer, introduce myself to her and ask her if there’s anyone from the panel or guest list she thinks I ought to meet. Works like a charm every time. Another key reason to befriend the volunteers – they’ll host an event again someday. Don’t you want a heads up and an invite?

3. Volunteer assistance
Planning and executing any event is a Herculean task. Even the most veteran event organisers won’t deny that. The world-famous author and angel investor Tim Ferriss started off his career as a nobody. In his early 20s nobody knew his name and he knew very few people. Tim went on to build his now-limitless network by volunteering at the local TiE chapter. By volunteering for a non-profit organisation that invited the best investors and founders within his ecosystem, Tim befriended stalwarts he wouldn’t have been able to reach out to on his own. Similarly, my co-founders and I followed this approach when we started up a few years ago. The organisations of our choice were TiE and NASSCOM. If you’re serious about growing your network, discard any inkling of ego you may have and volunteer your services in exchange for entry and a chance to interact with the guests up, close, and personal. I’ve handled social media for events. We’ve served water and tea to the VIPs at an event. I’ve also offered to be the emcee/anchor at an event for free several times.
(Don’t forget to check out the upcoming events section on WFNEN’s website)

4. Find yourself a wingman/woman
I like to treat events and conferences like video games. However, I don’t like to play single-player games. Team up with a friend, co-founder, or new friend and split up or treat each other as wing(wo)men. If you’re shy, moving around in a group makes it easier to approach new people. However, if you aren’t the coy types, you can cover more ground and exchange notes. If you haven’t collected business cards, make sure you have a note-taking app open and make notes about the most interesting people you meet. Your brain is amazing at coming up with ideas. Unfortunately, it is not adept at keeping those ideas there for a long time. Make notes and exchange them with your partner.

5. Stand out and get noticed
At most conferences and events, diversity (or lack thereof) is a huge issue. Like it or not, the likelihood of everyone else looking and sounding like you is very high. Learn to stand out via your behaviour and body language. Be confident, dress sharply, maintain eye contact, and speak clearly. Merely being the best version of yourself can help you stand out because most people tend to live life on a low-energy mode. You must be unapologetic about being excited to be at the event. Most importantly, be a keen listener. It’s crazy how many of us can get lost in conversations where we keep talking and selling ourselves. Engage in conversations where you are an active listener as well and people will love you for it.

6. Go prepared and with a solid mindset
Apart from the basic homework and research I mentioned previously, make sure you go prepared for other situations as well. For example, please carry enough business cards if you’re going to be meeting a lot of people. I know that this sounds pointless, but a future point will help you understand why. Also, if you’re planning on live-tweeting or posting pictures or videos on social media, carry a portable battery pack. Lastly, if the venue is not a hotel, resort, or office, carry enough water and maybe some snacks.

7. Follow up
Remember those cards you collected and the notes you made? Time to put them to use. Sit down with the stack and shoot a simple email to the most interesting people you met. A simple and effective email contains three parts – a reminder of who you are and where you met (context), a value-add or offer to help/ request to stay in touch, and a call to action. Here’s a sample:

Hi, First Name,
I’m so glad I got to meet you at the Wadhwani Foundation’s Founder mixer last evening. My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing you narrate the story of your journey from startup founder to enabler.
I’d love to stay in touch and occasionally shoot you an email or two in case I need help with strategy-related problems. Feel free to reach out to me in case you want to discuss any marketing or sales-related experiments.
Regards,
Nikhil Jois

Bonus tip – Add value

The key to maintaining your friendships is by constantly adding value in any way you can. We live in a pay-it-forward world where you can almost never repay those who help you in a direct manner. However, you can help retain karmic balance in the world by helping others out when they need your time, resources, or expertise.
The Wadhwani Foundation’s NEN program has a help desk designed to do exactly that. They add value by connecting founders with service providers, mentors, and investors. To find out more about how your entrepreneurial journey can benefit from this free resource, visit the helpdesk section.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

National Entrepreneurship Network