As nerdy as this might sound, business networking is one of my favorite things to do—and I love to help other people with it too. It amps me up to meet new people building and working on cool tech, and I’ve met some awesome collaborators and made longtime friendships from networking. Plus, there’s something about staying on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the world that makes me feel alive! What’s even better is getting to work with these companies as a PR and strategy consultant.
In this article, I’ll highlight some of the tactics I use to network.
THE “OVERHEARD” is one of my favorite tactics to use at conferences and events. Whenever I’m around a group of people, I’m constantly listening to what they’re talking about, but more specifically I’m listening for ways to break into the conversation so I can seamlessly join in and contribute.
An example of this would be: I recently went to a conference, sat down at a table for lunch, and overheard the guys next to me talking about Clubhouse. Naturally, I knew this was my opening to join in—and so I did. Turns out, the guy lives near me and we’re now friends on Clubhouse.
FLOATING AROUND GROUPS of people talking is also another good way to meet new people. I’ve found when you float around people already having a conversation, you open yourself up to two possibilities. The first is being able to utilize the “overheard” tactic. The second is someone in the group will make eye contact with you and you can introduce yourself. Works flawlessly. It can also be easier (psychologically) to approach a group of people than a person who is on their own.
ASKING (SMART) QUESTIONS is another way to stand out in the sea of people at the event. This is easier said than done to be honest, but ultimately you want to listen actively so you can identify key points. Build your questions on those key points. This shows you’re listening; it also shows that you’re taking an interest in what they’re building. Seems obvious, sure. But many people don’t take the time to formulate good questions (usually because they’re too busy thinking about what they’ll say about themselves), which means those that do will stand out. How many times has asking good questions led to better networking results for me? That’s a question I’m happy to answer—more than I can count!
BE PREPARED. At the very least, you should have a short description of what you do as well as scope out who’s going to be there. You need an “elevator pitch” that clearly articulates what you do and allows you to build rapport from there. For me, my short description is that I’m a “forever” founder who’s built a media company and a SaaS analytics company and that I’m currently running a PR/strategy agency working with tech startups. In terms of scoping out the event, I’ll go over the agenda to find people and presentations/panels I want to see. I normally don’t go too nuts, but it’s a good idea to have a basic outline of who’s going to be where and when. Plus, if you really want to connect with someone, reach out to them beforehand and try to schedule a meeting.
EXCHANGING CONTACT INFORMATION can be a bit of a dance. Business cards are out and digital business cards aren’t that great. Here’s what I do: I ask, “What’s the best way to connect with you?” Most of the time, people either say that they use LinkedIn or Twitter. LinkedIn has a nifty little built-in QR scanner and QR code to let you easily find and connect with people. Twitter doesn’t have that but it’s easy enough to search someone’s username. I find it more effective to connect with people on a platform they actually use, and it’s easier not to keep track of business cards or get lost in a sea of emails.
THE FOLLOW-UP is without a doubt the most important interaction post conference/event. The conversation I have with the person will usually dictate how quickly I follow up. Normally, I’d recommend following up with someone within a day or two, or up to a week later. Each conversation leaves an imprint that I use to determine priority for follow-up. If it went really well and they’re interested, I’ll follow up more quickly. If it’s more of a long-term play, I may wait a week—let them catch up from being at the event.
Ultimately, what it all boils down to is the fact that business networking is a long game and you gotta be in it to win it. Listening, asking smart questions, and finding ways to connect with people on multiple levels is how you’ll be able to push through the noise created by everyone else. And of course, act swiftly—but be prepared to jump through multiple hoops before actually closing a deal. Networking takes work, but it can lead to life-changing results.
Jeff Weisbein is the founder of Hype Lab and Best Techie and a serial startup founder.