Conferences can either be the biggest waste of time or the perfect opportunity to move your career or product to the next level. Using the right tips, tricks, and tools you can make conferences work for you and meet your next funder, founder or boss.
Before you head out to your next industry event or business conference, take note of these five tips.
1. Spend time in expensive hotel lobbies
At larger conferences, you’ll likely meet salespeople plugging their product or other mid-level managers you can identify with. But if you want to get ahead, go where the money is. Choose the hotels with the highest room rate and hang out at the hotel bar in the lobby. You’ll be surprised that during the afternoon and evenings, this is where business is REALLY happening. The key to this is plan things out ahead. For example, here is my SXSW plan. It involves the top places that are typically in some of the most expensive hotels in Austin, Texas.
2. Try the networking app Weave
Weave is literally the Tinder for professional networking. You log in with your Linkedin profile on your mobile phone and all the work is done for you. Pick a “room” to meet people – and usually your conference will be available. Now start right swiping anyone you want to meet. There are rooms for finding a job, finding a co-founder, and even finding investors. Weave will definitely help you meet people who you may not run into at $5 bottled water line.
3. Listen, listen, listen
Often at conferences people come with an agenda. That agenda involves pitching their service or product. Even the speaker’s stage is lined with “yes-men” pulling the party line and shoving a their corporate product down your throat rather than giving valuable advice focused on the conference’s mission.
Don’t be that person. Instead, listen to other people and ask questions outside their pitch. What are they looking for, what are they passionate about? Ask C-levels about who they’re trying to connect with, market opportunities and product development wishlists. Ask mid-level managers about career trajectory. Offer connections and advice that helps that individual and you’ll be remembered for being useful instead of that bore who wasted five minutes talking about himself.
If you can first listen, and then help that person with what they need. That connection will be 10 times more valuable to you.
4. Have an elevator pitch...about yourself
You’re going to be asked what you do. A lot. Create a broad elevator pitch that not only includes what you’re currently working on, but what your strengths are and what you might be interested in if you’re looking for a new opportunity. Write it out, practice it and repeat 100 times. Keep it short (30 seconds to a minute), concise and eliminate annoying buzzwords: “disruptor,” “growth hacker,” etc. No one likes to hear a 10-minute monologue full of piecemeal buzzwords that makes the listener think “huh?”
My friend and venture capitalist Murray Newlands, who gets pitched daily by startups, recommends that you prepare a 3- to 5-second elevator pitch about yourself. This makes sense; I personally have found that people judge you in the first 5 seconds on whether they should pay attention or not.
5. Connect with referrals immediately
The best connections made may not be at the conference. If a person has someone you need to meet and they happen to be in town, have your new advocate send a group text to you all immediately to find a meeting time/place and make it happen. If it’s someone in another city, have your new friend connect you with a warm introduction immediately through email. Waiting to connect on LinkedIn and after the conference is over is risky because momentum is gone. Do it with your new connection together.
6. Follow up...with everyone
Yes, you collected business cards from some people you’d rather not see again, but these people are in your industry and may be connected to people you need to meet later on. Connect with everyone on LinkedIn and try to make your message to them a bit personal, reminding them of your conversation.
As for those business cards -- some people bend the corners of the ones that belong to people they want to follow up with. It’s a good way of separating them from the pack.