When throwing yourself into the startup scene for the first time, attend as many relevant networking events as you can. During the eight week program at the Startup Institute, we were actively encouraged to go to as many as possible - which I attempted to do pretty much non-stop for the entire duration of the course. It nearly killed me, but I'm so glad I did it.
Looking back now, I realise that many were not really aligned with the types of industries or areas that I'm most interested in exploring. This doesn't really matter-- I still feel that it was a valuable experience which helped me determine which are the most useful to attend.
Some of the most important connections I made were serendipitous, as well. For instance, I met a life coach who is now a client at a wine and cheese evening, and a music industry organiser who I'm now an affiliate for at a conference in Paris. These meetings were unplanned and fortuitous, so it definitely pays off to get yourself out there. Here are my top takeaways for event networking:
Find the Right Events.
Although you can make meaningful connections anywhere, it does make sense to have some sort of filter when deciding how you're going to fit networking events into your schedule. It's no rocket science, but a good idea is to start off by figuring out what excites and drives you. Are you into gaming? Media production? Growth hacking? Programming?[bctt tweet="Have a filter to decide what types of events are right for you @jonbstrong"]
Hit up the big event websites-- Meetup & Eventbrite and search keywords. Also worth checking out are newer event discovery platforms such as Event Hunt (which recently launched and has over 38 cities, 27 curators and 573 events listed) and CampusBoard (currently London specific, but likely to go global soon).
Big venues are also worth checking out. Many have startup-related events are ongoing and tend to be high-quality. WeWork, for example, is a coworking chain which now has venues spread across the states and the UK (with 12 locations in New York alone) that always puts on good events, such as a discussion about the challenges in the Sharing Economy, run by Ouishare. Similarly, Techhub-- with venues in London, Bangalore, Boston, Berlin, Bucharest, Riga and even Swansea-- often runs great product demo days where their members have the chance to pitch their current projects to the outside world.
Break the Ice.
When it comes to attending networking events, there are a couple of useful points worth considering when socialising. Subconscious body language can be a big indicator of whether people are happy for you to approach. For instance, people standing side-by-side whilst chatting are more likely eager to have others join the conversation. On the other hand, when people are facing each other they're likely engaged in a conversation one-to-one, so it might be worth thinking twice before butting-in. [bctt tweet="Look at body language before breaking the ice at an event @jonbstrong"]
When introducing yourself, it helps to keep things brief and cover the bases of what you do. For example, I'm a web developer and a sound producer. When someone meets me for the first time, they may be much more interested in the sound production work I do rather than the web development-- and if that turns out to be the case then I can expand more on that particular area. The conversations where I totally tune-out are when the other person goes into too much detail about a subject I have no interest in.
Don't feel afraid to bring your own personal stories into play-- a fun thing to do is to mentally list a couple of stories about yourself that really stick out. A personal example of mine would be that I once worked in a prison and collaborated with a couple of inmates to produce an album. It doesn't have to be something as left field as that, but anything that makes you memorable can improve your chances of sticking out in your companion's mind amidst many new introductions.
Bring a Wingman (or Woman)... Maybe.
Attending events alone can be daunting, but once you get used to it the barriers to entry disappear. Guaranteed, going along with a friend-- or a group of people-- but sometimes the same blessing can be a burden as well, as you end up speaking to them most of the evening rather than meeting new people. [bctt tweet="Networking with friends can be a blessing or burden @jonbstrong"]
Provided that you do attend with friends, it's worth keeping in mind where their interests and expertise lie. This way, you can help to create meaningful introductions. At Startup Institute London's recent Talent Expo, I met someone who runs a food tech startup. Food tech is no interest of mine, but I knew two classmates I could immediately introduce him to who were passionate about that area.
Do What Makes Sense for You.
Event networking can be challenging, and not suited to everyone; you may find networking one-on-one more valuable for your own networking goals. Several people have turned to community platforms, allowing them to make connections and share knowledge as part of a group. In essence, this is taking the idea of offline networking and taking it online. I do this at techlondon.io, which brings together the startup and tech community in London.
On the other hand, if you're like me you may end up taking event networking to the next level-- covering, promoting and organising the events themselves. I do this through several channels-- a podcaster's meetup group, CampusBoard and organising meetups for digital nomads - which I've done as far afield as Colombia and now regular events in London.