Early bird or no, you’ve decided to invest a few thousand dollars of your well-earned money to attend an event, so let’s make sure that you make the best out of it.
I’ve you've ever been to a major tech conference, you probably understand how the dynamic works. For the newbies, the setup usually consists of a the main (huge) conference room and some additional rooms for secondary talks. Outside, you’ll find a Startup Alley, another large room with stands by startups that chose to pay for their spot; this is also the main networking area.
There’s a lot going on and more importantly, a lot of competition for attention. Most of the startup crowd will be looking for investors, because if you are not part of an accelerator this is one of the best chances you have to approach them.
If you are trying to find users, beware! Looking for users at a major tech conference is not necessarily easy and you will only be able to talk to a handful of people. Most of the other attendees are also founders or investors, and are going to look at hundreds of products during a very short period of time.
So what should you do?
Find out who you want to meet
Most conferences will release an attendee list. Take a few days to do background research on who’s going and more importantly, who IS interesting to you. If it’s investors you’re looking for, use AngelList to do a research on the firm,
- Ensure they fund companies at your current stage.
- Find what other companies have they founded (it helps keep a conversation going).
- Confirm that they have invested in your industry but in no direct competitors.
- Most importantly, memorize how they look like.
Keeping track of this in your head can be hard. A good hack I’ve used in the past is Refresh App, it gives you a glimpse of the background of a specific person based on their publicly available social media information. In the future, it will also be useful to remember your interactions with them, so make sure to keep notes.
It’s important to spend time with other founders as well. The startup-founder ecosystem is very friendly and we are often willing to help each other. They might be connected to that person you need to reach, so make sure you connect on LinkedIn right away and develop a relationship. Friendships pay back in this world.
Finally, make sure that the people you plan to approach is actually approachable. You are not going to get anywhere near Dave McClure, Fred Wilson or most official speakers for that matter; so don’t waste a second trying.
Approach people, but don’t hang for 10+ minutes
This is pretty self explanatory. If you are attending a conference you need to be social, start conversations and walk into people. Relevant people are not going to come to you, they are busy speaking with someone else who beat you to it. Also, don’t be afraid to join conversation groups, get on track with the conversation and start speaking as soon as you can. Pretty basic social skills.
Now, the important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t talk to the same person for over 10 minutes. Unless they are incredibly interested in what you are doing, and there’s a visible business opportunity, don’t waste your time. Connect, exchange cards and agree to follow up later. You are both there to network and time is valuable (you paid a lot of money for this, remember?).
(!) Prepare a quick Deck you can tweet or email
Make sure that you have a deck ready to send on the spot, Slidebean can help with that. Actually, we’ve prepared a short 5-slide deck ideal for these sort of situations.
The purpose of this is to be the one of the first people to get in front of them. If you’re lucky, they’ll check your slides during a boring talk, so a big head start against anyone else who will follow up with them after the event.
Your mini-deck should include nothing else than a brief description of your business, a summary of who you are and your absolute best metric. Just barely enough go get them excited and reach back to you for a full-on deck or better yet, a meeting.
Embrace social media, and get help
In these events, a lot of connections occur over Twitter. Don’t be afraid to tweet someone you know it’s there to meet briefly. Grabbing coffee or lunch together is a great opportunity to connect with someone you otherwise would have to book an appointment with.
Keeping full track of everything that’s going on in social media is hard, especially if you are going to spend most of your time talking to people. A good idea is to get someone on your team to tweet for/with you even if they are not there. It helps reach many more people with very little effort. Again, remember time is of the essence.
For the latest TC Disrupt we setup an 8-people team to tweet from our offices to relevant people in the event. Startups happen to be our target audience, and what better place to find them, right?
Create an awesome business card
Business cards can help you be remembered. I’ve worked with MorningPrint in the past and they have amazing alternatives for materials, including plastic and metal. A mind-blowing business card might be the difference between being remembered or not, so don’t be afraid to spend a few extra bucks in a designer and a high quality print.
The most important part is the follow up. You will speak to so many people in the course of a couple days and they will forget you if you don’t do your homework.
Two or three days after the event has passed, follow back with them. Make sure that you refer to something you spoke or tweeted about (remember to keep notes) and you should have a fairly high response rate.
I’m not going to say have fun, you’re here to work, damn it! So be prepared, get the most out of your buck and make it count!