Look around (on this blog or others) and you realize how inundated with events the tech industry (and probably many others) is. Some are free, some are paid, some are invite only. Some have informative panels, others free drinks. This one’s for charity, and this one’s for PR.
Now free events don’t need so much consider, so let’s focus on paid events. It can be tricky to know which is most worth your time and money. It can be even harder to attend and really get your time and money out of it. The main thing I’ve found helps is to Know Your Goal.
3 4 Reasons To Pay to Network
I’d say there are generally 3 reasons to pay to attend a tech mixer (plus one bastard child), and each requires a different attitude. Do NOT try to focus on more than one at once. You may change midway through the night, but balancing more than one means you won’t accomplish anything well.
1) I’m going to learn ____.
The best reason to pay, I think. So I’m going to put it first. Also, you reading this will make you a better attendee at my events.
Education rarely comes free, especially planned and mass education. However, don’t just come with a notebook and empty head.
a) Have questions. Review the topics ahead of time and come with some questions you want to have answered by each. Then, as you listen, note particularly when you get an answer. If you dont hear them all, be the first at Q&A to have a hand raised.
b) Know Why. There is a blank up there. “Learn ____” Learning stuff is a shitty answer. Sure, you can sit and take a lot of notes, but most of it is going to be lost if you dont know WHY you are learning it. Come saying “I want to learn about metrics because I need to better understand who is visiting my site and how to increase that number” or “I need to learn about early-stage startup failures because I am putting together my team and need to know what bases to cover.” This will help focus your note taking.
c) Talk with Others. If a talk really interested you, go out and talk with other attendees about it. Get their thoughts on it. Ask what they thought, point out what confused you, see what their opinions are. This will better help clarify everything for you. The world isn’t just you and the speaker.
2) I’m going to pitch my product
Good start. Now:
A) What are you pitching it for, to get users, feedback, or investment?
B) Dont ever stand in front of me and pitch me. Ask me questions to get to your answer. For Example:
Want users? Well who is your audience and how do you determine if someone is in it with one question? (“Everyone who uses the internet” is a terrible answer) Be willing to approach me asking “Hey, can I ask you something? Do you think having a site that directs you to pet friendly airlines and travel accommodations would be helpful?” If I say I don’t have a pet, thank me and move on. If I do, let me know – in laymen’s terms – what you are working on. Ask next if it interests me. If not, ask why not? Ask what I would want. Then ask if I would try it out. I am MUCH more likely to say yes than if you pitched at me.
Feedback? If you are looking for feedback, stop disagreeing with me. Shut up and listen. Ask me to clarify things you dont get. But again, start by asking if you can pick my brain about your company and if it interests me. And oh look – you still aren’t actually pitching me.
Investment? Oh come now, you’ve heard the common mantra: Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money. See the “feedback” above for next steps.
3) I’m going to pitch myself (to find work)
Great, you are looking for a job. Wait, what’s that in your hand? A resume?? A business card already out and ready??? We havent even exchanged common greetings! E-gads!
So I’m not so sure on how to do this without being awkward, but I know what NOT to do. Resumes are bad and flat out asking if someone is hiring (for yourself) is bad. My best suggestion is get into a brief conversation. Talk especially with any sponsors or someone on stage, since they probably have the larger companies. Talk with the host ahead of time and see if they know of people hiring and for what. Then strike up a conversation with those people, dont come off as desperate, but listen to what they do and what they need, and fit yourself in. Exchange biz cards if it went well and ask about the positions themselves AFTER the event.
3.5) I’m going to find a partner, company to invest in, or employee.
Um…okay. I’m going to put this separate, since the motivation is different, but I think the advice is the same as pitching yourself for a job or your company. And I think most people doing this (at least the later two) are hot commodities and will have no trouble getting people to talk to them.
So go read #2 and #3: listen, ask questions, come prepared with exactly what you are looking for and why. And quickly tell the person across from you if they aren’t the right fit. Don’t waste your time OR theirs.
4) I’m going to meet people.
This is a terrible reason to go to a tech mixer, and I used to suffer from it constantly. You have no reason to meet these people, no guidance on who to meet, no direction for the conversation. If you think this is why are you paying for a tech mixer, stay home and specify your reasoning. I promise you’ll land at one of the prior 3.5, and get a LOT more for your money.
So let’s review: Have a Goal, Have Questions Prepared, Know Who, Know Why, and Move Fast. (Oh, that’s a side note with almost all of these. Don’t spend more than 10mins with someone unless they are SUPER awesome. You can grab a card and continue the conversation after.)