The Art of Networking Meeting Interesting People

The Art of Networking Meeting Interesting People
By Laura Bilazarian

One of the most initially intimidating aspects of being an entrepreneur or salesperson is networking.  (And let’s just get it out there, it’s basically impossible to be an entrepreneur without also being a salesperson)

The first step to go from dreading networking to enjoying it is to think of it as meeting interesting people instead of networking.  For example, at Product Camp, I’m going to meet three interesting people.  This will help with being genuine, which is critical for success.  It also makes networking fun.

I’ve complied some tips below as a foundation anybody can use to get started, but like anything, it’s practice, practice, practice.  Remember, half of your success is what you are saying, but half is also body language and subtle nonverbal cues (how you present yourself).*   As you practice, watch others who you think are doing well and mimic the parts that also work for you. 

Last, never ever be intimidated by anyone.  Remember, that in most cases, the only difference between the über successful and you is years of hard work.  Most remember fondly the time when they were in your shoes, in the trenches, fighting every day, and love meeting young entrepreneurs or technologists (assuming you are polite and confident). An exercise to help you get over intimidation is to go to series of events and walk right up to and have a conversation with the most intimidating person in the room. (Although if you want to do business with this person, this violates my “always get introductions” rule – see below)


Expert Rules for Networking

Be Confident, Genuine and Smile:  Smile, eye contact, firm handshake and be genuine.  Change your mindset to being interested in what makes this person awesome, rather than in what they can do for you.

Questions and Connecting:  Ask a lot of smart questions. If you have something to pitch, try to work it into something the other person is saying, but remember events are not really the place for full-on pitching; they are a place for learning, for serendipitously meeting awesome people, and for hosting meetings that you planned in advance with people you got introductions to, which brings me to my next rule

Get Introductions:  Always get introductions if you can, especially for high level people (and if you can’t, find a way to).  This means in advance of an event, look up who is going and who you want to meet.  Find a way to get an introduction, or if you truly can’t get an intro, find a way to be of value.  For example, hey mister CEO, I hear you are coming to Armenia, would you like meet so I can give you a brief overview of the landscape? I can arrange a bunch of meetings or an event with all the top Armenian startups if you’re interested.  You can make it more appealing by having the meeting while you show them some local tourist or other off-the-beaten-path spot.

SHORT Elevator Pitch:  That said, always have an elevator pitch.  This should not be more than five sentences.  If the person is still interested, you can tell them the next fifteen, BUT

Leave at the peak of the party:  Once you feel you’ve connected with someone, ask for their card and move on.  Business is about momentum and trust, and it takes multiple interactions to build both.  The point of first meeting is to get people interested in you and maybe your idea, and then the rest comes down to follow up, so…

Follow up while people are still high from the party:  This means the day after the event.  Send a short “nice to meet you” note with your contact information (or a linkedin request – but with a message!) and whatever follow up you spoke about (try to add value!).  This is critical because they will assume if you are doing that with them, you do this in other aspects of your business (ahem, with customers).

Be nice to everyone, including the crazies:  A VC friend of mine is one of the most connected people on the planet, and when I asked him how, he said “Give time to everyone, even the crazies, you never know where a hot lead or idea will come from,” but then he did add “only fifteen minutes for the crazies.”

Golden Rule #1:  It’s very simple:  give before you get.  The happiest people with the strongest networks are those who are always thinking how they can help others out first.**  I promise once you flip your mind to be focused on “what can I do for this person?” rather than “what can this person do for me?” the world will open up in entirely new ways for you.

Golden Rule #2:  Busy people hate uncertainty (and long emails, phone calls and meetings).  When you are asking a busy person for something, try to be as brief and direct as possible.  The higher up they are, the more important it is to narrow your ask to one or two direct action items.  Also, don’t ask for general meetings or phone calls – send an agenda in advance or at least give a reason for the meeting.  Don’t ever ask busy people anything you can figure out by Googling it.  
*Working out regularly really helps with your presentation because you will naturally stand taller and appear more formidable and healthy. There’s this phenomenon among VCs that any entrepreneur who looks like Mark Zuckerberg gets funded. In my opinion, most fit techies look like Mark Zuckerberg.

**The first golden rule is a bit of a nebulous concept for those who haven’t been practicing.  I suggest getting started by trying to think of three things you can do for everyone you meet and make introductions as often as possible – without forcing it of course.  When in doubt, you can ask “Is there anything I can do for you?”, but this is a bit of a lazy way out – come prepared with ideas!!