Don’t waste time at conferences

Piotr Zaniewicz in

Blog/Startup Growth/Don’t waste time at conferences

No-one likes networking events like the B2B start-up tribe. It’s a no-brainer, right? So many people, so many opportunities… oh, it’s over. And you have nothing to show for it except a shrivelled up name tag. How can you actually benefit from networking events?

The reality of networking events is pretty grim – for most people, it’s a waste of time. You meet some people and talk a bit, but do you achieve anything? Magical things don’t happen from attending and maintaining a smile throughout the event.  

Been there, done that, and wasted tonnes of money on it too. This hurts the most when you’re a business founder – there’s no time to waste when you’re keeping a company afloat. At some point, you have to decide – either to start approaching events strategically or stop going completely. I decided to make events work for me.

What’s my strategy? I identified 7 steps to get the most out of the next event you go to.

1. Should you be there at all?

Be honest about your goals and don’t fool yourself that you can kill two birds with one stone. Go to a conference to achieve one goal.

If you get more done – awesome! But picking one goal will allow you to be ultra-focused from the start, which helps avoid distraction when you’re among hundreds of people who have great ideas and stories.

Want to raise funds? A startup conference like Websummit or TC Disrupt is where you should go.

If your objective is to get new leads, go to an industry event where your target customers will be (more tips about generate leads).

Similarly, if you need to hire new team members, get noticed on a developer/marketing/sales conference (depending on what kind of specialist you need).

one goal per conference is enough

2. Are there gonna be people you actually want to meet?

Once you do find a potential conference to attend, confirm if the people you’re targeting actually visit it. At Bitcoin conferences, 90% of the people present are founders of bitcoin-based businesses. At startup conferences, you should meet other startup founders.

But it’s not always guaranteed, so if you can – check the list of attendees, check the RSVP part of the event on Facebook and other sources where you can find attendees.

3. Should you visit or should you have a stand?

Organisers will tempt you with generous offers of setting up a stand for people to approach you. But the people you need won’t come up to you (especially if you’re targeting a specific group).

You will be sitting in a small box in a 400-meter long alley alongside your competitors. I rarely meet someone happy with their conference stand – too much buzz and noise to get noticed.

If you have an idea and a budget for an awesome stand – by all means, go ahead. But if you are going to be a 101st company with a poster and a roll-up, my advice is to save money and go as a visitor.

generate leads by emails with cool company

4. Know what’s in it for you

Networking is not something that just magically happens. Most of the time you either end up hanging out with your friends or having small talk with random strangers.

Neither of those is a good way to develop new business.

The easiest hack to avoid it is to prepare a list of people you want to meet before the conference:

  • Check out the exhibitors, guests and speakers. Decide with whom you would like to meet (eg. sales directors in IT)
  • Check out local companies – being in the neighbourhood is a good opportunity to meet with someone outside the tradeshow
  • Prepare a list of people with their email addresses
  • According to our stats, to get 10-20 meetings you need to have about 100 people on your list

If it turns out that a few people you would actually like to meet are going to attend, it’s time to reevaluate your decision. You might have no purpose in going there.

5. Offer a coffee and set up meetings

Having a list of people you want to meet is only the first step. You don’t want to end up wandering around the conference searching for them – it’s not effective (you will look creepy too).

3 weeks ahead is a good time to start writing to folks from the list and book their time. Just a short & sweet email with basic information:

  • who you are
  • why you want to meet
  • what’s in it for them

Here’s an email from our last visit to Berlin:

Let’s discuss B2B leads

Hi {X},

My name is Piotr from RightHello and I assume that effective B2B lead generation is your “daily bread”. 🙂

@RightHello we are prospecting professionals that can effectively find and outreach high-quality leads, therefore saving hours of your salesforce’s time and supporting you with new deals to close.

I’m coming to Berlin in November to attend {conference} and I was wondering if perhaps we could meet in person?

The kind of response you are looking for should sound like this:

Hi Piotr,
My morning of the 12th is still pretty open so we could meet for around half an hour for a coffee.
Would 11am work for you?

But you will also get some of these (good in the long run):

Hi Piotr,
this could be something, but now is not a good time. Can you please contact me again in 3 months? We should meet/skype then and chat about a possible project.

When you have 20-30 open conversations about finding time to meet, it’s easy to get lost. I recommend using clever scheduling software like calendly.

6. Fill your calendar with meetings you actually want

When people respond, your job is to set up a meeting (at a specific time and place). But even if you manage to get a “let’s meet sometime during the conference” it will be much easier to get to someone and steal 15 minutes of their time – they will remember you from your emails.

7. Don’t forget to follow up

Outreaching people 3 weeks before the event is necessary, just so you have time to follow-up once or twice (with the people that didn’t respond). Most of them are busy and you have to be persistent to get into their calendar.

Also, when you try to get a meeting a few days before the event, there’s a big chance that their calendar will already be full.

No more wasting time!

I started carefully picking the right events to attend and preparing for each of them beforehand.

The result? Now I buy coffee instead of stands (it’s much cheaper this way!). Oh, and I always achieve something at events and leave them satisfied. 

I encourage you to follow the 7 steps above and never waste time at a networking event again!

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Piotr Zaniewicz

Founder and CEO at RightHello. Believes that the most important validation of business ideas is to find paying clients. That’s when you know you’re going in the right direction.