Buy tickets to a networking event. Get there, buckled up for a cookie-cutter experience of going from one panel to the next. Only talk to other attendees during breaks and cocktail receptions, then rush to the next session.
Instead of doing the same thing you always do, we’d like to call your attention to a piece Humanyze CEO and co-founder and MIT Media Lab visiting scientist Ben Waber, PhD wrote for Quartz at Work about his approach to networking.
Unimpressed by a Fortune 100 CEO’s talk that he was looking forward to at a conference, he had a conversation with someone feeling the same way afterward — someone, as it turns out, who became a future client.
Waber notes that the chance to connect with and be of service to others who are “like-minded” is the most crucial part of these events, as opposed to the content. Then he writes that at another conference, which was wasn’t as long ago, he spent 12 hours going to talks all around the area, taking a small shuttle to each location. He decided to talk to a fellow rider every time.
So the following day, he just rode around instead of going to talks — and met dozens of people, some of whom have helped his career.
With Waber’s example in mind, here are some strategies could help you stand out for all the right reasons when everyone is trying to make a name for themselves at conferences and networking events.
Take a page out of Waber’s book
Yes, we know: You’re most likely paying good money to learn from the featured panelists at conferences, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more innovative approaches for getting what you want from the total experience.
So do as Waber says he did, and have the guts to say “no” to talks, so you can spend more time getting to know other attendees instead.
“As you go to conferences, try to create these opportunities for yourself. Skip a speaker session and instead resolve to talk to one new person every 15 minutes,” Waber writes. “Hang out by the coffee pot and strike up a conversation. While you can’t be assured that every one of these conversations will be useful to you both, chances are it’ll be more valuable than going to a talk that you’ll forget in a few weeks.”
Reach out on social media beforehand
I tried this once and it really worked in my favor.
While asking a question at the microphone during a panel with a CNBC media personality I reached out to, I introduced myself to her, and she announced that she’d remembered me from Twitter.
We’d never met, so I gave her my business card afterward during our conversation, and I’ve considered her a mentor ever since. I shadowed her in the field on multiple occasions during my internships at CNBC, and we still keep in contact.
Use a compliment as an icebreaker — but mean it
This just might break you out of your comfort zone.
U.S. News & World Report staff writer Laura McMullen features icebreakers from Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of “The 11 Laws of Likability” and CEO of the professional development firm Executive Essentials, among others, in the publication.
One of them is “great shoes!”
“If you notice something you admire about these new contacts … tell them! (Who doesn’t like receiving a compliment?),” McMullen writes.