We’re all missing in-person events as we take Zoom calls from our couches and heat up another pot of coffee. One thing we’re not missing, however, is the switch from the traditional branded tchotchkes to more elegant digital swag bags. Everyone attends at least one conference where this happens. You’re handed a bag and know…
Effective Event Networking Strategies
Event networking can lead to powerful gains for your company through visibility with new and qualified contacts. However, it can be difficult to prepare effective event networking strategies, and it can also be challenging to do that if you’re trying to engage with VIP guests. To help demystify some best practices for event networking, we’re talking to Dave Chookaszian, Kapow’s Director of Business Development, who recently attended TOPO Summit in San Francisco.
Prepping For Event Networking with Dave Chookaszian
Kapow: So what’s the first thing you do when prepping for event networking?
Dave Chookaszian: The very first thing I want to know at a conference event is who’s going to be there, so I can know who I’m trying to find. Assuming I have a list of that, then I’m going to work with marketing to hone in on the right personas—both the companies that are interesting to us and the titles that are interesting to us. When I make my list, I try to pinpoint VIPs and I’ll probably devote a little more bandwidth on them to make a connection to myself or our business. Once I know that, I’m heading straight to LinkedIn, searching for facts about them that I find generally interesting. So looking for common interests, relationships, some sort of commonality to make it meaningful.
K: How do these connections help with face-to-face networking?
DC: The key to networking as I see it is actually caring and showing an interest in other people. I love networking because I love meeting people, and I love learning about people. And when you know something about someone and are able to make that personal connection, it establishes honor towards them. In sales, it’s about establishing more than having a horse in the race—which you obviously do—and they understand that. By showing that honor, by knowing things about them, it shows that there’s a reason you’re speaking to them specifically, as opposed to anyone else, and that opens the door for you to talk sales or network.
K: Once you’ve pinpointed commonalities with potential leads, how do you keep them all straight?
DC: I tend to condense all that information into a list and then run through it whenever I have free time. It can seem intimidating, but it’s rote memorization—a learned skill that you can practice. It helps you be able to make those connections in the moment and show that honor to the people you want to be talking to without having to consult your notes while you’re talking to them.
K: When it comes to networking in general, what do you try to keep in mind?
DC: I think a big thing for me is to set manageable, specific goals for any networking event. It can be easy to say, “okay, well my goal here is to network,” but that goal is big and vague, and probably won’t be helpful to you. I was at a conference a couple of years ago, and there weren’t that many coordinated opportunities for meet-ups, so I set goals like, “for this chunk of time at the conference, I need to have three meaningful conversations.” That was a much more specific goal and allowed me to focus on what I was there for.
From a Kapow perspective, having retail popups—like Timbuk 2, Sunglass Hut and a whiskey tasting which we had at Topo Summit this year—gives you naturally built in smalltalk, like “what backpack did you pick? What are you planning on using it for?” but also built in transitions, which can be an effective means of exiting conversations. It can also be a draw for people, since having more to your booth can be a pattern breaker, something that catches people and stops them. A tagline, like Kapow’s “unfair facetime,” can get people to show up, and having a physical takeway can help them remember you.
K: Speaking of that, what are your strategies for following up after an event?
DC: A conference is a little different because usually people are out of the office, so to slam them immediately after with a follow up can be a little tough because they might still be coming up for air. I’d say for a regular event my goal is, if I have a meaningful interaction with someone, whether it’s a prospect call or a client call, my rule of thumb is don’t let more than one sleep pass. It’s okay to not do it same-day, but before I go to bed the next night, I want to show them that I’m a person who follows through on his word, and that gets something off my plate for the next work cycle.
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