So you are going to Slush this week. You have the tickets, you know the agenda, you might even know what your goals for the conference are. You think that you are ready.
Well, guess again. Going to a conference is not as simple as buying the tickets and showing up at the door. To make the most out of it, you need to think of it as war and have a proper battle plan. After all, there will be around 5 000 attendees and if you are in a startup, over 1000 startups - all competing for attention and contacts.
Brief and Mission Objectives
"He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.â€
â€• Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Before setting your foot onto the battlefield, you need to know what it is that you want out of it. Is it Media Exposure? Is it investor contacts? Perhaps new users or business partners? â€¨â€¨Once you know that, you need to set clear and actionable goals for yourself and your team. For instance I always try to set a minimum amount of business cards I want to collect.
Letâ€™s give you a personal example. When we went to the Dublin Web Summit earlier this month, our goals were:
If you are a team of people, then you need to set overall company objectives and then delegate parts of it to your team members.
As former CEO and founder of Arcticstartup and now the CEO of Upcloud put it: â€œThe most crucial resource when visiting a conference is time. You need to make the most of it. To do so, proper planning before the conference is required. You need to set clear goals that you are after, just as you do with developing your service or company. One of the best things to also consider - is set your goals first for conferences and then decide if those goals are achievable in the conference you're evaluating - don't attend conferences just for the sake of them.â€
Battle Map and Agenda
â€œLet your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.â€
â€• Sun Tzu, The Art of War
To make the most out of a conference, you have to be efficient. Put the keynote speakers you absolutely want to see into you calendar and then divide the rest of the day into side-events, networking and demoing.
Make sure to study the map of the venue and identify key access points for the people you need to meet. We are all human and everybody will go to toilets, wardrobes, smoking.
Some of the best networking at the Dublin Web Summit was done near food points, entrance to the speakers lounge and smoking areas.
If you can, try to go to as many side events as possible, where there will be less people but at least there will be interesting people that can help you with your goals and objectives. Do not follow the crowd.
After-parties are one of the best places to network, but you have to make sure that you have a plan even for those. Drinking is a great socializer, but considering that most events are two-day events, do not drink too much and switch to non-alcoholic drinks at one point. Also make sure that you do not stay too late, as it is important to be fresh the next day.
There is also a sweetspot for networking at parties, usually it is somewhere between when the party starts and 2-3 hours into it. After that, most of the potential targets are already under the influence of alcohol to such an extent that they can be of little use to you. Time to go to sleep.
â€œTo know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.â€
â€• Sun Tzu, The Art of War
As per your goals and objectives, you might have a general idea of who you want to meet, but unfortunately it is not enough. You need to know thy enemy and do some research.
For the very key people, find out their hobbies, what they have done in their lives and what might be an interesting topic of conversation in addittion to business. It always helps to add that tiny bit of a personal touch. For more on that read Carnegie - How to Win Friends & Influence People.
As to the rest, make sure that you know what they look like, so that you will be able to identify them quickly in a crowd and try to make your way over. It also helps if you have made previous contact either through Twitter or e-mail, then you can open the conversation easier.
When it comes to business cards, one of your weapons, take a lot of them and if you are using flyers - make them small. Most people hate carrying oversized pieces of paper with them, but a business card sized flyer just might sneak into their pocket along with all the other cards and then when they will get home and start digging through the pile, the might actually find your card and go to that Launchrock page that you so want them to see.
War - Also Known As Networking
â€¨â€œThus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
1 He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
2 He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
3 He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
4 He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
5 He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.â€
â€• Sun Tzu, The Art of War
So, you are finally ready to go to war and get things done. You know where you will catch the key people, who they are and what you are going to talk to them about. Yet, you still have to remember that time is of the essence and you have to be efficient if you want to get those business cards. What can you do to make it be efficient?
Divide and conquer. It makes no sense for your whole team to stick around your beloved demo stand. Depending on the demand one or two should get the job done. The rest have to go out and target those key people.
If they do not come to you, go to them. Unfortunately, not all investors and press will go to every demo stand. They got other things to do like talking to other investors about their deal flow, pitching startups to one another in order to syndicate deals and go into investments together. These are the hard to get guys and you have to go out and get them and find them in one of the key spots you have identified earlier. If you are really brave, try to sneak into one of the special zones with an investor friend or media.
End conversations. One important team is to leave conversations that are not beneficial to you. If you got everything you could out of a new contact - it is time to leave. Do not stick around and talk about the weather and how you love poodles for the next two hours. Find an excuse, such as a speech starting or you having another meeting and go. But its better to be honest and say that it was nice talking to them and you would like to go out and do some more networking before the next event starts.
Dress to impress. Now this one can mean a lot of things. What it does not mean is to dress in a suit, but what it does mean is to think about your attire. As Anna Andersone from Froont told us:
â€œWear something that boosts your confidence and mood, others will feel it, but not know what hit them.â€
Find a good spot and stop. This is my own personal problem, I run around too much, trying to network. However one of my friends from Eegloo pointed out to me that it can be a lot more efficient to find a good location where interesting people often pass by and just stay still. Especially at parties. People will come and start talking to you soon enough. If it does not happen, then you can start being active again.
Join Conversations and Approach People. Everybody goes to a conferences with certain goals, all of those goals have something to do with meeting new people. They want you to talk to them. So - talk to them. Do not be afraid or shy to start talking to someone. If you donâ€™t, itâ€™s like going to a singles night and not talking to a single woman/man there.
Have a Wingman/Wingwoman. Praising yourself in a group of newly acquainted contacts pales in comparison when somebody else, not from your company, does it for you. It helps a lot when you unite with somebody to offer wingman services. You can then easily say things like "Oh, have you met Greg? He runs a pretty epic blog about startups in Northern Europe" and that is a million times more trustworthy than if you say so yourself. It also becomes easier to dominate the group and steer conversation. There are a lot more things you can do using this strategy, but we will let you figure that one out.
Offer Help. One of the best things you can do is to offer help. If you talk to people, always try to find a way of how you could be useful to them. Ask yourself: â€œWhat can I do to make their life easier?â€. This can be anything: introducing them to other people, promising to help them with their product, checking out their demo, etc. This will set you apart from most people and it will help you build relationships instead of contacts.
Testing Your Product. One great thing about the conference is to test your product. Uldis Leiterts from Infogr.am said it best:
â€œI used TNW as an a/b test for our basic value preposition. I think I did about 200 1to1 demos of Infogr.am, some folks who saw it said â€˜oh, I can also do this and thatâ€™.
Most of those desired features were not there yet. I collected massive feedback, gave away few hundreds of business cards and some of those folks still use infogr.am
So, conferences can be used for user tests. If the tech savvy crowd gets your product without you telling about it, there's a chance you're up to something."
Use Social Media. At most events, there will be a hashtag, for Slush it will be: #Slush13 and #ComingToSlush. Use it. People who follow the hashtag, might recognize your name or your startup. However try to be useful to other people and provide interesting hints, tips, comments. You can also do what we did at the Dublin Web Summit. We used the hashtag to organize a very small launch where we invited everyone to have lunch with us. Only about five people showed up, but they were good contacts and again we built relationships instead of contacts.
Heavy Artillery - The Demo Stand
â€¨â€œMove swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.â€
â€• Sun Tzu, The Art of Warâ€¨
Now if you are one of the lucky ones that will have a demo stand, use it wisely and be prepared. There are some things that people love such as nice big screens with your demo, a bowl for the business cards, giveaways (Usually in exchange for said business card), stickers, epic clothes that make you stand out.
You have to be engaging and active, do not just stand there. Invite people to come and check you out, talk to them. Genuinely ask them about their needs and interests. â€¨â€¨
One other thing to note is that large events can come with a number of technical problems. Both The Dublin Web Summit and Pioneers Festival - two great events, had major internet problems at one point. So, just in case - run a local server on one of the machines and make sure you have a lot of battery and laptops in case the power to your particular stand dies for some reason.
â€¨â€¨â€œThere is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. â€
â€• Sun Tzu, The Art of War
When its over, the conference does not stop. You have to follow up with all the people that you have met, even if the contact did not seem useful at the time. Drop them all a friendly e-mail and hopefully include something personal which will make them appreciate that you remember what you talked about. To do that, make a note at the back of each business card.
â€¨It is better to do this faster rather than later. Work on the lead while it is hot. Propose quick meetings. This is especially the case for international guests that are likely to leave in a day or two, so for those - contact them right away and suggest a meeting at the second day of the event or the day after. All in all - be prepared and go out and get them and if you have any other tips, let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
Oh and as a part of my own secret plan - we are all coming to Slush13 and you can meet the ArcticStartup team by tweeting to @regandersong (Editor in Chief), @dsarle (CEO), @iganderson (Intern Superstar 2) @ArcticRafael (Intern Superstar 2)
Top Image Courtesy of Shutterstock // War
1st Image Courtesy of Shutterstock // Battle Plan
2nd Image Courtesy of Shutterstock // Battle Map
3rd Image Courtesy of Shutterstock // Investor Target
4th Image Courtesy of Shutterstock // War
5th Image Courtesy of Shutterstock // War
6th Image Courtesy of Shutterstock // War Victory