Generally, there are 2 kind of people at IT-oriented networking events: you’ve got the ‘suits’, who are savvy net-workers and the geeks, who are wondering what the hell they’re doing there and how they can get out asap.
Now, as far as approaching people on these events goes, here are some of my tips:
No one likes to stand there alone
Anyone standing by themselves are always happy when someone comes to talk to them.
This is a basic rule for these kind of events. Don’t just stand there, go talk to someone: they’ll be happy you did. You too.
Don’t ignore the women
The few women at these events are often ignored, as is often the case in the male dominated IT world. This might be a big mistake, especially when you’re in the market for a better job. (aren’t we all?)
If they’re being social, there’s a big chance they’re recruiters. If they’re not, still make sure to ask them about job openings at their company. Women often seem to be on better foot with the HR department than men and will remember to talk to the HR department (often women) about ‘that nice guy’ (you). Having you as a colleague could also help them to not have to stand there by themselves again at the next networking event their company sent them to.
In any case: A woman standing by herself is even more happy when you talk to her compared to a man.
(at networking events that is)
Any geeks will probably have an interesting agenda
Awkward looking introvert geeks who happen to be stranded there are usually most interesting. There’s no way in the world they’d be in that room full of ’suits’ if they wouldn’t have a damn good reason for being there.
Find out why they’re there!
The networking elite need a different pitch
The best net-workers there are often good at just that: networking. These are often the more ‘business’ oriented people who have outgrown pure IT, probably solely by their networking and personal marketing capabilities.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but you should remember they need to be handled in a different way.
Include accomplishments and benefits in your pitch when you talk to these people. They don’t want to know that you’re a Linux system administrator and Cisco wizard, they want to know that you’re a troubleshooter at a company offering a web-based service that helps organizations save money by shortening service desk calls and you scaled that service from 200 to 200,000 daily users during the last year.
If they find you interesting they can often facilitate you or your services/product at a bigger company and always seem to know ‘just the person you’re looking for’. (which often turns out not to be the case)
Parting in a friendly, positive way
Make sure to ask everyone you talk to what they’re hoping to gain from the event and what their current issues are. A lot of people won’t tell you unless you ask them.
This is also the ideal way to part with them on a positive, happy note later on.
After all, you aren’t at a networking event to talk to the same people for hours (usually) and you also want to leave a positive impression when parting with them. Even if it’s not natural for you to walk up to and talk to strangers, you might as well give it your best shot while you’re there and meet as much people as possible.
For example: When they are looking for a way to replace their outdated PBX system, you could later on part with ‘nice talking to you… and when I meet a VOIP expert later on I’ll make sure to introduce them to you’. (you catch my drift)
A/B testing your elevator pitch
I also think these events are great for A/B testing your elevator pitch: it’s amazing how telling it from a different angle can cause a change in interest. As they say: you never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression, but at these events there are enough people willing to hear what you’ve got to say (or at least the first 30 seconds), so you can just try again with another victim later on.
Excellent to practice and perfect your pitch (although I think a real elevator pitch might be too much for a networking event) for when you really need it to be right at the first impression.
Just remember: don’t talk geek to the suits and vice versa.
Have you got any further tips for handling these kind of events?