StartUp Founders: Conference Hack – The Lobby Rat

Discover a powerful approach to networking at conferences that can lead to increased connections and opportunities without breaking the bank.

As a startup consultant, I believe that attending conferences in the early days of a startup is often a waste of time, money, and energy. However, if there is a conference that your potential clients, recruits, or colleagues will be attending, and you think it might be worth showing your face, I understand.

Number one is to be a conference lobby rat. I hate that term, but essentially what it means is you’re pitching up at the local Starbucks or coffee shop right next to the Expo Center, the one that everyone walks through in the morning, afternoon, and evening. You essentially are trying to create connections and opportunities there.

One great thing about people in the coffee shop is that they’re not at their booth, they’re not talking to prospects, they’re not in a panel or event. They’re literally getting a coffee, and they have 20 seconds for you. All you have to do is recreate the same model again and again throughout the whole day. Brush with them, look at them, and just ask one question: “Hey, where are you from?” That’s it. They will respond with where they’re from, and they will say, “And you?” That’s how it works.

When you ask them where they’re from, they’ll tell you, and you can ask your second question: “Are you here presenting? Are you on a panel? Do you have a booth?” Something jovial, smile. They’ll respond and tell you exactly why they’re there, and they’re going to say the same thing again: “And you?” This is your cue. This is not your cue to sell them. Do not enter with, “I do this, this, and this. Want to buy it?” No. I’m here, this is what my solution does. I’m just talking to prospects.

They’re going to respond to one of two ways. They’re going to say, “Huh, good luck to you,” and they’re going to walk off. No problem. Amazing. Wish them the best of days. Or they’re going to say, “Huh, that’s interesting.” And this is the only time I advocate for business cards. They ask a question, answer the question. If there’s a conversation, great. If there isn’t, whatever it means, get your business card ready and say, “I know you’re busy. I know you’re just getting a coffee, looking for a minute to yourself. Here’s my card. I would love to chat with you and show you what we’re doing.” That’s the end of the conversation. If you’re not looking to keep them longer, let them enjoy, let them go about. Try to get their name, save it on their badge, try to introduce yourself by full name, so if you do introduce yourself at the end, say, “Hey, nice to have met you. Give your full name, so they give you the full name back.” Remember, it’s LinkedIn. You can follow up. You can do all of those types of things.

But you will create more opportunities for opportunities, more connections, more networking opportunities, more everything by repeating this cycle literally every single morning for hours on end at the coffee shop. Someone’s going to laugh at you, someone who’s going to be sitting there on their laptop has heard you give the same, “Hey, where are you from?” eight times in a row, that’s ok.

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