The old saying goes “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”- and in the tech industry, this sentiment is truer than ever. When careers are forged by meeting the right employer or investor at the right time, networking is a vital skill- thus, conferences become a key facet in many career paths. Some see conferences as a perk of the job, while many others see them as a necessary evil; naturally, the Data Natives team definitely form into the former camp. With decades of combined experience attending tech events all over the globe, we’ve picked up a few skills and strategies to make your conference experience as pleasurable and productive as possible.

Being the charitable souls we are, we wanted to share with you five of our favourite strategies to enhance your tech conference experience. If you have any hacks of your own, feel free to drop them in the comments!

Choose Your Conference Wisely

To say that we’re living in a boom for tech events would be an understatement. Every single day, there’s a dozen excellent tech events globally vying for your attention, and figuring out which events (and how many of them) to attend can feel like a daunting task.
It often helps to start with one clear goal in mind- from there, you can figure out what type of event is best going to suit your needs. If you’re looking for co-founders, intimate conferences with round-table discussions will give you a better depth of conversation with a good number of people. If you’re looking to rapidly expand your customer base, go big- look at your options for getting the word out at a large summit. If you’re looking for new hires, a more niche and subject-focused event is going to give you a better chance of finding an employee with the exact kind of skills you’re looking for. If you’re looking for investment, a broader tech conference is going to give you the opportunity to meet more VCs with diverse portfolios.

Figure out what your company needs most right now, and take it from there. A clear use case will also help you convince your company to send you to that conference, which is always an added bonus.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

This should almost go without saying, but we meet far too many people who don’t prepare before a conference. Figure out who you want to meet from the attendees & speakers lists, and make contact before the event (bonus points for getting a meeting before you step into the conference). We’ve all been to events where the networking app plays up, the matchmaking session is underattended, or the booths just aren’t inspiring- while the spontaneous connections are sometimes the best ones, the less you leave to chance, the better your chance of getting a decent ROI out of the event.

Also, use your team to help prepare. Romain Doutriaux (EMEA Marketing VP, from Data Natives 2018 partner Dataiku) makes the most out of his conference experiences by consulting the team about who to meet, and setting up meetings: “Working hand-in-hand with the customer team (SDRs+Sales) will help you to define the relevant targets you want to meet at the event,” he told us. “Emailing, social network announcements and more will let you schedule business meetings ahead of the event and therefore not rely only on luck or booth design to engage with relevant prospects.”

All images from Data Natives 2017.

Solidify Existing Relationships

An often overlooked facet of the conference experience is using that time to solidify your existing contacts. There’s a lot to be said for maintaining long and meaningful professional relationships, but all too often we see companies running around, having surface interactions with dozens of contacts and flubbing the follow-up. Don’t just think about new contacts, but leveraging existing ones who are also in attendance. A simple social media call-out to see who from your network will also be going can reinvigorate old dialogues, and spark ideas for new collaborations.

Practice Your Pitch

Conferences can often feel like speed dating- and the key to taking that interaction beyond small talk between panels and into meaningful dialogue is a slick elevator pitch. Know what you want to say about yourself and your project in a few, concise sentences. The key here is being able to convey your message in a sharp and engaging manner, without sounding too sales-y – and nailing this is fantastic practice for future pitch meetings to boot.

From the initial pitch, the follow-up should cater to how the conversation progresses. “The introductory pitch should be the most solid and clearly explanatory of your business and aim. Then imagine other scenarios based on the way the relationship evolves,” says Amanda Rino, Data Natives’ Head of Operations and Projects. “The best method is to get into a conversation that is beyond pitching and something more natural. Don’t forget to find out the interests and needs of potential partners. Learn as much as you can about them and show them how a relationship with you is a no-brainer.”

Treat Conferences as a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Moreso than many other industries, tech has a reputation for attracting always-on, productivity-obsessed, 4-hours-of-sleep-a-night types- but nobody is immune to burnout. Let’s be honest: conferences can be exhausting. Several days of travel, talks, dozens of meetings and spontaneous business opportunities is exciting, but also draining.

While some people might be in their element being on their feet and engaged for 16 hours a day, for many of us, it’s important to budget time to eat, sleep, and recharge. Be smart about planning meetings, and try to avoid to many back-to-backs wherever possible; it’s way too easy to let every meeting run five minutes over, and before you know it, you’re running an hour behind. Taking some time to decompress, or just eat a good meal, is going to allow you to stay sharper and engaged for longer, and nail those vital meetings when the time comes.

We hope these tips help you up your conference game, and make the most out of the networking opportunities that come your way. If you’re joining us for Data Natives 2018 in Berlin in November and want some more guidance on how to achieve your personal goals at the event- get in touch! My Inbox is always open, and we want to make DN18 the best possible experience it can be for our whole community.

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