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AA 009: What are some tips for founders attending an industry conference?

Welcome to the ninth podcast of the Ask Alex show! Today the question is “What are some tips for young founders attending an industry conference for the first time?”

In this podcast, we deal with 15 tips to make the most of industry conference events. I share a lot of knowledge I’ve built over the years making friends and building my network. There are a bunch of random ideas… like buying a red sweater, building a safe group and the importance of just having fun! Listen to learn more!

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Transcript if you prefer to read on industry conference

Hey, guys! Welcome to episode 9 of the AskAlex podcast. Today, we’ve got a question from Sam in Texas, Sam asks “What are some tips for young founders attending an industry conference for the first time?” Okay, Sam, I know it can be pretty intimidating especially when you are just building at your network, you haven’t done these things before, you don’t know anyone, and you’re just trying to break in. But don’t worry I’ve got some great tips here for you and ultimately you just need to do and practice and you’ll get better over time.

So let’s run to the tips. First thing, don’t be a baby, have confidence and talk to people at their level. Don’t subjugate yourself, never use “Sir” that’s super lame while people respect you then I really hate it when people you know send me messages on LinkedIn or email me and say “Dear Sir” it makes me think they haven’t even bothered to check what my name is but I also just want to treat people like people.

Secondly, have content; have something to say. I’ve talked about before that what happens when you get in the room matters, you really need to have something to say, something interesting to be able to talk about the topics. If your event is about AI; can you talk about AI? Can you be fascinating? Otherwise, networking is pointless, what is the point of going talking to people and then just thinking I really need to talk to someone more interesting?

So make sure you read a lot before you go to the event and be able to talk about topical topics. Thirdly, be fun no one likes a bore. Most people’s lives are depressing, drab, miserable. So if you were the most attractive person they just want to be part of your reality. So even if you’re naive if you’re fun and you flatter people you can get by. Just because you were at a conference doesn’t mean that people don’t want to have fun. They go to these conferences to have a good time, trust me. Fourth, know when to approach.

Sometimes if you see two people talking together it can be a pretty bad idea to enter that group because they probably talking about maybe a specific topic. You can use your social awareness and say well it doesn’t look like their body language is open to you entering that group if you go and approach them and they just look over their shoulder and sort of grimace at the concept of you taking over that conversation. You think well, okay maybe that’s not.. then find an opportunity to make a graceful exit you’re probably intruding. It’s not going to be super beneficial to you.

Groups are easy I just say “Hey, guys! I’m Alex. How are you doing? I’m in the SaaS, what are you working on?” It doesn’t really matter what you say, you just need to you show some personality and get someone to start talking to you and the moment you can see that.. at the moment that they can see that you’ve got something interesting to say then their total perspective you is going to change.

So just start talking it doesn’t matter what you say just to say something, smile, just smile. If you approach people and you smile they’ll think you’re friendly you’re not a predator. So I don’t think I need to explain this more but just have a really positive energy and attitude.

Next, try to give value not take. If you can make a cool intro, awesome! Offer that value immediately. One easy way is to just intro people you meet in a room to someone you just met if that might be valuable. It’s such an easy thing to do and it’s such a quick win. It’s also an opportunity for you to get out of a pretty boring conversation and say “Hey, Mary. Let me just introduce you to Jim that I just met I think you guys will get on really well.” and that’s just the best way to get out of really boring conversations and allow that person to save face.

Don’t get into a safe zone, it’s easy to get stuck talking to someone for an hour and a half as it’s just comfortable you don’t really want to have to go talk to more people. But that’s a terrible idea and as that person is adding immense value to you, you’re at this event to network so remember that. Next, following up on that; don’t walk around handing out business cards. You need to actually build relationships with people. Don’t spend 2 minutes talking to people know but two good contacts are better than 10 people who will have already forgotten you by the time you do a follow-up. So, balance that out between quality and quantity of relationships.

Next, my little pro tip; buy a red sweater. It will get you noticed people say “Oh you should talk to the guy with the red sweater. I know this sounds silly but I purposely have a red sweater that I bought at UNIQLO. Not super expensive and I use that for all the conferences that I go to because it gets me noticed. Follow up the same day, add everyone on LinkedIn too. Send a nice short email “Hi, Jim. It was fantastic to meet you at the conference today. I really love what you talked about with SaaS. Perhaps we can have a conversation next month.” What do I do when I get people’s business cards I write on the back a quick note about where we met and what we talked about, that makes you writing you’re follow up emails super easy and it makes it seem that you actually remembered what you talked about. It’s really easy to do and it’s highly, highly valuable.

Go to the parties, that really is where the real networking and relationship building happens. Really trust me, I go to all the events and I’m invariably you know a speaker or someone involved in the event and I can tell you all the people are just normal people. They may not want to talk to you during the event because they get this sort of you know “pitch me” sort of vibe. But when you actually go to the party, everyone is open to talking to everyone. If you’re fun buy people a beer, you know, slap them on the back, just have a good time. Don’t immediately talks shop let them say “Hey, so what do you do?”

The quality of your networking at the parties is going to be so good. If you’re a little bit worried about going to this after parties, just make one or two friends with people you can recognize and make that good safe group. People can notice when you’re like this weird loner standing by the bar by yourself if you have a little harbor where you can pretend it with your ship and you go out to sea and then come back when you reach a storm. You feel a lot safer there.

I actually knew this because I used to go out partying by myself and I can tell you that can be a very daunting concept but I’ve lived in about 13 countries and travel a lot so for me it was a necessity. I always had to build new friends so the first thing I would do is walk up to the bar and talk to the first group that I would find and try and make a friend. From that point that would be the safe group that I would go out try and get relationships with some new people if I didn’t get a rapport they were kind of boring, I’d go back to my group and then look for someone else to talk to.

Try to be a speaker if you can, you get treated way, way different. It establishes so much credibility people just assume you’re one of them so if you can be a speaker really try and do that. Make friends with the organizer if you can they have struggles too. Help them out if you can and make friends with them, they do know everybody. So how can you do that? Go early. People will not necessarily be super busy right at the start so you might be able to get to know the crew and through that, you get to know the organisers.

Also, there will be a lot more people at the event who are not quite distracted yet, they may not have seen their friend, and so that’s a fantastic opportunity to start networking. So, go early. If you don’t know anyone walks up to random people and say “Hey, who do you know here?” People might point to the same people and that’s how you know who the most interesting people to network at the event might be. Then if you can maybe you say “Hey, do you mind if you introduce me to Chris?”

There we go, I hope these tips will be useful to you as I said it’s just one of those things that you need to practice but just relax remember people are people, treat them nicely, take a sincere interest in them, and you’ll learn as you go. Okay, audience if you would love to be featured on the AskAlex podcast feel free to reach out to me at and you can ask your question. Have a fab time guys, thank you so much for listening to me. Bye!

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