If you haven't been, you've probably heard that South By Southwest (SxSW) is like spring break for adults. While that's true in many ways, it's also a prosperous space for entrepreneurs, founders, and small business owners.
That's why networking can be a huge priority at SxSW. As a people person, networking has always come naturally to me. It's one of the few things I can do without having to prepare, plan or really think about.
After hearing a panel on the intracity of Millennials, tech and the future, I headed to the venue's bar where two of the panelists were sitting--lets call them Mark and Betsy. I promptly introduced myself and let them each know how much I enjoyed their insight.
A colleague of Betsy's joined us at the bar. She was twice my age and an extremely accomplished and incredible woman. She seemed nervous, so I did what any ASU grad would do and convinced everybody to get a drink.
We sat for hours. I became friends with these extremely intelligent and successful individuals, while Betsy's colleague seemed to struggle. In that moment, I realized she was trying to network, and all the added pressure of networking sat on her shoulders.
I couldn't help but ponder this situational juxtaposition, and spent the remainder of my time at SxSW pinpointing why some people are good at networking--and more importantly, why some people struggle with networking.
If you have a difficult time with networking, I strongly suggest you try these three tips that I learned while meeting people and networking at SxSW 2018:
1. Market yourself more, network less.
If you know anything about personal branding, this might not be any news for you. When networking you should stress less about your "elevator pitch" and focus more on marketing yourself.
Why are you in this space? What do you want to learn? And what can others learn from you?
Before Mark and Betsy had even ordered their first glasses of wine, I'd already worked my entrepreneurial pursuits and accolades into the conversation. It took Betsy's colleague a full 45 minutes to even mention what industry she worked in.
When you genuinely market yourself, it does all the networking for you. Being authentic makes a lasting impression. You don't need to sell people on you. Instead, share your passions and your pursuits with them, even if those people aren't in your industry.
For a lot of people, it's hard to humbly brag about yourself. If this is you, before going to a networking event, go through a list of your accolades an accomplishments.
Go-getters appreciate and respect other go-getters. Let whomever you are talking to know what you're good at and what you're passionate about.
2. A smile goes a long way.
You probably do this less than you think. When people think of "networking" they tend to associate it with pitching, and presenting themselves or their product to people with more influence than them.
This puts unnecessary pressure on the situation.
At the bar, I could feel Betsy's nervous energy. She had clearly put a lot of weight on the situation, while the panelists didn't--and probably felt inferior to them in terms of qualifications. If this is you, fake it until you make it. Let your smile do the talking.
When you strip down the basics of networking, you're really just meeting people and trying to make a good impression. Listening, and smiling accomplish this. When networking, it's essential to remember that this conversation isn't all about you. It's about nurturing a relationship.
3. Don't waste people's time.
We all know how busy entrepreneurs and founders are. Good ones make it their job to not waste their time--which is why being conscious of someone's time can make a really good impression. The opposite can leave a lasting negative impression.
Sometimes you'll meet a great person. You can't offer them anything, and they have nothing you need. Instead of focusing on pitching them, say something like, "I know how busy you must be. So I'll let you go, but it was great to meet you. Here's my information if you ever need anything."
Don't aimlessly pass your card out or try to find ways to use people. Spend time creating a real connection. In this day in age with social media and the internet, if you want to contact someone, you'll find find a way.
The most impactful networking can come just by meeting people and respecting their time.