How to Excel at a Startup Showcase

A few weeks ago, my startup Alumnify won a spot at the Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference 2014. This was a huge honor for my team and me, and we quickly got together to plan how to make the most out of this opportunity. This spot involved attendance at the conference and a demo at the Startup Showcase.

Conferences can be huge opportunities for startups. Unfortunately, few companies do the planning necessary to make them a success. These events are where investors, clients, and lifelong contacts will all be together in one room. Doing some work beforehand will go a long way if you can execute. Below, I’ll share some tips on how to get the most out of conferences put on by companies like Tech Cocktail. Chances like these don’t come often, so when they do make sure you take full advantage.

1. Have a closer and an opener

When you get your booth set up at a conference, your initial instinct will be to wait for people to come to you. Unfortunately, that is one of the worst ways to maximize your reach. This is especially true for events where prominent speakers are in attendance. Usually, the most important people at the conference will be bombarded with things to do. This means the chances they’ll walk up to your table and start talking with you will be slim.

Instead, have a closer and an opener. Delegate someone who can demo the product well and leave them at the table. This could be your head of product or designer. Then, have the best networker on your team be the opener. Send that person around the conference floor to open up conversations and make contacts. When the opportunity comes, the opener should be responsible for the initial networking. When that happens, they’ll bring people over to the closer. You may only be able to pull this complete cycle off a few times. But once you get someone to go through the whole process, they’ll turn into a meaningful relationship.

2. Get drinks after conference hours

During the conference, most people are going to be extremely busy. This includes yourself, as well, as you’ll be in and out of a ton of talks and roundtable meetings. Once you find someone whom you’d like to get to know at the event, make sure to invite him or her to grab a drink after the conference ends that day. That will allow you to get to know them much better, and you’ll be able to have a much deeper conversation.

Networking expert Keith Ferrazzi says that the point of conferences is to make a few meaningful contacts. They are not to network with as many people as you can. Few entrepreneurs realize this tactic, especially when it comes to some of the most famous attendees. These people are going to be meeting tons of people, so it’ll be next to impossible for them to remember you during the conference. By asking them to grab a drink afterwards, you can separate yourself from the pack. While you think most people already do this, you’d be surprised. Many people think that the conference itself will be enough to create the relationships they want. In reality, it pays off to go above and beyond.

3. Do as promised

The best networkers are people who do good for others first, and don’t ask for anything in return. As you’re networking during the conference, see if you can connect them to others in your network.

Here’s where you can really stand out. After the conference, make sure you connect all the people together that you promised. Very few people actually follow through with the introductions they say they will make at events. By doing so, it’ll go a long way for the people you helped out. Without even asking, these people will look to help you in the future, and your generosity will pay off more than you imagined.

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Written by:
AJ Agrawal is an entrepreneur, speaker, and writer. He is the CEO and Co-Founder at Alumnify Inc.
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