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Nurture, don’t network: getting the most out of industry events

By Bryan Mason, August 2, 2023

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On the heels of True’s Leadership Summit in London, where we gathered founders and executives from our portfolio companies to workshop foundational leadership practices, I’ve been mulling over how we all can get the most out of industry networking events like the ones we host, without overthinking it. 

On average, True hosts a community event or two every week somewhere in the world. We love connecting with founders and their teams, connecting founders to one another, and staying tight with our co-investors, True alum, and LPs. 

But even for those of us who self-identify as extroverted, there are days that, in our hearts, we’d prefer to skip an event and instead spend time working through that to-do list. Energy reserves are finite after all and we want to make certain that our time is well spent. 

Whether you’re attending a happy hour for first-time founders in San Francisco or a dinner with a swarm of Denver-based entrepreneurs, here are a few ideas (mostly stolen from others on our team) that may help you head into networking events with intention, ensuring it’s time well spent. 

Know who will be there

Before events for founders and their teams, we share an AirTable grid of who will be in attendance, so guests can review and figure out who in particular they’re eager to connect with – founders in the same sector, leaders in similar roles, or investors to get to know.

Once I know who will be at an event and have made a target list, I also like to find their headshots on LinkedIn. People absolutely light up when you meet them for the first time and already know a thing or two about them. It’s the easiest way in the world to make a good first impression.

Focus on friendship

At our London Leadership Summit, Madeline Minshew interviewed our partners Kevin Rose and Tony Conrad about building relationships. They suggested that if you enter new relationships with a focus on forming friendships, rather than a transactional ask, it leads to more fruitful, long-term relationships and (often) more impactful collaborations. 

At networking events, follow natural conversation into unexpected places and see what happens. When you’re curious about the person, and not what they have to offer you, kismet’s more likely to come into play.

Also, focusing on people you genuinely find interesting, rather than folks you “should” talk to makes for a more enjoyable time.

There is no right or wrong pace

Textbook networking advice might suggest that you circle a room and meet as many new faces as possible. I reject that kind of traditional advice and instead say that there’s as much value in meeting new people in your industry as deepening ties with those who are already close or familiar. 

While there have been studies about the power of nurturing a wider network of ‘weak ties’ (in terms of opening more doors to opportunity), we see building relational capital with a tight network as key for developing a deeper sense of belonging, trust, and self esteem – all qualities that can help to develop one as a leader. So, no shame-in-the-game – take a lap around the room or talk quietly with a few trusted confidants. You’re there and opening yourself up to shared learning. 

Skip predictable questions and focus on intrigue

At a workshop our team coordinated for founders in the True Portfolio last month, storytelling coach Cal Fussman taught the mechanics of telling a great story and showcased how a simple question can lead to stories that create memorable building blocks for lasting relationships.

Cal suggests skipping predictable conversation and instead asking very basic questions at networking events, like the following: “What’s the best takeaway you’ve ever gotten at an event like this?” It will work in a direct one-on-one conversation, as well as in a group setting. “One-on-one, the takeaway is likely to lead into a story that will offer a deeper way of knowing that person,” said Cal. “In a group setting, there may be four or five answers that can take the conversation into many intriguing places.”

As Yuval Noah Harari writes in the opening line of his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century: “Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.” 

Do your follow-up

No need to overcomplicate ‘the follow-up’ – just send a brief hello to three folks you enjoyed at any given event and let them know you’d like to stay connected. People love being memorable, so let them know they made an impression. A LinkedIn add and a direct email will make you easy to find later. You’ll get bonus points if you share something of value with them off the bat, may it be a news article about your shared market or an example document you discussed. A kind/quick follow-up is a great cap to a good first impression.

Thanks again to all of our community members who spent time with Team True this July in London. We hope you made some friends and we look forward to seeing you again.