May 26, 2022

#44 - Events and conferences - How to strike up a conversation

Conferences and other in-person events are starting to come back. And with it, the fear of being alone in a crowd or striking up a conversation with a stranger.

In this quick ~12 minute chat, Brendan and Bob break down how they overcome these jitters and make these intimidating networking events less intimidating. It's simple, actionable advice.

Conferences and other in-person events are starting to come back. And with it, the fear of being alone in a crowd or striking up a conversation with a stranger.

In this quick ~12 minute chat, Brendan and Bob break down how they overcome these jitters and make these intimidating networking events less intimidating. It's simple, actionable advice.

To learn more about B2B sales and get regular updates, sales tips, templates and other resources, sign up for Brendan's newsletter here. And to purchase Sales Craft: Proven Tips, Practices and Ideas to Advance your Sales Success, click here.


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Okay. It's another episode of Let's Chat Sales. And this time we're talking about these events that are now starting to take place again. And how to think about them. And how to make them effective. And how to come overcome some of the awkwardness and these icebreakers and that sort of thing. So I hope you find it useful and please like, and subscribe and, uh, let's dive in!  

Hey, Bob, it's a, another episode of Let's Chat Sales, Let's Chat Sales. You're looking like you're a little bit in the dark here. A 

new studio. New studio working, working a little different set-up hours.

 So here's what I want to talk about. I want to talk about events, you know, this whole COVID thing.

People are starting to dig their way out and  we're starting to see a lot more activity in terms of face- to- face things. 

And there's a lot to be said for it. You know, that is as great as virtually... and I may be alone when I say virtual is great... there's nothing quite like having a face-to-face conversation with someone and with these events...

unless you're an introvert.

Yeah. Right. Unless you're an introvert. And so let's spend a few minutes on that. What's the best way to optimize, these events to make them go... make them work for you? 

So why don't you start? 

So you and I didn't prep this, so you may disagree with what I'm going to suggest, but I actually suggest only taking three business cards.

Why is it? That's a crazy, crazy answer. 

I only give them out to people that are really feel like there's a need to follow up with. 


If you get a business card from me... you resonate with me in some, some powerful way. Now, if someone asks me for a card, I'll give it to them. But most of the time people don't.

What I find is if, if we've had a connection of some sort, that's why I give someone a business card and say, Hey, I'd love to follow up.

I also will try to schedule a followup right then and there. Pull out your phone. Hey, do you want to get together for coffee Tuesday? Do you want to do this?

I find that the crop duster talk to 50,000 people at a conference and get nowhere doesn't do me much good. We're at a networking event. I want to make three good connections. Three people that will move the needle on my business.

Okay. So I have no problem saying to you, Hey, Brendan is really great talking to. I'm sure you want to go meet other people. I'm going to go meet some other people too. If you're boring to me, if you're not useful to me, if there's nothing there... 

It's not harsh. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, but let me at least circle back on his three business card idea.

Cause I have a different philosophy on this, although it's... I worry that maybe you're just cheap with your cards, but, um, I 

think, Hey, I'm only making a sidekick salary. 

There's this whole school of thought that nowadays you don't even need business cards. And a lot of younger people in particular don't get them, but here's my philosophy.

I carry them with me so I look prepared. Oh, here's my card. Contact me, but here's my philosophy. Nobody does.

 I'm really much better at follow-up. So I want to get the card because I'm much more inclined to follow up. 

I met a guy last night. Got his card.

I will write him back today. If I give him my card, there's a really good chance. He's never going to get around to it. 

And that's the nice thing about LinkedIn, LinkedIn. You can connect with them right away, or you can track them down and follow up with them through LinkedIn oftentimes and send them a message.

Say, Hey ...met last night.  Let's connect, et cetera, et cetera. And that's a good follow-up, but it means you have to remember...

that there's a way Brendan with LinkedIn, where you can actually like connect right then and there. Right. 

I watched people do it at this happy hour

thing I was at last night yet.


I've done it before conferences. Like I was leading a LinkedIn workshop and I actually had the people in the conference room linking with each other. 


So you can look it up. It's not complicated, but it's a step-by-step thing. If someone wants to do it,  it's really great.

You can find people at a workshop anywhere where there's a group of people together. They're all open their LinkedIn app, be on the same wifi network and away you. Oh, 

we should've done that at the, at the pitch practice that we ran. Then Jesus. We gotta... Where do you go to rate your sidekick?

All right. That's 

one. It's right next door to rate my 

That's a good website link, right? My side, it got caught. Oh, that would be good. Then maybe there's something there. Um, so, uh.

So I think we both agree that it's better to get a business card than to give one and that, and because I think we're both pretty good at followup.

And if you're going to do sales, if you're going to try and move your business along,  then followup is going to be critically important. 

Now you also mentioned meeting people like, and you, you basically tell them... you're not interesting to me... so I'm going to go and find, 

Don't say that, 

I'd just say, Hey, I'm sure you want to meet other people.

I'm going to go meet other people too. 

Is there a, is there a more deft way to do that? To extract yourself from a conversation? 

Uh, I've had the wing man approach where you go with a friend and your friend sorta does more to promote you and you promote them. 

And if they get the signal from you that it's time to move on, they'll come over and be like, I'm sorry. I got to take Bob to introduce them to someone. Yeah. 

Yeah. I, I usually say, oh, I gotta go get a drink. Do you need anything? And then, if they say they need something, I'll bring them back a drink or whatever.

And then I'll say, oh, I met someone I got to go catch up with. But the philosophy I think is the same.

And that is... You spend a few minutes with someone and then you move along to somebody else. You wanna use that time kind of wisely. You don't wanna, unless it's really a great meeting. And even then.... You don't want to wear out your welcome.

 It's like a sales call. You know, you want a sales call to go 30 minutes, maybe an hour at most. And then because people ultimately will get tired of you. It's 

also difficult at a networking event to have effective communication. There's a lot of distraction. So I try not to do a lot of selling, I try not to do a lot of real, real detailed analysis.

For me, Brendan, it's about building the rapport. I want someone to feel comfortable to talk to me the next day or two days later, if. We can talk business when they're sitting at their desk, when I'm at my desk. And it's like, tell me what you wrote. So you mentioned this thing.

That's what I'm looking for. 

So I'm kind of a pretty shy guy. You wouldn't know that necessarily, but, we're in a group we're, we're at an event. I don't know anybody and I'm kind of hesitant to run up, uh, to meet someone. So, what do you do in that situation? Cause a lot, I think a lot of people are like this where they, they have a resistance to go and, and,  and meet folks. What, what do you do? 

Everyone's looking for someone to talk to,  No one wants to stand in the corner at a conference at a workshop they want to talk to someone. So i will often find the person who looks least comfortable and I walk up to them and go... hey. I'd love to chat with you for a minute because then it'll look like we're having a great discussion.

Let me see if I can make you laugh. Or something like that. Or, Hey, you look as excited about being here as I am. Who dragged you here.? And usually that breaks the ice. I don't go up to the people who are super like at the center of the storm. I will often go up to the organizers though and say them... hey, this is who I am.

This. Could you point out one or two people that I should really meet? And I've had really good success with that. 

That's a good idea. I like that. 

Um, and it also builds a bond with the organizer that they actually feel valued and they'll often come up later and be like, yeah, Bob, I've been thinking about it.

This guy just mentioned this thing. Do you want, yeah, I want to introduce you to, and when the organizer introduced. That's a different animal. Sure. 

So, the individual standing alone, that's a good person to talk to sometimes. And then what I'll do is I'll go up and I'll say... so what are you working on?

Or what brought you here? Or  how do you like the conference so far? 

So that's a good way.  The other one that I picked up from Mac Conwell. He's a VC here in Baltimore, which I thought was pretty good as you go to a group and just stand in with a group of people.

And just sort of weasel your way in. Not a conversation of two necessarily. You can do that, but that's harder, but you get four or five people and they're all standing around and talking... it's kind of easy to kind of shoulder your way in and listen intently. And then figure out a way to add to the conversation.

 I just thought that was a clever way to... kind of another angle, because then you can see what the conversation's about. Listen, and listen with interest. And then when the time is right, chime in. 

The other thing, Brendan is you have to be a really good listener.

The success that these types of events is in listening, not in speaking. The more you hear and the more you can contribute and the more you can keep it light.

I really don't do selling at any kind of event like that. And so I would caution against that even though most people are like, well, if I'm going to go this networking vendor, I want to tell 10 people exactly what I built and how it's going to solve their problems. 

So you meet some people, you know, you've got this idea that you want to meet two or three folks, that's a win for you in terms of an event. Yes.  

I certainly like the idea of meeting a group, meeting someone, chatting for bit, moving on. 

So then I think one of the keys as, as is always the case with me ...follow up.  You know who they are. You got to figure out a way to follow up with them. 

You have to make the assumption they're not going to follow up with you. And it doesn't matter how interested they are. They lose your card.

They forget who you are. They forget your name. They get distracted by something else. 

So it's really incumbent upon you to do the follow-up. 

That's the  thing I'd say, if you . Tell someone you're going to do something, make sure you do it because that's the first litmus test for me.

Like if you said you're going to call me tomorrow. Hey, if you don't call me tomorrow... you've  ruined the whole benefit of going to that event. 

 Agree a hundred percent, speakers. So, oftentimes the most interesting people that are the most important people to talk to at an event are the speakers, right?

They're often times potential customers and they're influential in the industry, typically, that sort of thing. So how do you get to them?  How do you talk to that? 

Can I spend it from a different angle? Brendan? Cause I speak a lot. And one of the things that I think people are really surprised to hear is how lonely it can be.

When you're a speaker. You go to a conference. You don't know the organization. You're out of town often, not so much now, but used to be. 

And you just were like a fish out of water. And the person who came up to you at the cocktail reception at the lunch, before you spoke, it's like, oh, you've rescued me. 

 Social contact, 

But as a speaker, that was really valuable.

And that was often the person that afterwards I'd seek out and thank. Those types of things. That can be really valuable. 

The other thing is a speaker is I'm a big believer in going to conferences and actually hanging around.

I'm amazed how many people look at me and go, you consume recognized he was the speaker and they were afraid to come up to me, even though I was standing there by myself. And if you really want to make a speaker happy, go to their presentation, and then if you see them in the bar, buy them a drink. I will put, I will pay a lot of attention if you buy me a drink at the bar.

I find that going to a speaker before... like typically at these conferences that someone's there, they're getting ready before the event and then they speak. 

And then there's that interlude between that and the next speaker. And, everyone wants to line up afterwards and talk to speakers.

That's an opportunity. Again, you're better off getting their card than giving them a card. They'll in very seldom follow up. 

I find that it's not very helpful to talk to them before the talk, because they're distracted, they're focused on their PowerPoints. They're kind of getting their head in the game.

So that's probably not the best time to talk to them. So if you do talk to them before the event... it's just, Hey, looking forward to your talk. 

Maybe we can catch up afterwards. And then, and then hopefully you may run into them somewhere along the way. 

Although in my experience, the speakers, they usually come in for the event to do the presentation and then they're gone.

Oftentimes they don't stay for the conference.

Anything else? Should we good? We beat this up. I think 

we'd beat this up in me. I would leave with the thought that everyone is uncomfortable at these events to some level. 

So the more you can admit to yourself that it's just uncomfortable and awkward and that everyone else is feeling the same thing.

I find that very empowering. 

Yeah.  I'm the same way. I think. Uh  it's all kind of mindset. Yeah. 

Yep. All right. Brendan, do you think it's possible? We could do another one of these because I'd love to, I think, 

I think we will. I went out, we're coming up on 50.

We're getting close to 50. 

Wow. Yeah, I know the number I need to get in the sidekick hall of fame. Uh, I 

think it's 150. Yeah, it's, it's a lot. You're you're not doing yeah. You 

guys got work to do. All right. Well we better get, get out and get back. All right. Good to see you, Bob.

Okay. So that was another episode of Let's Chat Sales. And, like, and subscribe and check out this one. It's really good. I think. Well it's yeah, I think it is. In fact, it's, it's one of the best.