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4 ways you can benefit from schmoozing at industry events

Founders may prefer to stay in the office, but advice columnist Maynard Webb says there are good reasons to show up at business confabs and conferences.

4 ways you can benefit from schmoozing at industry events
[Photo: Chris Liverani/Unsplash]
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Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I am invited to a lot of events, and I don’t know if I should go. Should I spend my time with my team in the office or should I network and build relationships out in the world?

—Founder and CEO of a New York-based services business

Dear Founder,

There can be a temptation to go down the path of becoming a “celebrity founder,” where every week you might be talking at a different event. It can be very easy to justify this time allocation, as each conference will bring new business cards that look like progress, but I often find these to be unsustainable methods. New sales leads should mostly come from a healthy sales org, not the CEO attending dozens of events. Further, always being on the road can be toxic for the company at home. You can miss major problems, and if your company hits a hiccup or setback, the backlash can be catastrophic.

For a founder, there are great demands for you to be with your team running your company, but there are also times when getting out is exactly what your company (and you) may need. If you’re extroverted, the thought of attending an event may energize you—and that’s terrific. If you’re introverted, as I am, the thought may stress you out and cause you to want to avoid it. I am a believer in leveraging the right events to accelerate your business and give you a fresh perspective. When approached correctly, events can allow me to do three weeks’ work in just a few hours. They also provide a great opportunity for synchronicity.

Here are some guidelines that I find help make the most out of events and successfully balance them with the rest of my responsibilities:

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Don’t do it all. There is only so much time we all have. Decide which events make sense, and guard your time religiously. Similarly, do not go to every session at each event. At Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual user conference, I always go to the keynotes and leave the rest of my schedule open for serendipity.

Plan some meetings in advance. People have busy schedules, especially with the compressed time of an event. Get an attendee list and put meetings on the calendar before you go so you won’t miss the opportunity to see each other.

Have fun, but measure results. Events are not just about partying, though that does seem to define some of them. Make sure you keep what matters at the top of your mind: new insights and new connections. I make sure that attending an event will enable me to make at least twice the impact I would have had in the office, and I define what that looks like so I know how to focus my time at the event. Define what a successful event looks like for you in advance, and then chase your goals while there. Also remember to leave some time that isn’t scheduled. Frequently, I’ve come up with some new insights or ideas while listening quietly to someone else speak.

Outsource when appropriate. If many events are important to attend, consider elevating some of your team members in your place; it’s an amazing experience for them, and it will let you cover a lot more ground.