At SXSW, our primary goal is to celebrate creativity, innovation, ground-breaking ideas and the great community behind it all. Every year I’m increasingly amazed by the number of registrants who come to the event to learn, spark change and inspire one another.
If you’ve been to SXSW, you know that networking is golden. Whether you’re standing in line for a show, relaxing in a lounge or attending an event, you have access to thousands of the brightest minds of our time.
In 2011, we wanted a way for our attendees to network with like-minded folks in an informal setting, so we introduced “Meet Ups” to our programming lineup. This year, we have over 100+ topics featuring everything from a Tiny House Movement Meet Up, Web Series Meet Up, Women Entrepreneur Meet Up and even a Freestyle Rap Meet Up.
I love these gatherings for the sheer fact of being able to connect with other people with a shared interest or skill, if even it’s just a curiosity. Plus, this is where you really get to flex your networking muscle, and if you do it right, walk away with a lifelong friend or future business partner.
But keep in mind, networking doesn’t stop after you’ve left the event. Over the past 5+ years, I’ve learned that networking has no expiration date. I’ve met some wonderful people who years later, I finally had the chance to work with. Similarly, outside of the festival, some have become great friends, mentors or part of a larger connected group of creatives. You never know who you’re going to meet or the impact they’ll have on your life immediately.
While I was never formally taught how to network, I do think there is an art form to the process and you only get better. Here are my five tips for successful networking.
1. Be authentic with no agenda
I never approach a meeting thinking solely about myself or how the person can help me. The road goes both ways. While I don’t like to waste anyone’s time and specifically state why I’m asking for a meeting, I am fully aware that we could both walk away as acquaintances versus collaborators.
2. Go outside of your industry
Sure, it’s always great to spend time with other peers in your field of work, but I find we all end up talking about the same things. To me, the real gems of conversations come from those outside of your standard network.
3. Take every meeting
A dear friend of mine gave me this tip a few year’s ago and it’s led to some really wonderful friendships and collaborations. On paper or in social media bios, you will never fully understand a person’s background, experience or integrity. Meeting in person, even for 20 minutes, adds personality to the overall conversation.
4. Thank You’s go a long way
I am old school and still send a physical thank you when someone takes time out of their day to meet. If I’m traveling or it doesn’t feel appropriate to send a card, I always send a follow-up email shortly after. Personal touches still stand out.
5. Stay in touch
Keep the lines of communication open and check in only when you have something to say. I love the time of year when we’re a week out from the event and old contacts email to wish me and the team luck or congratulate us on an announcement. It’s timely and truly goes a long way. Do whatever is most genuine for you, and don’t lose touch with the connections you value.