GUEST ENTRY: Taylor Ryan came to Denmark 2 years ago with a mission to work in Danish startups. After having worked at Planday, Actimo, and now Valuer.ai, he is sharing his insights on the importance of after-work events.
In my opinion, in-person networking is one the most underutilized opportunities that we all pass up on the regular in the startup scene.
Before I moved to Denmark for work, I spent 2 years attending an average of 2 events per week in Washington, DC. I can say with certainty that I’ve gotten a lot of value from it but I’ve also wasted countless hours of my life.
If you’re new to Denmark (like I was) and don’t have a network yet, there are only a handful of ways to acquire a fair amount of connections to provide value. While social media groups do tend to give you answers to questions, there is no replacement for developing meaningful connections offline.
Consider that your next job, business partner, or mentor might be a handshake away. If you needed to bounce ideas off someone in your industry, who are you going to contact?
Events are all what you make of it and while many of us don’t go because we’re busy, I wanted to share the 10 lessons I’ve learned from attending many years worth of events.
1. Not all events are created equal
1 out of every 3 events is worth your time and the rest fall on a spectrum. At a good event you’ll be able to meet someone or listen to a presentation that gives you value.
I wasted A LOT of time at poorly planned events and ones that were miscategorized or misrepresented. Don’t sweat it. There will be others.
2. Expensive conferences don’t have to be expensive
Many events are cost prohibitive if you’re just on your own or are a part of a small startup without the extra cash lying around.
I’ve met too many “professional conference goers.” These are the people that attend a few different events every quarter and they appear to get the most enjoyment from telling people about how they get to travel for work than actually doing any real work.
The fact is, conferences often don’t give you anything you wouldn’t get from attending meetups on your own. Most of the events post videos of all the presenters anyway.
Pro-tip: Volunteer: Volunteers usually work for half the conference and attend the other half. It’s a win-win. Just get in contact with event organizers and ask them if you can volunteer in exchange for a free ticket!
3. People are people — don’t be afraid
Networking is really easy even if you get really nervous. There are a thousand ways to break into a conversion. Most people are somewhat tentative about making a new acquaintance and someone has to break the ice. It’s most natural to do with people that are sitting/standing near you.
Pro tip: Use the canned material and observe the situation:
“Cool location right? It’s my first time here- my name is _____, what brought you here?”
“First time? It’s my first time here- seems pretty unique… any advice for someone that just started?”
“How long have you been doing ____? Do you like it?”
“Did you get anything out of the presentations?
“Hey- how often do they have these events?”
“What other events have you been to recently?”
4. Business cards actually help
If I’m really trying to work a room, I’ll usually hand out 5–10 cards in the span of half an hour. It really depends on you and your style but people will be able to connect with you far more easily if you give them something to take with them to look up.
It’s a nice touch and it’s dirt cheap these days, google “cheap business cards”
5. Dressing too nicely means you’re overcompensating
This is specific for the startup scene; if you show up in a tailored 3 piece suit or dressed like you’re going to a job interview at KPMG, people know you’re overcompensating.
It took me years of wearing suits to these things to realize most of the CEOs and C-Level folks I met never went all out on attire because they found it be counter to the startup culture and therefore “silly.”
6. People Lie
This shouldn’t be a surprise, right? A lot of people aren’t where they want to be in their career and want to sound more important. If you go often enough, it becomes kind of a fun game to spot the bullshit artists.
Some lies hurt more than others:
-Give me your card, we’ll definitely connect
-I know someone hiring for your skill set
-We should grab a coffee and talk in more detail
-I’ll definity follow up with you tomorrow
Again, don’t sweat it. Some people get too busy and others genuinely just forget to get in touch. If you’re interested in speaking with someone, put in the work and get in contact.
7. Bring a friend
It’s really common to meet people that come to these as a group of friends or collegues. It makes it easier to connect with others if you have a partner in crime. If you’re worried about looking stupid by going up to random strangers, bring a buddy. Most of my friends HATED going to networking events with me. Even my ex-colleagues found it unbearable.
When events say “free food” or “free beer,” make sure to mention that when you’re inviting them. Trust me- it changes the conversation pretty quickly.
8. You’re not too busy… you’re not:
If you have a favorite television show right now, you have time to go to events. Stop lying- you have the time. If you go directly from work or class to an event, you’ll be home in time for a late dinner.
Pro tip: Try to make 1 event (usually 1.5–2 hours) every 2 weeks, you’re doing more than most people in your industry.
You’re investing a little time in your future profession by being out there. If you don’t have the drive, you need to find it.
9. Events are NOT all about networking:
Many events give you the opportunity to network. But watch what happens to most of the people in the room after the event ends. They go straight for the doors and head home.
Most people go for the presentations. They want the insights that give them an additional edge at work and the ability to learn. And that’s okay!
Those that stick around are worth approaching. These people want MORE than just the free education.
Sites like Meetup let you see who’s attending and you can look people up on linkedin before and after the event. Put something in the comment section after the event — if you’ve got nothing to say- post a picture of the event!
10). Take a laptop + Stay organized:
I’ve been so mad at myself when trying to remember valuable insights a few weeks after a presentation. When I don’t bring my laptop, I don’t take good notes.
What was that tool he said again?
What company does what?
Where was that guy from?
Protip: I create a new MS word doc every time I go into a venue because half the time you can’t get on the wifi.
With my mobile, I snap a few photos, share the name and link to the the event, and put all the details of the event at the top of my word doc so when I put it into google docs later, I know how and where to find all my notes. It works.
Popular sites for events in Copenhagen:
Need help finding the right events to attend?
Events are fun! Don’t look at them like a chore or you’ll stop going.
If you’re attending 1 event a week every 2 weeks and making new connections each time, you’re playing the odds. Do yourself a favor and invest time in growing your network. You never know what these connections will allow you to do in the future.
Any questions? I’m happy to connect here.