How to Network Better than 80% of People

Have you gone to a networking event where you know no one, and felt like you didn’t get much out of it? I’m not the world’s best at these events, but I’ve witnessed how a few minutes of preparation can get you 80% of the way there.

If you’re networking for an internship, the environment will be different than what this article suggests. These tips apply more to informal networking events like Campfire at Tech Ranch than talking to recruiters at a career fair.

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Rehearse Your Introduction

At a networking event, the first question you will often be asked is, “What do you do?”

Practice what you’re going to say and you will be a mile ahead of everyone who didn’t. I’ve seen too many people unable to clearly and concisely state what they do.

Some will say, “Hi, I’m Bob. I’m a software engineer at a startup working on, uh, an Android app that counts how many breaths you take per minute, and…”

NO ONE CARES! Be concise and tell them why you’re building that app.

“Hi, I’m Bob. I’m developing an app that helps optimize the performance of NFL football teams.”

I can guarantee that you’ll introduce yourself to people outside your field, so make your intro clear enough so that anyone without a computer science background can understand.

Approach Strangers

Imagine you’re at the networking event alone. You scan the room, looking for someone to talk to, and see lots of groups of 3 and 4. You feel nervous about approaching a group in the middle of a conversation, so you reach for your phone so you can look busy.

STOP! Keep your phone in your pocket! Walk up to a group of people and join their conversation. Or, approach someone who is all by themselves. Anyone standing alone at a networking event will be relieved to have someone to talk to.

Make the Conversation About Them

This part applies to pretty much all conversations, not just at networking events.

Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Rather than blathering about your billion-dollar startup idea, ask other people questions. If you can engage others by allowing them to speak, you’ll get much better results than anyone who monopolizes the conversation.

Good questions allow for more than a yes-or-no answer, such as, “What brought you here?” or “What’s it like working at <XYZ>?” And if your conversation partner reveals something you can help them with, even better.

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Let Others Know What You’re Looking For

Imagine you talk to a man named Bob for a few minutes. You talk about your jobs, the best restaurants in the city, and other normal things. As he leaves, Bob gives you his business card. The next day, you look at his card and wonder how you could help each other.

Maybe Bob was could have built a partnership with your company, but neither of you said anything about it. Whether you’re networking for a job, venture capital, or someone in a specific industry, you need to ask in one way or another!

It’s perfectly fine to include your ask in your introduction, as you end the conversation, or even in a follow-up email.

Test and Iterate

This is the least important for any individual day, but it’ll help in the long-term.

Rehearse multiple introductions and conversation questions and see what works. Saying “I’m an engineer on a robotics project” could get drastically different responses than “I develop software for industrial robots.” You’ll know if your statement is good or bad within three tests.

Personally, I’ve had great success when I’ve used the test-and-iterate model in my own conversations.

The Easy 80%

These simple things will get you 80% through any networking event. If you spend 15 minutes of preparation, you’ll be better off than the majority of “randos.” Rehearse your introduction, approach strangers, talk about them, and tell them what you need. And to go farther, test and iterate.

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Why I Didn’t Start a Board Game Company

Rise and Fall of the Idea

Last spring, I was extremely excited about developing a board game and funding it through Kickstarter. I did research, made a prototype, got user feedback, and even got quotes from manufacturers. Everything seemed to be going upwards.

One day, I was talking about the project with a friend.  He asked me, “What makes your game different?”

I didn’t know what to say. I walked among the massive shelves of tabletop stores and saw the thousands of titles already out there. After a few days, I couldn’t come up with an answer that could satisfy even myself.

My friend’s question made me reconsider my project as a whole. All my planning up to that point had been highly optimistic. I took an honest look at the numbers and there was no way I could cover the cost of art, marketing, manufacturing, fulfillment and the like. Even the best game designers sold only a few hundred copies in their labors of love.

Less than three months after beginning, I killed the project. I released the rules online as a free print-and-play. Aside from a few plays with my friends, it was the end of my board game Kickstarter project.

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Even the best game designers sold only a few hundred copies in their labors of love.

Why I Killed the Project

In life, I feel that you have to say “No” to a lot of good things to say “Yes” to a few great things. I didn’t want to invest my life making the game into a company. Instead, if I were to take part in a startup, I would want to fill a software-related role.

I got a good picture of what it takes to run a Kickstarter campaign from Jamey Stegmaier’s blog, and it’s tough work. A founder/designer/manager like Jamey often works 80 hours a week–a Kickstarter campaign alone takes over 20 hours per week in the months leading up to the campaign. Even if I had all the money in the world, playing games with my friends is much more fun than the gritty behind-the-scenes work.

I saw firsthand that it takes more than just ideas to make a successful company. Though the people who played the game generally enjoyed it, there’s more to a venture than just a neat idea. If ideas were worth anything, lots of people would have printed out copies of their own or commented on BoardGameGeek.com. Almost no one did. I find that breaking through the crowd is more about marketing than content.

If I were to dedicate my life, my identity, to a venture, I want something that scales and could impact the world. I want gaming to be a hobby of mine, but not my identity.

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Though the people who played the game generally enjoyed it, there’s more to a venture than just a neat idea.

A Good Experience

Though the previous paragraphs sound a bit bleak, a lot of good experiences came out of the project. I used a minimum viable product to get rapid user feedback, learned how it’s very, very hard to build a following, and found a new respect for people who run crowdfunding campaigns.

Perhaps most importantly, I had fun and made a few new friends. And for that, I’d say the project was a good experience.

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Shower Fresh Part 2: Infusey

Last year, I helped prototype a showerhead for infusing herbs (like lavender) into your shower water. Since then, a new team has re-formed, re-designed the product, and re-named it Infusey. Earlier this year, they launched a Kickstarter campaign. Sadly, they failed to fund.

Although I’m no longer part of the team, I’m impressed with what they’ve done. The new team used 3-D printing to test out new designs. After many iterations, you can tell the showerhead has come a long way since our original PVC prototype.

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However, Infusey might just be a pipe dream at this point. The team isn’t hasn’t worked on the project very much since the Kickstarter ended. Though they may not have built a business out of scented shower adapters, I was glad to have been involved with the original team.

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Why People Browse the Internet Until 3AM

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I have a theory. It explains why people browse the Internet until 3am, even though they’re tired and want to sleep.

Willpower is a finite resource. You need willpower to make intentional decisions–otherwise, your brain will go with your “default” behavior.

During the day, you “use up” willpower when choosing what clothes to wear, processing information at work, or any task that requires heavy thinking. By the end of the day, you’re tired and have little willpower left.

Once you start browsing the Internet at night, it takes mental effort to decide when to stop. The default choice is “one more page.”

And then you end up browsing social media until 3am.

Maybe this also explains why bad decisions are made in the middle of the night.

What do you think?

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Why I Don’t Follow the News

The News is a Lot of Noise

In high school, I listened to NPR while driving. When I went to college, I had no car, and suddenly stopped listening to the news. Additionally, I had no subscriptions to newspapers or news websites.

Did I feel like I was missing out? Not at all. I realized it was beneficial not to follow the news too closely. The news is a lot of noise.

Think of news reports as a graph. When I get hourly updates (or micro-updates), I’m zoomed in and I miss the big picture. When I receive information once a month, I see broad trends. Everyday fluctuations tell me nothing. General trends might affect my life.

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Did I feel like I was missing out? Not at all.

Worse than Nothing

In fact, micro-updates are worse than nothing. A negative fact makes my subconscious more upset than a positive fact makes me happy. So even if my media stream recorded an even balance of positive and negative facts, my head would be filled with a bunch of updates that a) have almost no meaning to my life b) make me unconsciously worse off than if I knew nothing.

If something is important, I will find out about it without being told by the news. Oftentimes, the most relevant news arrives to me by word of mouth. It’s a wonderful organic filter.

I’ll admit, this means that the first time I hear about a political event, it might be presented differently based on who I hear it from. But I think that’s no worse than getting news from only liberal (or only conservative) sources.

So what do you do now, Sheldon?

I do check social media every day, but not obsessively. In fact, I turned off most notifications. And when I see news articles on social media, I very rarely click on them.

I don’t follow politics too closely anymore–general trends are better. If I want to find out about candidates, I do an intentional search on the Internet. And when it’s election time, I vote.

I don’t obsess over Google’s stock price or indexes. I have almost no influence on markets, so I get angry when I hear micro-updates like “The Dow Jones gained 1.2% in the first hour of trading.” That’s completely useless information!

Am I recommending living exactly like me? No. But I feel that I’m not missing out on anything, and I can focus on the things that matter more to my life.

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