Compelling speakers? Check. Chances to network in smaller groups? Check. IRL party? It’s 2020, so you can’t have everything. But we certainly felt pretty festive logging on.
The eighth Startupnight took place last week and it was entirely unique — due to the demands of the pandemic, this was the first installment of the Berlin startup event to take place entirely online. One of the most fascinating aspects was how Startupnight faced that problem head on. Club GLOBALS CEO and founder Mario Paladini gave a talk on networking like a pro — a subject that we could all use a bit of a hand with right now — and explained how to forge connections in an entirely digital moment. Mario has 25k contacts on LinkedIn and he’s a charismatic guy who makes people smile. Who better to advise us?
“When you’re headed to an event, wear something that makes you stand out.” He stresses this could be a flower in your buttonhole, some bright socks, whatever will draw people’s eyes to you. Mario himself wears thick brightly coloured glasses, and he always changes the colour of his frames from event to event to match the milestone he’s hoping to meet. “This is what marketing calls a ‘what is it?’ It’s an opener — people come over to ask you about your glasses.”
Mario suggests joining a platform where you can create a polished profile and tend to your network and he suggests investing in a professional photo for your profile to give a good first impression. He suggests trying to publish genuinely valuable content: “If you have CRM software, you can send newsletters or create blogposts. In short, you should use tech to get closer to your contacts.”
“It doesn’t make sense simply to go out and network. You need a goal. In other words, why do you need to network? Are you trying to raise funds, find customers, find a community?” Mario suggests once you’ve set your goal, you should then research what events correspond to your goal. The homework doesn’t stop there! Once you’ve figured out what event you’re going to, research the guestlist in advance and figure out who you want to speak to.
This doesn’t, he stresses, mean that you should sidle up to Person X and tell them you want to talk to them. Instead, you should try and secure “a warm-up intro” to that person from another guest at the event. “If a friend is talking to the person you want to chat to, go to them and ask them to connect you with that person. Otherwise, go to the host and ask them for help. If you don’t know anyone, go to the bar, have a drink and just talk to the people who come to the bar. Ideally you want to make connections feel natural, don’t make them feel forced.”
Mario suggests the most useful language you can learn is body language, since “Non-verbal communication is essential. Look at the way they smile, if they’re showing you teeth when they do so, all this is information. Note every gesture.”
He also suggests that staying aware of your own body language is vital: “Focus on the person you’re talking to. Look them in the eye, give them genuine attention. And most important of all? Smiling doesn’t cost you anything — whatever language you’re talking in, whatever culture you’re operating in, you can’t go wrong with a smile.”
At networking events, it can be all too easy to get overly self-involved — finding the right people to talk to, focusing on what you want from them. Mario suggests that instead, you should start by really listening to what the other person is saying. Since the aim to forge long-term valuable relationships, your aim should be to find a common interest – once you do that, you’ll deepen the connection.
He suggests doing what might not feel intuitive: “Focus more on the we, not the me. How can you add value to the event? How can you help others to make things happen?”
Sometimes the group or event you want to exist…doesn’t. In which scenario, Mario advises you to create your own group or start your own event series. When Mario moved to Germany from Argentina, he started looking for a global sales community on LinkedIn but came up short. His next step? To found a group addressing that on LinkedIn, which now has 250,000 followers. Emboldened by this success, he founded the first english-speaking Rotary club in Berlin and the first Rotary e-club. “I love to bring people together to make things happen, especially with regards to social stuff. After connecting the newcomers in the city, I created a platform to do so: Club GLOBALS, which was supposed to be like Yellow Pages for international people. If you don’t find your network or your group, create it and people will join you.”
In terms of LinkedIn, Mario suggests: “If you have content you regularly share, I would suggest working with the algorithm, creating live videos because these are hot right now. Stories too – LinkedIn are bringing in ideas from other social networks. Obviously it depends on what your audience’s business is, so make sure you tailor to the industry you’re working in.”
Want more in-depth help with networking? Check out Mario’s work at https://mariopaladini.com/ and https://clubglobals.com