Let’s be under no illusions, networking is tricky. Different people have different interests, communication styles, and motivations – which means that you really have to listen when you’re networking. Here, Ben Hindman (CEO of Splash) gives us his expert tips on how to CRUSH our next networking event:

The Unicorn in the Room: Episode 2

Try These 5 Networking Tricks and You’ll Never Need Another Business Card

Guest: Ben Hindman, CEO of Splash

MOLLY:

Hi there, it’s Molly Reynolds and you’re watching “The Unicorn in the Room,” where we examine the habits of the business world’s most influential unicorns and learn how to use our own personal magic to achieve business success.

Today’s unicorn can literally be described as “the life of the party” as he’s built an entire empire on helping people throw awesome corporate events. We’re of course talking about Ben Hindman, CEO of Splash. Please enjoy.

Ben, thank you so much for being our unicorn today!

BEN:

Thank you. Yay.

MOLLY:

So throwing a party is terrifying sometimes if you’re a marketer.

BEN:

Uh huh.

MOLLY:

I’ve totally been there and I’m still a bit shaken from events past! So I thought that maybe you could share with the business public – how do you throw a successful event. First of all, how do you get people to show up?

BEN:

You want to turn heads and therefore you want to make the event look as good on the page as it does in your mind. But maybe more importantly, you want people to want to be there because of the people that are there. What we found is, you don’t actually have to get 150 people excited about the event – you actually only have to get 5 or 7 people excited about the event. What I mean by that is, if you’re able to get a couple great well-liked and well admired people in and committed to attending, then you can do a couple things. You can actually leverage that social clout to get the rest. We’ve seen this done over and over again. There’s a lot of different ways to do it – number one, you can get those people to market on your behalf, kind of partner with them to get people excited about it – maybe give them VIP access to do so. Or you could even put their faces on the event invitation and really borrow their social clout.

We found in our studies that social clout is the number one influencer of attendance. If you can get people to see others that they admire and want to be like, You’re going to actually feel that room with the right kind of crowd.

MOLLY:

Now that’s social influence at it’s finest. Are we talking about social influencers, are we talking about leaders in the industry of the event that you’re throwing? Who are those people and how do you find them?

BEN:

That’s a great question. I think depending on the industry you’re in, you probably know who these people are and I’ve found that a mix of people who are well liked, but also admired – aspiration is a very strong emotion. Play on that. People don’t actually go to events of people that they like, they go to events of people they want to be like. So finding industry leaders, social influencers – those people who can just send out a Tweet and get a lot of people to go, yes, definitely get those people. But that’s not exactly what we’re talking about. We’re talking about people who have been successful and might actually set a benchmark for those whom you want to be in attendance. And often just by doing that – by kind of leveraging that clout – you set the tone for the event. And yeah, it makes people want to come. We are social creatures by nature.

MOLLY:

Yeah, for sure. So once people get to the event, how do you make sure they actually stay – and that you haven’t made all of this punch for no absolutely reason.

BEN:

Yes, lots of punch. Too much wasted punch in my day!

MOLLY:

Always!

BEN:

So much punch. Um. Getting people to stay is kind of just as hard. There are a couple of tricks to keeping people there.

Number one, I find that introducing a surprise the second they arrive – you can actually catch their attention and maintain it. By a surprise, it can be anything. It can be handing them a drink upon arrival – something as simple as that. It could be a cool welcome gift. It could be a very cool visual when they get there. It can be a door they open that gives them an interesting experience. That little surprise makes them know that they’re in good hands and it also gives them the promise of more surprises. I’ve found that anticipation gets people really to stick around. That’s number one.

Number two: is look, in the Maslo’s hierarchy of needs – feeding yourself is number one.

MOLLY:

Sure.

BEN:

At an event at least. I guess eating and drinking. So you want to make sure you’re feeding people. But feeding people can be a little dangerous because if you give them too much food, they get lackadaisical, the energy of the room can drop and that’s not exactly what you’re looking for. Also, too much food is really expensive. I just say, you need enough food to get them to stick around. And that could come in the form of appetizers or hors’d’oeuvres,

Last but not least, and this I think is our great job as an event marketer or event planner, is to give them a reason to connect. These people are here to get value from the other people in the room and sometimes that can be hard. It can be scary to walk up to someone, tap them and say “who are you”? Right?

MOLLY:

Yeah.

BEN:

So as an event planner to give them opportunities to meet each other, that’s an event planner’s great job. And that could come in the form of activities, That can come in the form of sharing food. We had this great event called “Walk and Wine” where people were breaking prawns on a table. And you get to know each other pretty well when you’re breaking prawns together.

MOLLY:

Yeah, yeah. It’s not the most graceful thing. You kind of just have to get in there.

BEN:

That’s exactly right – yes. Or really, anything – even name tags, like funky name tags can be a good opportunity to connect. We had an event recently where we had puppies running around. Nothing gets people to connect more than petting a dog together.

MOLLY:

Absolutely!

BEN:

It’s kind of like cheating.

MOLLY:

Well it kind of takes the emphasis off of having to say something profound – or knowing about somebody. So that’s a really cool thing. Going into networking though – switching gears a little bit. You know you made a point that people are nervous going to a party with others they don’t know. I’m terrible at it because I’m shy and socially awkward. I don’t stay at an event long I’m like, “oooh, I don’t know how to talk to any of these people. I’m getting some food in my purse and I’m going home!”

So how do you be a good guest? Entrepreneurs know they have to network. How do you actually do that?

BEN:

One trick that I’ve actually found is just being present at all – to not be on your phone. To not necessarily kind of be reading something, but just to be standing up straight and present – often times, people will come up and talk to you. That’s number one – just kind of not avoiding contact. That’s step number one.

Step number two is, I have fun asking questions or kind of engaging in the activities or the speeches going on. That’s a really big deal. And I find that especially in this digital age – people are all on their phones and it kind of stinks. To the degree that you can actually walk up, break someone’s pattern, ask them a question, catch their attention – more power to you.

One thing that I’ve been experimenting with and it’s been really effective and I know it’s very simple – as opposed to saying “hi” I’ll just say “hello.” I don’t know what it is about that extra syllable…

MOLLY:

I guess it musically sounds friendlier.

BEN:

Hello.

MOLLY:

Hello.

BEN:

Hello. Yeah. And last but not least, look – if you’re really going to an event to get value, if that’s your job – if you’re there on a business trip, if you’re looking to sell, researching the event, the event planner, the speakers, and the attendees – actually doing your homework up front – that’s what’s going to give you some added value at an event. And if they have guest books, if you’ve seen them on the websites, or if you’re able to know who’s going to be there, that can pay dividends. Then you know what to talk about – you know what they’re going to respond to. People love being flattered. Not creeped out. But flattered.

MOLLY:

There’s a fine line sometimes. You said something once where you said – we were talking about going to an event to actually get business. Because that’s what people are hoping when they network is eventually to get business. So what’s your rule when making connections at a party? Do you want to be that guy that’s just handing out business cards or are you more strategic about it?

BEN:

I appreciate you bringing this up. No business cards. In fact I have a very important rule. I never bring business cards to an event. I think of business cards as an opportunity to give someone something to throw away. Here’s a piece of paper you can throw away.

MOLLY:

Use it as your gum wrapper (I do that all the time).

BEN:

Just take that. No. Look, I think that if you really want to follow up with someone, capture their information, put it in your phone, get their phone number, their email and you follow up. To hand someone a business card is the equivalent of telling someone to forget about you. You probably won’t hear from them again. So yeah, I think business cards are pretty darn silly.

And when you do follow up, and you should – and you shouldn’t follow up once, you should follow up three times if necessary – don’t do so in a salesy way. I’ve found that building relationships often starts with friendship and added value into a relationship.

MOLLY:

What, so I shouldn’t go up to you at a party as someone I don’t know and five minutes later be like, “Buy my product!”

BEN:

That’s exactly what you shouldn’t do!

MOLLY:

Okay – so when does that happen. How does that unfold. You’ve been to a party, you’ve followed up with that person, you know you want to work with them. When do you introduce that?

BEN:

So I try to find some context that we both found at that event – sort of a shared connection and use that as our springboard when opening up a conversation in an email or a phone call next. The next thing is, you know, look, you made that connection in person. Your job should be another opportunity to meet in person. Either finding a dinner time, a lunchtime, a coffee or another event that that person might find value in – you know that they like events of this type. That should be what you’re recommending you should do next.

MOLLY:

Nice.
BEN:

Yeah, that’s how I usually follow up and at some point, you can always get straight to the point, but that comes later.

MOLLY:

Later. Ben, thank you so much for imparting your unicornial wisdom on us.

BEN:

Thank you, you’re too kind.

MOLLY:

Well that’s it for today, guys. I hope this gave you some great insights as you continue to crush your own personal goals.

And for more unicornial tips, please visit our website at TheUnicornintheRoom.com, or subscribe to our channel. Thanks for watching.

Formerly a Vice President of Content Marketing, Molly is the Co-Founder of The Unicorn in the Room, as well as a Marketing & Business Columnist for INC and The Huffington Post.

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