Congratulations folks! You have just been invited to your first conference or maybe you’re just starting out, welcome to the ‘world of networking’! Why do I say that?

By public conference, I refer to those conferences where would most likely know only a few people unless you are quite senior. OR a conference where you are a newbie

When you were applying to school and were young, you applied to the best ranked university that you could get into. In addition to working with the best minds in the business, your cohorts also will form a network that will support in your endeavour to rise to the top. In fact, as you go up the corporate ladder, you will learn that the hard skills that you learnt will be used sparingly. It is in fact the soft skills that will hold you in good stead. Your network is how you would leverage the soft skills. Therefore, YOUR NETWORK IS YOUR NETWORTH. 

With start-ups, young folks can start at middle management and might be led to believe that hard skills are not important. Interestingly, it is your hard skills that impress your mentors and co-workers in any job environment that you operate in. Similarly, as a start-up entrepreneur out of college, it is your hard skills that will set you apart from your cohorts. Lets start and learn to leverage our soft skills in a public environment.

Assuming that you either went to college or to work in a job, the first people you need to dip into are the people who work with you. Now, they may be able to set you up with their acquaintances who are coming to the public conference.

For example, You have honed your skills in the dairy industry but you want to launch a product in some other industry, may be consumer goods or durable consumer goods. What does one do? If you are trying to enter into a new industry as well, you will need to indentify “connectors or lynchpins”, who are plugged into multiple networks to help you straddle into another industry.  My advice is to ask your network if they know such “lynchpins” even if the industries are completely different; say you are a nuclear scientist looking for entry into dairy farming.


You are from nuclear science and want to get into dairy farming; you obviously do not have much of a network at all the right levels. You therefore need to talk to people within your network to introduce you to their networks down the chain. Let’s explore the conference route first and then I’ll dwell on the other entry points.

The Process
  • Identify the conferences across about the dairy industry.
  • Use the internet to identify the most favoured industry conference distilling for
  1. Maximum followers with some adverse comments
  2. Please pay attention to adverse comments to enhance the efficiency while appreciating that every leader has its set of naysayers
  3. Make it a point to attend the ones that are most effective when it comes to networking. Evaluate conferences that are considered efficient for both exhibitors, people who are in the trade and have good speakers. At a good exhibitor conference, the speakers would be top class. That’s a good proxy about which conference you want to spend money on and where you would like to be because it is an expensive proposition attending a daylong conference.
  • Typically you should attend the top 2 to 3 conferences but if you are unable to decide, then choose one based on the one with fewer distractions at the locale of the conference; Eg. Some conference locations lack adequate mobile phone networks and the leaders tend not to be work calls all the time.

A two day conference will set you back by approximately $1000, therefore it is important to ensure that you spend your money wisely and therefore if you are going to be attending a 2-3 day conference you want to make sure that $3000 – $4000 dollars are well spent.


The best places which are most attended by people are conferences that are held at the hub of the industry or held at exotic locations where all the important people in the industry come for an annual vacation with their families.


In Oil and Gas, one of the good places to attend a conference would be in Texas or any exotic location where most people from oil and gas are planning for a vacation and it’s an annual one. So check out those, pay the hefty price and try and network at that conference.


Look for early bird discounts when it comes to booking a slot at a conference or booking hotel rooms.


Tip:  Arrive a day earlier at a conference and try and be the last one to leave. Earlier is better because most people do not schedule anything for the evening before the conference. This is a great time to network.

Time to network – Least distraction
  • Find out the organiser of the conference company, get to know him on a first hand basis, connect with him on Social Media.
  • Tell him what you are trying to achieve, your background.
  • Immediately build a relationship such that he helps you identify who are the key speakers/ confirmed speakers/ confirmed attendees at the conference.
  • If he is able to share all this data with you including the name of the companies and the lead exhibitors, it will put in front of you a very valuable database.
  • Try and host some of the speakers and prominent attendees of the conference for dinner or for drinks after dinner that is a good way to start.
  • Make sure you have done some research about these people. Sometimes, sincere networkers speak with managers within the Mr X’s (target’s) company even though they may not know the Mr X direct. If the person is a big daddy, they are usually legends floating around him within the company about what they like, what they dislike and their passions. It is good to know information.
  • When you get introduced, make sure you have a slide ready or write a couple of lines about the idea that you want to pursue. DETAILS IN PITCH PREPARE SECTION.
    • I have done some pretty stupid things – I was once introduced to the Education Minister of India and to whom I explained the idea of the start-up. He asked if there is something he could do to push my business and help me grow. I had certains asks but since I was not prepared. Whenever you go for a meeting, you should always be ready for the next question and the next question after that until you reach a point where the person is unable to help. Imagine – I should have had the entire letter detailing out my asks ready for a handover.
    • A good way to start is by creating the right impression.
  • Another way that I often use is that, I write a blog or a note about something really interesting and use that as a follow up in about 5-7 days to communicate back to the person (whom I had been introduced to).
For example:

If Jack Welch is coming to a conference or the CEO of Kraft is coming to a conference and I need to get to know him.

I become buddies with the conference manager and request him if he could get me 5-7  minutes with the CEO of Kraft, since I have a start-up I am looking for a platform for an elevator-pitch. In order to aid the conference manager I would send him the following:

  • I will make a short note of myself
  • My achievements
  • The universities I went to and
  • A portfolio photograph

With that, he would be be able to substantially introduce me, acknowledging the fact that I would probably get a 5 minute window with the CEO of Kraft and that I will not let him down.

  1. Prepare a pitch for exactly 5 minutes, just 5 slides. It’s always useful to convert those slides into a picture (a picture explaining the problem, and a picture explaining the solution)
  2. Add your details on the 6th slide.
  3. Keep the pitch ready for print at least a day prior to meet.
  4. As soon as the conference manager introduces you to the CEO of Kraft cheese throw this elevator pitch in and ask him for 5 minutes of his time to help covert this idea.
  5. Anything can go wrong with the CEO’s schedule – Be ready to accompany him in the car to the airport or even email the slides.

Tell the conference manager that you are even ready to accompany him in his car to the airport, which basically means, you’re trying to put across your enthusiasm in meeting him.

You are not going to waste his time and just in case he agrees, tell him you will be happy to even help find time on a drive to the airport.

  • Try and connect with them independently and then get introduced to the same people through the conference manager.


In the likelihood you cannot do enough research about the person and invite him over for drinks at a certain time on the day before the conference, if he lands in early, you can meet a certain gentleman from 7.30 – 8.

You can then meet a lady heading to a certain function from another company from 8-8.30, maybe they already know each other and therefore it will help you put your best foot forward.

  • When you meet up with them, make sure that you are very well prepared in terms of their backgrounds, the markets they service.
  • You will find all that data normally on the web, so make sure you have enough information about them, you have enough information to sell them, the fact that you are not wasting their time.
  • Keep your business ideas ready.
  • Keep a Performa term sheet ready if you want a contract with their company.
  • Also decide on what your terms and conditions would be and some professionally prepared business cards and you are off to a good start.

Now that you have interacted with them the night before make sure to continue the engagement over the days of the conference. Everybody likes to be pampered so, drop in and say hi, or you can also introduce them to somebody you know that could be useful to them. It always helps for you to be able to help somebody first.

There are two ways to look at it.

  1. “You really want to be able to network you have to give something first. It always helps if you have something to offer to the person you want to network with because then the person feels indebted to you they will make an extra attempt to try and help you out.

2.“When you need for somebody to be able to help you to help them feel like god and therefore, if you feel somebody can help you, give him that opportunity to help you such that he can feel better about himself.”

It is far easier to extract opportunity from people who are well placed.


When you come out of this public conference, you would have:

  • Known at least 7-10 people, thanks to the conference manager
  • You would have interacted with them
  • They would know that you are trying to do something new in their field and you are free to pick up your email conversations with them who are likely to be your potential clients.
Ankush Patel