Cody McLain, CEO of WireFuseMedia LLC, built his first company in middle school and sold it when he was 18. He has gone on to start several other ventures and is now focusing on building a personal brand. He also enjoys flying planes and traveling around the world as a photographer, and is writing his first book.
Recently, YEC spoke with Cody about his experiences networking, and his advice for others aspiring to improve their own experience. His best advice is below.
Know That Networking Takes Time
Know that nobody is born with a natural ability to network. It’s something that takes time to develop and it can truly be mastered like an art form the more you practice. As an introvert who spent most of his life in the basement on the computer, it was extremely hard for me at first, which is why I avoided it for so many years. However, once I committed to a few events, it got easier as time moved on. Now I’m almost a pro at recognizing what other people are feeling, and knowing how to move conversations and exit conversations. It’s all just another skill to be mastered, so don’t fret at messing up or feeling awkward.
Give Everyone an Equal Chance
At a standard networking event for the hosting industry, I came across the CEO of a datacenter. We started off the conversation just talking about ourselves but found out we had a lot in common — it was quite uncanny. Over the next few months, anytime he visited Austin we would always meet up and we always helped each other with advice. Whereas most of my advice came from a branding and marketing perspective, he gave me advice from an operational perspective. It was a relationship we still have to this day and I think we both sort of consider ourselves mentors for each other.
Maximize Your Interactions
It’s important to know when to end the conversation. As you practice, it will become easier to pick up on certain cues if the other person isn’t interested in talking further, like if their eyes glance away at something else or if they check their phone. While it’s quite difficult for many to start new conversations, creating a rule of 5-10 minutes per person or group will help maximize the interactions you have with as many people at the networking event. Ultimately, everybody is there with a goal in mind. So having an exit is important to get the most out of the event.
Stick to a Routine
I’ve always found meetup.com to be the best place to find relevant groups, whether it be related to business or personal interests. It’s easy to add the meetup calendar to my own calendar and then hide it so it doesn’t clutter up my work calendar. Once a week, I’ll make the calendar visible and see if there are any upcoming events I’m interested in attending.
Prioritize and Follow Through
It helps to read a few articles before an event about the industry or perhaps a new development in a particular industry. Say you’re trying to recruit a developer. Read some of the latest news related to that developer before you meet them. Then you can bring it up and let him discuss something he is passionate about. It really comes down to finding those conversation starters because people love to talk about themselves. And having a few things in place to help get the conversation started helps.
For follow-ups, it depends on the person. I have a little happy face stamp that I will stamp onto any business cards for people I wish to follow up with. Then I will scan that with my NeatScanner and have my assistant convert those with the stamp into my Google Contacts and set up a task to follow up with that person at a later date. This helps to prioritize which people are most relevant to my interests and then create actionable tasks so that our potential relationship doesn’t slip through the cracks.
Tell a Story
Telling a story can have one of the biggest impacts in making yourself stand out. If you’re talking about a particular subject and you recall a personal experience, then explain that experience. We humans love stories, as they keeps you following a narrative. Consider how you can tell what you do in a story format. I might say I’m an entrepreneur and I run X company, but it’s more intriguing and generates actual follow-up questions if I say I started my first business in middle school.
Take Your Time Entering a Large Conversation
One time I entered a conversation of eight moderators on a popular forum. I had some things to say, as I find myself being more blunt and truthful than most. After talking about the issues in the forum, they started to exit the group one by one until I was left talking with just one person. It was only then did I realize I had broken apart a whole group by coming in and taking over the entire conversation. Since then, I’ve learned to find more graceful ways of entering groups.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.