A few stories ago, we discussed the influential power of networking and how beneficial new contacts can be for founders. Today we decided to dive deeper into the communication approach used within the framework of networking events — best practices and activities to engage the audience and break the ice.
As the Head of Pipeline and Partnerships at Vibranium.VC, Valentina Pidgaina leads startup scouting initiatives and cultivates business relationships with other VCs, accelerators, and corporations.
In this post she will share her personal experience of networking activities she liked the most and why. It is crucial to always remember that EVERY networking event is about making new connections. These connections have the potential to lead to fruitful collaborations and friendships, both of which hold equal significance in the venture world.
Moving to the USA
It’s been quite some time since I joined the Vibranium.VC team and moved to the USA. As a newcomer in Silicon Valley, I explored its unique ecosystem, understood its approach and mindset, and realized that America truly is the land of opportunities.
When people ask me how I’m finding life in the US so far, I always respond by saying that if you have a clear sense of your identity (who you are), your goals (what you do), and what you can contribute to the community, almost every door can open for you here. However, the process of developing and nurturing relationships is an entirely different story. I’m excited to shed light on that topic in our future blog posts.
Happy hours, pitch days, and all that jazz
As a person responsible for scouting and partnerships in the fund, it was obvious to me that attending all kinds of events is the best way to explore the local ecosystem, expand networks, develop partnerships, find investment opportunities, and understand how this venture mechanism in Silicon Valley works. During the first year, we participated in more than 100 offline and online events. Not all of them were relevant, of course, but it helped me gain an understanding of some “do’s and don’ts,” align my expectations, and acquire an interesting approach to self-introduction and networking.
Breaking down event structure
Usually, the format of all events is the same: networking mixers or happy hours, which involve mingling with peers over food and drinks and engaging in endless conversations at a nice bar or office setting. Initially, I attempted to find an agenda for these events, but I soon realized that networking itself is the agenda. This was a complete shift from my previous approach used in Eastern Europe.
To truly establish oneself as an active participant in Silicon Valley’s innovation ecosystem and expand contacts, it is crucial to understand how networking operates here.
Itoften requires effective communication skills to engage in conversations about anything and everything, ranging from recent golf games to the most suitable grill for one’s backyard. You may be surprised by the variety of topics discussed at these events.
Big meaning of small talk
After attending numerous events like this, I’ve gained a true understanding of the culture of small talk and why it’s inappropriate to jump straight into business topics. This was, absolutely, the opposite approach for me as back where I’m from, at almost all networking events, you talk only about business matters, even when conversing with individuals you hardly know. Engaging in personal conversations was not a common thing at all. It took me quite some time to adopt this approach and switch my mindset to start acting and thinking the Silicon Valley way.
At times, I found myself feeling like I was in a job interview I never applied for:)
After being bombarded with questions about my background and responsibilities, I realized that I couldn’t recall the name of a person I spent time with or even the subjects we discussed. Why? Because it’s the person themselves that captures attention, and “who you are” takes precedence. While there are various methodologies (you can easily find them online) that can help navigate the aspects of small talk culture, the most important one is likely genuine interest in getting to know the person. If you don’t have that, trust me, none of the networking techniques will be effective.
Networking tools and formats I liked the most
Networking is about evoking emotions and leaving a positive impression — this is entirely credited to the organizers. As I mentioned earlier, I have attended over 100 events and through that experience, I have identified a few networking tools that I personally find the most captivating and beneficial for effective communication. These tools provided a quick and amusing way to entertain and engage all participants in a personality-first approach to networking. I would love to share it with you:
- On-to-one-to-many: talk to the closest peer to you, ask personal or business-related questions, and then prepare a short 30-second pitch in front of the group in the format: who is this person, how people in the group can help them in different ways and how this person can give back to the community. There is one rule to follow: all facts about the person have to be captivating and intriguing and not about humdrum business life. It’s a great tool for fostering deeper and more interactive conversations during dinner or lunch, suitable for groups of up to 30 ppl.
Getting a little personal never hurts:)
- Many-to-one: a volunteer who swiftly responds to randomly asked questions about preferences and opinions from the audience. The main rule to follow to is to provide simple answers to straightforward questions, avoiding long discussions. This tool can be used as an excellent icebreaker during the intermission between two parts of the program session.
- One-to-many: a beach ball (or 2–3 for multiple options) with challenging and sometimes tricky questions written on each segment using markers. The ball is tossed into the audience, and a randomly selected participant must answer the question on the segment they catch before passing it to someone else. This interactive game serves as a fantastic icebreaker, fostering engagement and energizing the group of 50+ individuals before the main part of the event starts.
These are just a few examples of productive networking approaches that I enjoyed and actively engage in. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that having the opportunity to discover interesting facts about the person you wish to connect with is always an excellent idea.
I would like to express my gratitude for the fascinating life hacks and inspiration provided by:
- Ravi Belani, CEO&Founder at Alchemist Accelerator. I enjoyed the “hot chair” activity at the Pre Demo Day party.
- Hustle Fund team for a fun interactive ice-breaking session with the beach ball at the Hustle Camp.
- Jon Staenberg, Managing Director at Agate Hound, and Zach Coelius, Managing Partner at Coelius Capital for my personals challenge of public speaking at the Investors Dinner event, and David Haraburda Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships at TriNet for being my interviewee.