Things That'll Probably Happen at That Networking Event You're Going To in SF
You work in tech—and you're in San Francisco? Shocking.
If there’s one thing that can be said about San Franciscans, it’s that we sure do love our city – quirks, nuances, isms, Sushirritos and all. Every place has its stereotypes, and they can be even more amusing when they play out in front of you in a perfect echo of déjà vu.
If you’ve been to a panel or networking mixer lately, you already know that the following come hand in hand with your nametag and the event’s predetermined #TwitterHashtag.
You’ll have a socially awkward encounter – and it won’t be your fault
Social awkwardness has been well-documented on Silicon Valley for good reason. We’re the undisputed tech capital of the world, and there’s no shortage of brilliant minds around here. But sometimes it feels like there are more conversational fumbles in this place than there are BART delays.
A lack of stable eye contact, politeness or ability to speak beyond one-word answers can be a tragic side effect of the ubiquitous startup-branded hoodie. Sometimes, all the free craft beers in the world can’t loosen up a floundering social situation.
How to deal: Don’t let yourself feel embarrassed, just move on when a friendly icebreaker doesn’t ignite a conversation. Better yet, if you’re looking to network with people in certain industries or at a particular company, volunteer to run the sign-in desk. It’ll keep you in the know about who’s present and help you put a face to a name so you can park by wine station and innocently drop a conversation icebreaker.
You’ll make a new bestie and never hear from them again
Sometimes a great conversation buddy isn’t a challenge to find at all. Let’s say you strike up a chat with the person sitting next to you that you’re actually stoked about. By the end of the evening, you’ve brainstormed at least three business ideas with your new friend, exchanged business cards, added each other on Linkedin and promised to grab lunch next week.
Then, crickets ensue.
How to deal: don’t be afraid to be the initiator. San Francisco is a city full of hustlers, but sometimes you’ve gotta be the one who puts the pedal to the gas.
On the other hand, if you feel like you’re having a hard time connecting with people at these types of events (understandable – it can feel very forced and unnatural) look for other ways to increase your level of involvement with the hosting organization.
Find out who the leaders are. Get in touch. Help out with future events. Consistency leads to stronger connections.
Someone will dominate the Q&A with unnecessary questions
It’s great that many panels allot time for a brief Q&A session after The Next Mark Zuckerberg shares his Silicon Valley Cinderella story. It’s less great when someone tries to hijack the Q&A with four questions in a row or grill the speaker, but it happens from time to time here.
How to deal: if you don’t manage to have your question forwarded to said speaker, try sending a friendly e-mail or tweet letting him know how much you enjoyed hearing his story and insights. You can also try to get a word with him after the event is over, but be prepared for a very long and cutthroat line to form the second the event is dismissed.
Someone will complain about the vegetarian food options running out
We’re a diverse bunch who are generally accommodating of alternative lifestyles, but sometimes avocado bruschetta bites are too good for the omnivores to pass up.
How to deal: BYOKC (bring your own kale chips).
You’ll hear the comparison-game in the background
You can’t walk down a street in downtown Palo Alto without hearing “VC” or “algorithm.” Similarly, it’s hard not to overhear someone introducing their startup as the next Google/Uber/Airbnb, “but better.”
How to deal: Welcome yourself to the Valley. Even if you’ve lived here your whole life. Enjoy the vibes and the Anchor Steam.
Here's where you can practice your Networking chops:
If your networking game is rusty, a great place to start is Pizza & 40’s, hosted by folks at The Hustle. Past speakers include founders of Hint, Philz Coffee and Behance. Geek Girl Dinners are great for the STEM ladies in the Valley. They’ve co-hosted events all over the Bay Area with just about every company from Google to Genentech. Also keep your radar tuned for General Assembly’s calendar – they often offer free workshops that can help you sharpen your skill set and learn something cool.