Tech meetups and talks are a great way to get to know fellow developers in your locality. But it can be challenging if you are introverted by your nature. Although you may not be introverted, some find it challenging to approach people when they first attended a meetup. Networking is a core part of why many attend meetups — whether to find a project to work on, a new job or just a friend. This article is motivated by knowing my past-self and others would benefit from how to network at meetups.
First of all, know who attend meetups. Developers! Rather than being a source for discomfort, you can look around the room in the midst of Gitlab hoodies, beards and sticker covered laptops and breath a sigh of relief. These are your people. Developers are like spiders, they are more afraid of you than you are of them. So just approach them! They won’t hurt you.
A primary source of fear comes from not know what to speak about once you approach someone. At a meetup, beyond the “hey what’s your name” basic stuff, I ask “What project are you most passionate about at the moment? — whether at work or in your spare time”. Or perhaps “Are you going to use any of the tech that was mentioned in today’s talk?”. A safe starter question is just to ask them what they do day to day at work. Be interested in people. People are interesting and always, especially with a developer, excited about something. Find what they are excited about and then drill down on it.
Avoid questions that can be answered with “yeah it’s alright” or “yeah good”. These are Boolean questions. Instead of asking “Did you enjoy the talk” ask, “Is there anything you’re going to apply today from the talk in your work? I’ve not used X technology before but the principles carry over into Y project I’m doing”. The main object of these questions is to get the person talking. People will latch onto you if they do most of the talking.
Often groups can form and so it can seem like you’re butting in on the conversation but don’t fear this! Either look around for a couple of people sitting down or try and ease your way into the group. Don’t feel awkward, just start listening to the conversation. Be careful not to already ask a question that may have been asked previously. Latch onto some new information that is mentioned and ask about that.
Don’t be afraid to end a conversation, you can’t stay at the meetup all night and you want to speak to more than one person. Simply say “It’s been great chatting with you, could we continue this? I have some interesting questions for you. What’s your email and/or LinkedIn?”. Then hand them your phone to put your details in. Keep it professional so try to stick to professional forms of contact (usually email, LinkedIn or Twitter).
After the meetup, try to follow up with an email with a question based on what you spoke about. Keep a template handy that you can fill in for speed.
By even your second meetup, you’ll find it a lot easier to begin speaking to people and the initial barrier will be cut down. Becoming a regular, you’ll also get to know friendly faces so you can check in with them to see how their project is going or their job hunt.
Although these tips are to help you there will be times when you say the wrong thing or blurt something out at the wrong time. But don’t be afraid, we all do it. Even the queen wears underwear as they say. Networking shouldn’t be shied away from for fear of social embarrassment or for looking like a yuppie, it’s a critical part of your careers development and could potentially open many doors for you — it has for me.
If you would like to read more, I discuss similar topics as well as more in-depth technical posts here on my blog. I also tweet here.