A Minute-By-Minute Breakdown of How I Navigate Networking Conversations

Matt Bilotti
Matt Bilotti



Sometimes I find myself in a conversation that just seems to go on and on ... and on ... and on. Then 45 minutes later, I realize I've been zoning out the whole time and the event I'm attending is nearly over.

This results in an evening spent accomplishing, well, nothing. But when I take the time to connect with new people, I want to ensure I meet those who I can leverage the most - and those who can leverage me the most - during the few hours we have.

That's why I've learned to keep a mental note of the time I spend on each conversation.

Here's how I break it up:

 10-60 Seconds:

Start with a normal, more formal introduction. This is typically where we exchange names and banter about something related to the event. 

 Mental Note: By the end of this first minute, we just need to have the conversation started. Oftentimes this is actually the hardest part.

 1-2 Minutes:

Now we exchange a pitch about what we do for living or what we're working on. Some people argue that directly asking someone what they do isn't the best approach, but I personally think it's important to ask for this fundamental knowledge to figure out where a conversation might lead. 

Questions to help navigate: 

  • So, what do you do?
  • That's a sweet startup t-shirt. Do you work there?
  • I'm not sure I knew what to expect when I came here. Have you been before?
  • Have you checked out [XYZ]  app? What did  you think?

 Mental Note: By the end of our second minute, we should have an understanding of where this conversation is headed: 

  Professional Connection   Personal Connection     No Connection  

We learn more about what the person specifically does because it's related to our work in any of the following ways:

  • They could be a customer or partner.
  • We could connect them to others (or vice versa).
  • One of us can mentor the other due to our similar experiences.

We learn there's no overlapping professional interests but we do connect on a personal level, so:

  • They could be a friend or peer.
  • We could attend future events together.
  • We can expand each other's interests or expose one another to new expertise.

We realize there's no overlapping professional or personal interests. 

In instances like these, we should bow out and move on if there's no clear way we can benefit one another.

 2-5 Minutes:

Based on what path we find ourselves on, we're doing one of two things:

1. Diving deeper into the conversation and learning more about they do.

2. Finding a way to pleasantly exit the conversation. We'll be posting on how to do handle this gracefully later this week.

 Mental Note: During these few minutes, we need to either completely escape or know there's some potential value.

If I ever find myself in a conversation where I can barely get a word in, I generally try to get out sooner rather than later. We're looking for shared value among two people, not just one person's perceived value of themselves. 

 5-10 Minutes:

If I haven't left the conversation by this time stamp, it means I'm truly building a valuable connection. At this point, we should be discussing ideas on how we can be helpful to one another or we're simply geeking out over our shared field / interest. This could yield any of the following results:

  • A connection to brainstorm our next startup idea or development with.
  • A opportunity to be introduced to someone in their network or vice versa. 
  • A mentor or mentee.
  • A client or prospect for our growing business.
  • A resource for the next best book to read or app to try.

 Mental Note: Ten full minutes of conversing with someone should give us a clear understanding that this connection is and will be a valuable one. After the event, I keep track of my connections on a Trello board. It helps me visualize and understand the relationships I'm building in my network.

 10+ Minutes:

When I make it to this stage of a conversation, I'm focused on either:

  • exchanging contact information / discussing how we'll follow up with one another.
  • continuing the conversation because I've recognized this connection is more valuable than any other connection I could allocate time to that night.

 Mental Note: Only continue past the 10-minute mark if the perceived value of the connection is incredibly high - for example, if we're speaking with a VC who has limited time outside this moment. Otherwise, gracefully close and move on to the next person.

With the above strategy, I'm typically able to meet at least six different people over the course of a networking event, but my general rule is to leave with at least one beneficial contact. While I don't mind deviating from this, my focus is to build a high quality of connections over a high quantity - or "maximizing the power of numbers," as the saying goes. 

After the event, I follow up with my new connections with a personalized, value-add email. 

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