By: Erin In a recent Harvard Business Review survey of more than 2,300 people, 79 percent said that in-person meetings are the most effective way to connect with new clients, while 95 percent said that a face-to-face meeting is a key factor in successfully building and maintaining trusting, long-term relationships. The MassChallenge speed networking event was organized to do just that: establish relationships. The first ever MassChallenge speed networking event was held at Microsoft's New England Research and Development (NERD) Center in Cambridge. To provide each attendee with a personalized experience, MassChallenge coordinators asked each attendee to fill out a basic background questionnaire to indicate the type of people we preferred to meet. The information was used to setup “blind dates” based on networking objectives. The evening was filled with the best and brightest in Boston's entrepreneur community. I discussed innovative ideas and future collaboration across a variety of industries with a great number of people. However, not everyone I spoke to was an entrepreneur. At one point during the evening, I was paired with a financial advisor and an attorney. Even though our interests didn't align perfectly, we still had meaningful conversations. Here's how to have interesting conversations at networking events: 1) Past experiences: Everyone comes from somewhere. Ask the new contact about her past careers, cities where she has lived and universities she attended. That can lead you to a statement like, “Oh, you went to Boston College? So did my best friend, Jane Smith.” 2) A friend-of-a-friend scenario: It turns out Jane Smith's boyfriend works with your contact's husband, who happens to work for a new startup. Trusting relationships and recommendations are as good as gold in the world of startups and entrepreneurs, so make connections. 3) Extracurricular passion: Most people enjoy activities outside their careers. If you can't connect with someone on her past experiences or acquaintances, try to find out what she loves in life. You never know; you might find your new running buddy at the next networking event. How do you connect with people at networking events?
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