Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess


Networking Events Are For… Networking!
February 11, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: Networking/Social Media

I really love attending meetups, tweetups, SMBs, and other various networking events. I work from home and it gets lonely sometimes, so I take advantage of as many of these as I possibly can. When I attend these events, I typically have a few people in mind that I’d like to meet, and in particular I like to introduce myself to the speakers. As I am the only person representing Waggener Edstrom at these events in the Midwest, I need to make sure that I represent the company well and make the connections necessary to do my job properly.

Oftentimes at these events that were designed for networking, there are people huddled together talking to the same folks they were talking to at the last 3 events. We’re all guilty of doing this from time to time – networking in a brand new environment can be scary. However, to me, that seems to negate the purpose of networking, which is to introduce new people and new ideas. Wiktionary defines networking as “the act of meeting new people in a business or social context.” However, a lot of folks don’t use these events for that.

Imagine this: you’re a brand new person to a networking event. You walk in and see small groups of people standing around talking to each other. You’re a little nervous, as this is your first time with this particular group of people, but you start to mingle. Most of what you get are quick glances, but no one really welcomes you to the event. After about 30 minutes of awkwardly standing to the outside of circles of people who already seem comfortable with each other, and grabbing a glass of water or a cheese cracker, you decide to leave, having concluded that you failed in your attempt to meet new people, and thinking perhaps this isn’t the right organization for you.

How many people have been here? This was a scenario that actually happened to me awhile ago. Let’s face it; for most of us networking is a bit intimidating. You’re putting yourself out there meeting new people, not knowing if you’ll have anything in common or how the conversation will flow. So here, I present a few ideas on how to make your networking experience a better, more productive one. These ideas can apply to both the brand new person, or the seasoned networker.

  • Know what your purpose is for attending the event. Networking events come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more professional in nature; others are more ‘happy hour’-like. Before you attend an event, decide why you are going. Is it to learn a new skill? Is it to meet a prominent person in your industry? Or is it simply to mingle with others who share a similar interest?
  • Prepare ahead of time. If your goal is to meet a specific person at an event, prepare ahead of time and let them know that you are looking forward to meeting them. Eventbrite.com is a fantastic tool for organizing events, and quite often there is a visible guest list for events where you can see who else will be attending. Before you go to your event, take a look at who else will be there. If you see someone whom you’ve wanted to meet, be proactive and reach out to them. Let them know that you are interested in speaking with them about <insert topic here> and that you hope to grab a few minutes with them at the event.
  • For seasoned networkers, mingle. When you only talk to the same people at every event you attend, you’re not really ‘networking’ – you’re hanging out with your friends. That can be accomplished with organizing happy hours after the events. If you are a regular networker, try to make yourself available to people you’ve never met before. If you notice a new person who looks a little lost, go introduce yourself to them, learn a little about them, and then dig around in your brain to see who you know at the event who would be a good connection for them. The same applies if you’ve brought a guest with you. You’d be surprised how much people appreciate this kind of ‘professional matchmaking’. Plus, you’ll meet new people and you just never know what can happen from making a new acquaintance!
  • Always – ALWAYS – attempt to introduce yourself to the speaker. It amazes me sometimes how few people will approach a speaker after an event to introduce themselves. Sometimes, it may seem like the presenter is larger than life and you may convince yourself that you have nothing important to say to them. But as someone who’s given presentations before, I can tell you that the role of speaker can be a lonely one. You’re up there all by yourself, wondering if what you’re saying is of any value to the people attending, and you want some sort of validation that you spent your time productively when you are finished presenting. I am more nervous when I don’t have crowd interaction. Most people who’ve done presentations would agree that it’s calming when people come up both before and after their presentations to introduce themselves. So you see – the new folks at a networking event are not the only ones who could be a little nervous 🙂

A few additional quick pointers for making your networking experience a productive and happy one:

  • For presentations, pick a seat where you can see the speaker clearly. Sitting in a seat where you have to strain to see what’s going on can be distracting.
  • Don’t get bummed if you don’t get to talk to everyone there that you wanted to – it’s hard sometimes to get to everyone you want to at large events (see above for preparing ahead of time)
  • In that same breath, don’t take it personally if someone you wanted to meet isn’t able to talk to you. You can always contact them after the event and make arrangements to have a phone call or meet up another time. They may have had a specific objective or a time constraint that had to be adhered to.
  • Thank the event sponsors – they’re the reason for the event taking place to begin with!

After having shared all of these things, let me admit that I’ve made all these mistakes which is why I feel comfortable bringing them up at this point. I’ve certainly been guilty of huddling. I’ve sat with my back to the speaker at many events and gotten nothing out of the message presented. I’ve gotten upset because someone I wanted to talk to didn’t have an opportunity to speak with me. I’ve given those sideways glances to new people and not acknowledged them when they join groups who are already talking. Face it – ALL of us have done at least one or two of these things, because we were all new to networking at some point. And I’m sure we will continue to make mistakes. However, it’s good to know these productive networking tips to try and make each event as beneficial as possible. Hope this helps, and Happy Networking!

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Amy, Well thought-through and well said! Lots of good info here. Thanks.

Comment by Abigail Jaye

I hadn’t considered the meeting of the speaker before (although I’ve always tried to do so). I’ve been giving “networking 101” seminars for a while but this was never a part of my presentation, but this is a valid point. Meeting and connecting with the speaker can give you extra insights and an opportunity to follow up with questions later on.

Preparation and planning are essential. One thing I recommend is going with someone you know. This “wingman/woman” can help extract you from someone who wants to monopolize your time and – if they know others in the organization – can help introduce you to new people.

Most of all, people should relax and enjoy themselves without being self-conscious. As you said, even the most seasoned veteran was once a newbie. Everyone there is attending for the same reason: to meet new people.

Comment by Sven Mogelgaard

Great points. I am often struck by people who show up at networking events without any business cards and also how few people follow-up with me after an event.

Usually when I get home that night or in the next few days I email most of the folks that I met to say it was nice meeting them and will say something to continue and wrap-up our initial conversation at the networking event. This helps me to remember them, them to remember me, and also helps both of keep the other person in mind for an opportunity to network down the road.

If you aren’t going to hand out business cards or follow-up with the people you meet, why go to the event in the first place?

Comment by Rob Bunting




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